What Back to Front Maths is all about and why I can’t market it

I have been struggling recently to understand why I find it so difficult to even contemplate marketing Back to Front Maths.  I have finally worked out that my issue with marketing is that I fundamentally don’t believe that Back to Front Maths is a product at all – it’s a teaching approach that actually has nothing to do with resources.

So, here’s what I’ve found, a few bits that I’m still struggling with, why I’m giving away the whole idea of marketing anything.

The importance of student thinking

For me, getting kids to think really hard in maths is the holy grail.  I want them to stretch to solve unfamiliar and complex problems, not just apply what they know to a context or complete a whole page of questions that are all exactly the same.  While this can be uncomfortable, it gives kids opportunities to do their best work and to stimulate the connections in their brains.

I deeply believe that almost all students are capable of high-level mathematics when given the opportunity and support that they need.  I believe in the power of challenging questions to provoke, frustrate, push and inspire kids and teachers to think mathematically and work out new ideas.

The importance of conceptual change, making connections, and dealing with misconceptions

I also believe that mathematics is incredibly interconnected, so for me, developing a strong conceptual understanding has a much higher emphasis than becoming fast at using procedures.  I believe that if a kid doesn’t think the maths with their own brains, then we can’t rely on it being in there at the end.  So that has a few implications…

Firstly – we have to know what kids really understand in order to teach them.

And secondly, when we find that students have misconceptions or misunderstandings in maths we can’t just tell them that they are wrong and move on.  We have to help them to experiment with their own ideas, prove themselves wrong, and change their own minds if we want what we are teaching to stick.

The connectedness of maths also means that growth in one area has a huge flow-on effect – which I suspect is one of the major reasons that our data is so strong – and also why I can’t bring myself to use it as a marketing tool.

So, what about the role of resources?

Don’t get me wrong – resources can be useful – but ultimately this is all about the thinking we do with our kids, not about books or a website or even particular diagnostic tests.

I think that the most powerful impact we can have is helping teachers think deeply about their kids by finding out what they actually understand, what they don’t understand, how to challenge them at the right level, and how to help them to think through their own ideas.

When I originally wrote Back to Front Maths, that was the mission – to help teachers really understand their kids and what to do about it – and to support them with whatever resources they needed to help them with that.  It was never designed to be a program.  I don’t believe any program – no matter how well it was designed – could ever be a replacement for a great teacher.

But I do absolutely believe that teachers should be learners, who seek to solve challenging problems, who experiment with ideas and make them their own, who take ownership over their own growth and who have the best interest of their kids at heart.  And that is definitely something that I can help with.

So as for marketing books, or a website, or even resources?  I give up – I can’t market Back to Front Maths like a resource because it’s not one.  Hopefully what I can do is encourage you guys to share what is really working in your classes and for your kids – because at the end of the day, that’s what this is all about anyway.


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