Maths for Life – Book Review

With Karen McGuigan, Founder of the Math for Life programme

A lot of children struggle to engage with maths taught in 'traditional' ways, especially those with additional needs. Karen McGuigan recognised this when she was working with her middle son Lance, who happens to have Down syndrome.  She quickly identified that the standard maths national curriculum was designed for the average neurotypical child aiming to achieve a GCSE and there was no alternative path offered.  Not satisfied with the ‘once they fail GCSE maths, they can do functional skills at college’ approach Karen decided that she would create an alternative and ‘Maths For Life’ became her mantra.  Today she is sharing this approach with us and is offering a set of the Maths For Life books – Book 1 and Book 2 – and an annual subscription to the Maths For Life Resource Library and forum for free as part of a giveaway for SNJ readers. If you want to be in with a chance of winning please fill in the form at the end of the post. Please note, this giveaway is now closed.

Simple maths is not always simple

“How many blue triangles?” seems such a simple question… however to be able to answer it you need to understand what ‘how many’ means, realise that ‘blue’ is a colour and distinguish it from other colours and identify ‘triangle’ as a shape that has three sides and recognise it amongst other shapes.  Suddenly the simple question doesn’t seem so simple.  

After realising that traditional maths teaching was not engaging her son, Karen worked with parents, teachers, teaching assistants and children with additional needs to understand exactly what was needed.  The Maths For Life programme was born.  Developed with empathy, lived experience and knowledge of the SEN world, it is aimed at students for whom the standard maths national curriculum structure and timescale is unattainable.

How is 'Maths for Life' different?

The goal of the Maths For Life programme is to deliver the maths learning that a student needs to live independently and operate in the world of today.  It offers an evolving, accessible, differentiated maths learning programme for use at school and at home.  Starting with prenumber skills, Maths For Life lays solid foundations and builds upwards from a solid base.  With age neutral, engaging, life-based content, it delivers the maths skills needed for life.

Although aligned with the national curriculum content, Maths For Life prioritises the ‘readiness to progress’ on the ability to do the skill independently rather than the passing of another academic year.  Karen explains, “It is much better for a student to be able to do all the basics on their own rather than complex maths assisted by a teaching assistant.  If a student hasn’t mastered simple addition, it isn’t logical to move on to multiplication.  The Maths For Life programme recognises that the maths we use every day is only a fraction of the GCSE curriculum and it focuses on building the basics by using repetition and supporting it with engaging content.  If we need to do addition every day so be it but let’s make it interesting, relevant to the student and show them why it is important to know it.”  

Karen brings the ideas and concepts to life in her videos with Lance, who is quickly becoming a social media star.  She demonstrates that when the content, approach and resources are correct that students engage and once engaged they learn.  Karen explains, “I was told that children with Down syndrome couldn’t remember more than two packets of information – numbers or letters – but I didn’t agree.  I could see that if Lance was motivated to do something he achieved it, albeit slower than most.  So, I thought I’d challenge this statement and I set a six-digit passcode on his iPad.  If he wanted to watch his insanely annoying YouTube videos, he’d have to learn his code.  It took him just over 6 weeks, with lots of opportunities to experience what 5 minutes feels like, and he mastered it.  Not only through muscle memory but also able to tell others what his code was.  Where there is a will there is a way.”  Karen believes that showing the real-life benefits of understanding and using maths, students will be more motivated to learn – there is something in it for them. 

It is never too early or too late to learn maths.  There are currently students engaged with the programme from aged 2 to 27.  It does not have a set timescale; it can be started at any time and the maths milestones attained on an individual path.  “Some students are starting from the beginning, and some are using the programme to go back and fill in the gaps that have been missed.  We try to keep the content as age neutral as possible to enable older students to access basic maths without it feeling ‘babyish’.”

Maths For Life includes textbooks, maths aids, a comprehensive resource library that is continually expanding, a private community forum, baseline assessments and progress tracking.   The resources are designed to save time and enable students in mainstream school to be included. 

“If your school is committed to inclusion, you will be adept at planning for the neuro-diversity within your classroom and this programme will support you to do just that for the maths curriculum.” - Zoe Mather, Education Officer at nasen

Karen has developed the programme to be accessible to all and feels that the investment is worth it.  “Early results from the Down’s Syndrome Oxford 2021 pilot study show a positive impact on all participants aged 5 to 23 – improvement in engagement, enjoyment, attainment and independence.”  

“I believe the Maths For Life programme opens the world of maths to a huge range of learners for whom the door would have previously been slammed shut.” – Sarah Sutton, parent

To find out more visit the website or email to arrange a discussion on next steps. Karen is giving away a set of the Maths For Life books – Book 1 and Book 2 – and an annual subscription to the Maths For Life Resource Library and forum.  

This giveaway is now closed.

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Renata Blower
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