An interview with Maths writer Charlotte Young

We speak to our Maths writer Charlotte Young, to find out how she’s developed our new Maths scripts.

Strange for someone who now talks about “the awesomeness of maths”, Charlotte had no love for the subject when she was younger. To her, maths was just a set of invented rules that you had to learn, totally irrelevant and, dare we say it, boring. It took a maths teacher – Mrs Robinson – to inspire in her a love of the subject, as she showed Charlotte that maths was about discoveries, not inventions. Charlotte learned for the first time that anyone with a pencil, paper and an idea could make their own discoveries. From this point on she was hooked.

She pursued her new-found passion through A-levels and on to university. After that, it was a natural progression into teaching: “I went into teaching because I wanted to share maths. I wanted them not only to feel my passion for the subject, but to develop their own passion. So it doesn’t feel like ‘real work’ to me.”

Charlotte now tutors students on a one-to-one basis. These are usually students who have ‘fallen out’ with maths, so Charlotte’s challenge is to turn that feeling around and provide them with some successes. “I really enjoy working with young people. I still get asked interesting questions that make me think, even after years of teaching!”

So how did she get involved with writing for GCSEPod? “I thought that it would give me a chance to share my work with a wider audience, but also help me to improve my delivery even further. It can be quite difficult to explain a technical concept in reasonably formal language when your audience is not in the room with you. I knew that it would be challenging, but I thought that it would help me to think about how to make my explanations clearer.”

When writing a chapter, she tends to start with a fun example, building the rest of the explanation around this. “I always get to work on a whole series of related chapters; that’s good for me as it allows me to build a progression and allows consistency of approach across the topic.”

Having spent years developing explanations that really work for her students, Charlotte is able to draw on her teaching experience in her writing. She feels very aware of common misconceptions and areas which tend to need extra explanation and reinforcement, and builds this knowledge into her chapters. Although, she does concede that writing can offer a challenge: “You’ve got no facial expressions to react to. But my background experience guides my writing, so I know from experience which bits need more detail.”

Drawing again on her own experience of learning, she remembers all too clearly the feeling of not really getting a method until she’d had a go with a couple of examples herself. “Just watching the teacher do it never gave me that feeling of having grasped it, so I really like the fact that each chapter I write comes with homework for students to complete. I hope that the practical exercises give our students that feeling of accomplishment, particularly important with the trickier work.”

Looking back to her own school days with Mrs Robinson and trying to learn from textbooks, Charlotte is quick to empathise with students who are struggling to understand maths from books. “Students have brought textbooks to me in the past and asked ‘I don’t get this, can you help?’ and you know, I’m the maths teacher and I’m looking at it going I have no idea! I think it’s in part due to the overly formal language, I mean, it puts me off. So this impacts on how I write my chapters – I put less formal language in, so that I’m explaining things to students in a way they actually understand. The experience of these dry, overly formal textbooks has definitely affected my own teaching language and the way I write.”

So what does she think is the main advantage of audio-visual learning via the Pod format? For Charlotte, it’s all about convenience – being able to study anywhere you like. “I remember being in high school and I wasn’t keen on revising because it interrupted my fun. I think if someone had said look, here’s a way to revise, and do something nice, that would have convinced me. You can’t do the things you want if you have to bring a textbook everywhere with you, but you can just listen to the chapters while you’re doing what you enjoy.”

And after all these years, Charlotte’s teaching and writing is testament to the enduring legacy of an excellent teacher. “The explanations that Mrs Robinson gave are still with me, and I find myself using them – word for word!”


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