A Head for Numbers

As director of the DCU Maths Learning Centre and Assistant Professor of DCU School of Mathematical Sciences, it’s fair to say that Dr Eabhnat Ní Fhloinn ‘gets’ maths. But like many of her classmates at the time, she found herself struggling with it while studying at third level. This led her to question why some people seem to show an aptitude for the subject while others experience more difficulty with it. “There are many reasons why this could be,” she said. “One could be that one approach to teaching maths may not suit all students. Also, maths is a subject that tends to build upon itself, so if students have missed certain core topics, or never got to grips with them, it can impact upon their understanding later. We also know that confidence and resilience can have a big impact upon student success in maths - even for those who liked maths in school, when they get to university, they might find it harder and lose confidence with it.

”At the DCU Maths Learning Centre, Dr Ní Fhloinn provides maths support to students by encouraging a growth mindset - a belief that they can improve rather than having a fixed amount of talent - and has found that this approach makes students more likely to keep working at the subject and improving to the point where it has a positive impact on exam results.

Looking to apply this philosophy to future generations of scientists and mathematicians, she is now working with pre-service maths teachers to give them more insight into the emotions the students they will be teaching will go through. “When they do a module about problem-solving, we ask them to chart the process and thinking through reflective writing,” she added. “That’s because when you are working out a maths problem, you get to a point where you understand it, then it is hard to recall what it was like to be confused about it.” All very heartening for those who struggle with maths.