The lesson I learnt from my oven

numeracy leaders teachers Jul 13, 2022

We have recently moved house, and I am just getting to ‘know’ my new oven.

I am pretty confident with technology and appliances so when we arrived and the oven didn’t work, I didn’t panic, I simply googled and discovered that it was most likely because the digital clock was flashing. Apparently, most ovens won’t work if the clock is flashing or in ‘Auto’ mode(bet you didn’t think you would learn something about ovens reading my maths blog!)!

I tried everything to fix the clock, but for some reason I just couldn’t reset the time.

So, for a few days I had to refrain from cooking a roast (actually, I never cook roasts, and with my house overflowing with boxes, this certainly wasn’t the time to start!)!

I was very excited when my uncle Frank (who is a plumber) happened to come past the new house. I casually mentioned the oven to him and he took one look at it, pushed a few buttons and within three seconds it was fixed!

I was so excited the oven was working that I forgot to ask him what he actually pushed to get it working. When my husband got home he asked “how did Frank fix it?”. At this point I started to feel a little anxious. My mind was thinking: ‘if this happens again I will be back at ‘square one’’

The oven was fine for a while, but every time I walked past it, I found myself anxiously checking the clock.

A couple of weeks later, we had a power outage.😲

And when the power was restored, you guessed it, the oven clock went back to flashing 00:00!

I thought about calling my uncle, but I was pretty sure he would say “I can’t remember exactly what I did, I just pushed a few buttons”

So, I decided that I would do the same thing. I played around with the buttons and eventually it worked. At first I wasn’t sure what I did, I had pushed so many buttons, so I went back and systematically checked I knew the correct sequence.

Having discovered this sequence, I felt completely in control of the oven!

In terms of teaching and learning maths, I think this experience presents an important lesson.

When we are in a maths classroom, the same thing often happens- students feel lost and don’t know what to do. As teachers, we often believe we are helping by showing them the answer, or modelling the exact process to follow.

But we are actually giving away the thinking part of the problem- and the power and confidence that comes from solving a problem!

The ‘oven’ episode made me acutely aware that we may also be heightening our students’ maths anxiety by ‘helping’ them.

I felt anxious because I knew I couldn’t replicate my uncle’s actions without him there.

While it may make a student happy in the moment when you sit with them to help them ‘get’ the answer. Before long, many will start thinking- ‘oh my goodness, I get it now, but I don't know if I'll remember what to do.’

So instead of helping them we are inadvertently making many students feel more anxious and less confident in their mathematical ability.

Dr Sarah Buckley, an Australian expert in Maths Anxiety, states one of the causes of maths anxiety is feeling of a lack of control. You can read more here from Sarah. 

When students make discoveries, they are in control of the maths.

I think it is very important that we allow children to discover why and how the maths works FOR THEMSELVES, just like I did with the oven.

I now understand how the oven works and because I found the solution I clearly remember the process! I feel confident to tackle that problem again, and as a bonus I have developed some problem solving strategies (researching on google, trial and error, check systematically) which I can apply in to any future appliance issues I may face!

So, next time a student asks for help in maths- think of how you can encourage that productive struggle, so they will emerge with a feeling of control in their learning.


The ‘oven-fixing’ advice provided in this blog is only my personal experience. For all other oven related issues, please seek a trained professional! :)

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