It’s Maths Month on CBeebies Grown-ups and to celebrate, Countdown’s numbers whizz, Rachel Riley, popped in to tell us all about why she loves maths and how her maths skills have paid off in ways you wouldn’t necessarily expect…
Hi Rachel! So have you always enjoyed maths?
Yes I think so! When I was very small I had an electronic times tables game where you had to answer sums as quickly as you could in a time limit and I was addicted and always trying to get a new high score
What is it about maths that really attracted you?
I liked that maths was very black and white in terms of right and wrong answers and that once you'd learnt a rule you could take it and apply it to all sorts of different problems for yourself. I liked the logic in it, and that if you understood what you were doing you never had to remember anything you could always work things out just using your brain.
How has being brilliant at maths changed your life?
Being good at maths is something every employer looks for so I've never been out of a job since I was 15! It was helpful in lots of different subjects at school from obvious ones like the sciences, to languages where pattern-spotting skills came in handy and the humanities which involved reading lots of different types of graphs. I also never get short changed when I'm shopping!
How did you get your job on countdown?
I'd just finished university and was looking for a job when my aunt told me that Countdown were looking for someone to be in charge of the numbers game. I'd never even been near a TV studio before but I'd always watched the show since I was at school so thought it might be fun to apply! There were 1000 applications, 100 of us were interviewed and then a final 6 were given screen tests in the studio in from tot the cameras. I did hundreds of numbers games to practice and luckily it paid off!
What’s your earliest memory of doing maths?
I used to count anything from climbing up stairs to paces down the street!
Were your parents really into maths too?
My Granddad was very good at maths but my parents weren’t hugely mathematical. They always really encouraged me in school, though and got my teachers to give me extra maths work so I didn't get bored. I think the biggest reason some children don't enjoy maths is because it's either too easy or too difficult, you need to get a good understanding of what you are doing before you move onto more tricky things but you also need to be challenged to keep things interesting!
Why do you think maths skills in the UK are falling so far behind those of other countries?
In Britain there seems to be a kind of 'badge of honour' where people are happy to say they 'can't do maths' whereas you wouldn't be proud to say you can't read in the same fashion. Other countries, especially Asian ones hold maths in higher esteem, it's a cultural thing, we're every bit as clever!
Why do you think maths is important?
Maths is important as it's the only truly universal language. You need maths to manage your money, read timetables and problem solve but also without maths we wouldn't have any of the gadgets we use today from smart phones to planes to the internet, they all rely on some very clever maths in their creation!
From your own experience, is there any advice you could give to parents about how to nurture a love of maths in their child – even if they have bad memories of it themselves?
There are so many brilliant (and free!) online apps and maths games to make maths fun I recommend trawling the internet for one you like! If you enjoy something you want to do it more and with maths especially, practice makes you better and more speedy. It boosts your confidence which in itself has a great snowballing effect with making you enjoy it more and practice more. Even if you didn't enjoy it the first time round, don't let on to your kids and try to find the fun with them the second time around.
For more advice on helping your little one with maths, check out our Parent's Guide