There is one consistent voice being broadcast by the media – that we are “failing” in our math scores and have to go back to the basics.
Do you remember your math classroom? Students sat in rows and listened to the teacher. They took notes and tried to follow everything the teacher was doing at the board.
Most of us, if not all, are the products of that approach to learning and teaching of mathematics. After all, many of us have graduated from this kind of approach, and we did not turn out to be that bad, now did we? We follow directions well and are able to apply formulas and algorithms swiftly and flawlessly.
What you have here is 30 people sitting quietly in a room, separated and unable to talk and work together.
Each and every one of them has some ideas on how to solve the problems, some of these ideas are the same, some are different and some are similar.
There is vast richness in that! Does it make sense to only fall back on what the teacher had presented? Perhaps…
But what if we give another way a try? What would happen if you let students work together and collaborate? Sure enough, they are not focusing on listening to someone else explain example after example.
This must be a bad idea, because… well, because it is not how we used to do it.
Shall we take a closer look at this kind of classroom? Study the image (above) by a student of mine at Southridge. Anything wrong with this picture? Sure, there is no ‘order’ and ‘structure,’ but there is something far more important here. Let us think for a moment.
Dare we say that a sentence with the words “math” and “enjoy” can exist?
This is where so many of my colleagues are striving to arrive at. Every time I get a chance to take part in professional development with B.C. Mathematics Teachers Association as a leading organizational institution, I’m astonished and taken away by the talents and dedication of my fellow mathematics educators.
Research and practice have intertwined and continue to do so with some amazing outcomes and projects!
My colleagues are working on student engagement and participation. Work is being done on understanding the value of math homework. Some people have dedicated the past five years to explore the effects of a flipped classroom – both at the secondary and university levels – and whole class discussions. Practitioners are bringing technology into their classrooms: students get to explore and do mathematics with computers and tablets, iPads and clickers.
All this sounds glamourous and very promising to have a positive influence on students’ learning of mathematics.
The problem is that the general public is hardly aware of these ideas and breakthroughs. As the result, students are actively engaged in discussions, and these discussions are about mathematics and not about how their weekend went or who to invite to the next party. Students take ownership of their learning and are helping each other to advance their understanding of mathematical concepts.
For the past decade-and-a-half, they have been trying to get there. Now, many have. I have seen it, and many parents have seen it in their children’s math classrooms, or at least heard about them when their child comes home and tells them that “it was fun in math today.”
Mixing emotions and mathematics – two things that were taboo to unite. But we are human after all, we have emotions and we do math.
Is there a sense in that? Perhaps…
I encourage you to celebrate an innovative educator in your life today. They make a difference. They make math fun and interesting and engaging.
I’m hoping this will spark a conversation and some reflections, too. I know that there are opinions out there, some very passionate ones!
Max Sterelyukhin, Southridge Senior School teacher