Thursday, 5 April 2012

What kind of students do I want to pass on?

I've been thinking a lot about what it is I am actually trying to achieve as a maths teacher. With good students it's easy to not question the standard form of maths education, but with middle and lower-achieving classes I question the relevance of a lot of content.

I've been slowly reading through some of the blogs I found in my first over-excited blog weekend, and after reading all of exzuberant and infinigons, I've thought a lot about quality teaching, assessment, problem-solving skills and engaging, relevant learning activities. Reading this post today made me think about what the key, transferable, whole-of-life skills are that I should be trying to impart. If I taught at the kind of school where many kids went to university I might not care as much about this, but probably 50% of our students won't do maths in year 11 and 12, and only a handful will be studying any mathematics after school. So what the hell are we doing? And why?

This is a big problem and I have a short attention span but I kind of continued the thought on a slight tangent.

Today I was also making up a new maths game (as you do), and I though about how most of my students aren't great at playing games that require much strategy. And in fact a lot of the "cool", engaging activities we want to do, anything that requires independent thought, critical thinking, deep understanding, dealing with open-ended problems, etc. etc. seems to stump our kids.

So I thought, that's something to start thinking about. This type of thinking, dealing with these types of problems and activities, these are all just skills too. They need to practise them. We need to be persistent, and we need to maybe scaffold learning how to learn that way?

I have the top year 7 class. They are pretty good at maths so far (most of them) and from here I have to try to turn them into hard-working, keen, interested, engaged, skilled maths learners. And maybe that means I need them to be:
  • used to learning games, playing games, strategising and coming up with variations to games
  • used to solving problems
  • used to working on projects
  • used to working in groups
  • used to reasoning about and communicating concepts
  • used to tackling open-ended problems
as much as, or even instead of:
  • doing lots of drill questions from textbooks or worksheets 
Which means I need to make sure I'm doing these things. I've made a start on games and have some group projects about communicating concepts planned, but need lots more problem-solving especially.


  1. The first list? The good one? That is roughly what I have in mind whenever I play with my kids. I always provide affirmation and validation when they come up with new song lyrics or games and it's easy to get stuck in a rut but I try to make "something new" one of the ruts.

    1. There is some value to the second short crappy-sounding list, just not on its own. I should probably add "used to receiving affirmation and validation for their efforts" to the first list too, but I already do that one I think :)