A Brave New World………Maybe?
What a difference a week makes!! I really enjoyed both Dan Meyer’s and Richard Skemp’s pieces, both seemed to be much more solution driven than the previous articles and I found myself agreeing with much of what was said.
It seems obvious in hindsight that we consider what we are teaching and why before we look at how we are teaching it. Dan Meyer spoke about engaging our children in conversation, in the process of formulating a problem and then talking about possible outcomes. An intuitive approach that should not intimidate. This struck me as a profound and revolutionary idea, isn’t it apparent that something, anything in fact, that intimidates us is abhorrent to us? We are naturally hesitant to engage in something that we find daunting, too hard or over-complicated, especially when there is no apparent worth or benefit to tackling it.
At this point I wonder whether this is perhaps the crux of the matter and if it is what exactly can we do to overturn these ideas imbedded within many individuals’ preconceptions about mathematics?
A complete overhaul of the syllabus seems impractical, and as much as I appreciate and like Meyer’s rationale I can see the impracticalities involved in demonstrating this level of understanding outside a controlled environment, which leads quite nicely into the article by Skemp.
Skemp considers the difference between relational and instrumental understanding and arguably that these two states of understanding are conceivably not completely mutually exclusive. Again I found myself agreeing to what I consider a very perceptive argument. However from my experience it seems that individuals enjoy the odd rule or two. Rules quite often give the sense of order and expectation at times when nothing else seems to be forthcoming or apparent. For example why do we count the seconds between a flash of lightening and the crash of thunder? It’s not because it really allows us to estimate how far away the storm is but it does give us a sense of reassurance and control.
It is with this in mind, and also the fact that (unfortunately) instrumental learning is easier to assess, that I think that there has to be a place for it within the syllabus. However I also believe that this must be tempered, we shouldn’t allow an over reliance on these teaching methods. A difficult balance given society’s reliance on standardised testing as a measure of ability and successful teaching methods being a reflection of these successes.
However, I also believe it is extremely important that we help develop free thinkers and talented problem solvers and we can only do this more effectively through relational understanding creating a learning environment that inspires innovation and perseverance. It is our gift to future generations and ultimately our gift to ourselves.