A response to Task 1

Posted by Charlotte on Feb 16, 2016

I think both pieces raise very valid points about the way in which Mathematics is taught in schools. What I do question, is the practicalities of the proposed ways for setting things right. Is there the scope, or in fact the need, to completely reform the way in which the education system has worked for hundreds of years to have a complete overhaul?

The notion that students are shown rules and asked to learn them and practise over and over again, may not be stimulating the correct environment for a child’s interest in pure mathematics is one that I, whole-heartedly, agree with. However, I also feel that mathematical intrigue and the ability to solve mathematical problems is not a necessarily innate one.

To be able to use maths to solve the many mysteries and wonders of life, it is presumed that one must be able to perform basic mathematic functions such as the four operations and basic algebra. I have worked with year 11 students, who cannot fathom basic number work. To try to set them off to understand the way in which the golden ratio works, will mean nothing without a basic understanding of ratio and, indeed, the understanding of non-integer numbers. The reason the system works in the way it does at the moment, is that the grasp of these basic functions is not reached at a young enough age to allow students to reach their fuller potential and enjoy Maths in the same way as higher achievers can- which links to Boaler’s point of only giving students the opportunity to discover ‘real mathematics’ late in the day.

I also worry that it is assumed that all Maths teachers are Mathematicians. From personal experience, many Maths teacher are experts on the syllabus- they can use and prove Pythagoras’ Theorem until the cows come home- but they are unlikely to find a new theory to change the world of Mathematics- they simply haven’t got the time, even if they have the inclination. I think that this leads teachers to be scared that there will be a question they cannot answer- they are tasked with the responsibility of moulding the minds of those who may become greater thinkers than themselves. This is not taken lightly and I think that the use of standardised testing is a protection for teachers- even if it isn’t the greatest test of ability.

I understand the thinking behind the idea from the video that the view of school can be viewed as very ‘Industrial’. I feel that the way in which children are asked to break down their day into sections does not prepare them for everyday life. I’m not sure how many professions- other than teaching has their time management broken down for them with the use of a bell.

Overall, I can see the points raised in the stimuli but cannot get past the pragmatic, nagging, part of me which will tells me that reform to the extent raised is close to impossible.



  1. ajf29
    22 February 2016

    You have highlighted it is close to impossible for a reform in mathematics teaching in the present structure. I do think it seems daunting and a long way off. However, with new technologies and changing attitudes within the teaching profession we might find a way.

  2. Ray
    22 February 2016

    I agree with your overall conclusion that radical overall is close to impossible. If the brief had been to write a longer piece then it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on what could be done.

  3. Fintan Donnellan
    22 February 2016

    I think you raise an interesting point with regards to the innate ability of students to perform math. Is there a case to be made that regardless of how good the learning environment is for the student, they may still struggle with the subject? That’s not to say that we just give up on these students. Our job as math teachers is to facilitate the learning of all students, so I think with that goal in mind, we can greatly reduce the number of students who don’t perform well in math. It’s unfortunate for those students who don’t have the ability to even do simple operations that they will be entering a world that demands some numeracy skills.

  4. pball1
    23 February 2016

    Good piece Charlotte, there was mention in your article of young children being put in a position to grasp some basic maths at an even earlier age. Unfortunately, this comes back to the problem of children having differing levels of ability. Arguably, the difference between the varying of abilities is at its greatest when the children are very young, and then this then goes back to the argument of children working with like minded individuals but not having similar social maturities….somewhat of a vicious circle!!

  5. pepsmccrea
    23 February 2016

    Great opening thinkpiece. You have clearly engaged with the thinkpieces in a critical and balanced way, and have begun to dig into some of the significant issues underpinning the arguments presented (ie. that you might need to ‘know’ some maths before you can be creative).

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