“All the rest are done in the same way” !?!?!?!?!

Posted by Emma on Nov 29, 2015

Michael Pershan’s video was more than just a critique of Khan Academy, it was a denouncement of the way the American educational system teaches mathematics. In America, maths is taught extremely instrumentally (Skemp); the teacher explains how to do a problem and the lesson is taken up by students practicing this. Persham sees the Japanese method in contrast to this and as the optimum model of education. Students learn relationally through the teacher posing a problem and the students are set the challenge to work to get the answer. Using Harpaz’s table referenced in Blair’s article we can deduce that a typical American mathematics lesson is a level 1 while a Japanese lesson would edge further towards level 3 in the table. Therefore, those countries who are doing well in terms of Mathematics seem to have inquiry classrooms in so far as they are not spoon-fed the answer. On the other hand, Hattie would argue that learning through discovery makes little difference to a student’s success.

It seems that Pershan advocates students to ‘struggle’. He believes that if you allow students to struggle with conceptual problems it will have a much more positive effect than in America where students rarely struggle. The first is a good example of an inquiry classroom in so far as the answer is not the important part of the task, it is how the students arrive there; the journey they have accomplished is what matters. This is a key contributor in their ability to problem solve. We heard on Wednesday that in Shanghai “the answer is only the beginning” and I think that this is an alien concept to students in the UK, many students only get satisfaction when they answer a question correctly.

I was interested by the way in which Pershan’s use of the word “challenge” which he used when describing the typical Japenese lesson. This word was also used at the Shanghai Maths Project; it was used by the Shanghai teachers rather than “question”. This is not a word that I think we use enough in the UK. The outcome of using this word in a lesson is positive because it puts ownership of the methods in the student’s hands. I think this would nurture a more positive attitude towards Maths as a subject as it allows students to use real mathematics rather than reproduce the “distorted view of the subject” (Jo Boaler) we are currently producing. I would therefore strive towards this inquiry classroom where students complete challenges in my own teaching, yet, I don’t see that this will be achievable the closer you get to GCSE exams.

An inquiry classroom is well and good, but is it actually practical in today’s education system? Surely, as Ken Robinson promotes, the system itself is problematic in so far as the current curriculum, the time we have as teachers to relay concepts and way in which students are assessed. However, it is not all doom and gloom. Surely we as educators have the opportunities to strive towards a Level 4 inquiry classroom like Dan Meyer whose students are encouraged to create their own questions from a problem and find the methods to determine an answer in order to discover a conceptual relationship.


  1. Laura
    29 November 2015

    I love the links you have made here to all that we’ve read so far, I wonder, do you think Pershan’s perhaps idealised view of Japanese teaching styles would be greeted favourably by western teenagers who are used to having their hand held?

  2. pepsmccrea
    7 December 2015

    Great links between the video and article. Excellent to see you making links with Hattie and lack of evidence for discovery learning. It would be interesting to further explore the differences between discovery and inquiry.

    Some very powerful links made with previous tasks to enhance your argument. Keep it up!

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