Are our classrooms future proof?
One of the key questions posed by Ken Robinson in his talk “Changing Education Paradigms” was can we “meet the future by doing what you did in the past?” Is the system which, when first implemented, was such an improvement and a great step forward still working for us today, let alone being future proof?
The short answer to this question, as given in the video, is that the current system is so focused on economics and academic ability that it has become out-dated, a sentiment echoed in the first chapter of Jo Boaler’s Elephant in the Classroom. In Robinson’s talk he attributes this falling behind the times of our teaching to the shift in attitudes of children. They no longer believe that hard work and good grades will be able to secure a good job and in this economy, I am inclined to believe they are right however, Boaler attributes the need for change to something less economical or political. In Boaler’s view, classrooms are not presenting children with an authentic view of mathematics, and in my opinion this is a greater contributing factor to the apathy many of use experience in our students.
So many maths classrooms have become focused on the need to complete objectives on a scheme of work that follows a particular curriculum to get the right ticks in the boxes. In this, mathematics has lost the essence of what it truly is, the “the study of patterns” and “a powerful way of expressing relationships and ideas in numerical, graphical symbolic, verbal and pictorial forms.”
Looking back at my classroom experience both as pupil and educator, it is clear to see the need for pupils to quickly master skills and move onto the next thing. There is no time in modern classrooms for children to explore problems, make mistakes and see how organic maths can be and how a problem can evolve. Boaler describes modern teaching methods and a series of “short questions” that require “repetition of isolated procedures.” I think in this style of teaching there is no scope for students to expand and create, to ask more questions and collaborate with peers to take the problem on their own journey. When students are presented with a problem where they feel the solution has “already been decided and just needs to be memorised” many find it very restrictive and there is no opportunity for them to take ownership of the task and stamp their own individuality upon it. I think what Robinson says about making our classroom a better environment to encourage divergent thinking and creativity is fantastic and something which currently many classrooms cannot offer.
I found the idea presented by Boaler that mathematics is a series of answers and we must find the questions very interesting and something which should also be encouraged in the classroom. We so often present maths as a series of questions with finite solutions that it allows little opportunity for thinking outside the standard procedures and for collaboration and discussion with peers, enabling all students, regardless of mathematical ability, to take part in the conversation and the process.
Finally, a quote that really stuck with me from Boaler’s work was from Andrew Wiles who proved Fermat’s Theorem, he said “all the great mathematicians in history could not solve it. Here was a problem that I, as a 10-year old could understand.” By opening up discussions about problems and posing real life questions we can enable children to start to feel real successes without even having begun to solve anything mathematically, by merely knowing they had started to understand.