Are students really telling us something when they ask “When will I ever use this?”…

Posted by Laura on Feb 6, 2016

I think the talk by Sir Ken Robinson on creativity was the most enjoyable of all those we have watched yet. Finally, on a topic usually rife with negative attitude and bleak outlooks, someone is prepared to talk about our education systems in a fun way, throw in some jokes and engage an audience whilst still getting a massively important point across. We keep saying current mathematics education is boring, no one said talking about reforming it had to be!

I spend quite a bit of time privately despairing about the current state of mathematics education in the UK. As someone who loves maths and has a deep passion for it, I watch the children in my classroom and my heart sinks as I scan the room to see blank expressions and bored faces before we’ve even got past the register. They are expecting the session to be dull and repetitive and feel in their hearts that in less than five years’ time, after they have sat their national tests, that little of this will ever really matter in their day to day life.

This brings us to an important question about the foundation of our education system. Ken Robinson tells of how we created the current system to satisfy the needs of an ever industrialised society where in order to get a job, students would need to master the type of mathematics currently taught to fill the growing number of positions available to engineers, architects, scientists etc. If the students in my maths lesson are aware that the world and it’s needs have changed, then why aren’t we as educators? We hear so often of how society now craves a new approach to everything, how thinking outside the box is more sought after than ever and how the creativity that enables that can be of far more value to an employer than skills which can now so easily be replicated by a piece of software that will never need a holiday or take sick days. Basic computation is no longer an advantage in the job market so why is it still our main focus in the classroom?

I think Lockhart’s comparison of music, art and mathematics is fantastic, particularly the descriptions of nightmares where for art and music it seems completely ludicrous that such a subject could be taught in such a way and yet unless pointed out specifically, most people wouldn’t even think of maths as a subject where an argument like that could apply. I spend most days in school trying to convince students that maths is fun and beautiful and amazing and yet finding myself thinking there is little time and space within the current program of learning that allows me to really demonstrate this and so quite rightly, the children just assume I’m trying to convince them to get more work done and that there isn’t much real truth behind this.

I think Lockhart’s method of teaching somewhat resembles some of the work we have done on this course, in that we are given a topic or direction and allowed to explore and enjoy experimenting with the mathematics to find something exciting. I have to think to myself though, would I have been able to enjoy my work as much without the basic foundation of mathematics I had gained from school, or would I have not known where to start and been overwhelmed?

1 Comment

  1. pepsmccrea
    8 February 2016

    Great title. And glad to hear you appreciated some of the messages here. I suppose, the next questions you need to tackle are: why have things not changed? what can I do about it?

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