Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Posted by Stephen on Oct 19, 2015

Dan Mayer presents some thought on reforming maths teaching. He suggests that the most useful and interesting part of maths is the ability to formulate your own questions and then use logic to solve them. I would agree in life we are presented by problems and are expected to solve them, we are not always given the formula. In school questions often involve filling in the blanks in a formula to get the right answer. This is clearly not the most engaging method and limits scope for people’s future. By allowing students to ask their own questions there is an inherent interest built in which should keep students engaged in the subject. Naturally we should ask if this is the way to go for all areas of maths. Certainly with the current need to pass the exams that are in place it seems that it may require more time than is available. However the reasons maths holds an interest to people is due to the underlying reasons for its discovery and application. Often the context around the topic is as interesting as the maths itself which should help to build interest. Maybe we don’t need to always strip away information, but perhaps giving the right information is more important.

The enduring message was allowing the students to become engaged with maths and I find this hard to argue with, surely everyone wants students to engage with what is taught. In his example a container filling with water is played and he waits until a student to ask “how long is this going to take?” Is this really the best way? Should we be boring students in to asking a question or should we be inspiring them to search for questions that can arise naturally. His use of a video seems to be a crutch, replacing a, perhaps idealistic, cross curricular environment. The example could have been created as an experiment in a science class and the relationship could have been discussed in a maths lesson. My physics teacher was reluctant to hand us equations, so he devised experiments which would produce a result allowing us to “discover” the relationship and therefore the formulas this should lead to a better understanding of the topic. It certainly led to more interest in the lessons.

Dan certainly feels that we need to reassess our opinion of questions in textbooks, if not textbooks as a whole. I don’t think that he believes they are all bad however this digital age could we create a newer better version? It shouldn’t be too hard to envisage a cross curricular interactive book where ideas that arise in different subjects can be linked to the related area in another. This would allow for ideas and projects to arise and hopefully engage students by allowing them to do maths projects linked to another subject of interest.

Dan presents a solution which works for the moment leading to ideas that can be developed. Wouldn’t it be great if we could inspire students to explore the links between subjects and ask their own questions; is that me living in a fantasy world?

1 Comment

  1. Dom
    8 November 2015

    Stephen, I do not think that it is just you living in a fantasy world when you say that students should be able to ask their own questions. It seems to me quite legitimate, and I really believe that is one of the intrinsic roles of education. I am in fact a big fan of the maieutic method, some even believe this is the only truly way to educate people. I am more moderate in my opinions and I would say that it would be nice to introduce (or to re-introduce?) this idea in the mainstream.
    I also found it interesting to read about your experience with your physics teacher.

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