Shanghai Maths Experience

Posted by KK on Dec 9, 2015

Shanghai Maths Teaching Experience

It was an honour to be invited to the Shanghai Maths seminar at Chailey a few weeks ago. The first impression I got was the way the teachers introduced the lessons. They always started with a question and that had every student on their toes. As the lesson progressed a procedural variation of questioning became very visible and the concept to simplify fraction was drilled in at every opportunity.

It was evident that the teachers valued mistakes just as much as the right answers. From these mistakes they were able to expose some mathematical misconceptions and make connections with the concept at hand, without embarrassing the student who was wrong. Actually the very same student was able to solve harder problems a few minutes later. As fast as they seemed to teach they showed that they valued a deeper understanding of the topic through constant problem solving. It seems like a normal maths lesson in Shanghai is taught through lots of questions and problem solving.

One of the commutative law problem was introduced and the way it was solved was quite interesting. I thought that was clever.

(23 + X + 18) / 2 = 30

(23 + 18 + X) / 2 = 30

(41 + X) / 2 = 30

41 + X   = 30 x 2

41 + X   = 60

X   = 60 – 41

X   = 19

Despite the good methods of teaching we observed at the seminar, one thing that seemed to be missing was the inability to relate the topics to real world activity. I understand that in Shanghai maths is seen as a separate subject to reality but doesn’t this contradict with our endeavour to make maths as visible and in the process allowing students to converse and make predictions about the real life problems at hand before introducing any mathematics?

I have learnt quite a lot from this experience and after going through some of the comments and analysis from the UK teachers who went to Shanghai, we can take some of the positives from them and change for the better. But I think the improvement will only be possible if we also work on and stress that our students’ behaviour and attitude towards education also improves dramatically. I honestly believe we have lots of brilliant teachers but, sometimes, students themselves make it impossible to teach or to learn. Through observing those students who had made up the classes at the seminar you would find that their attention was exemplary and each and every one of them was eager to learn they were and at their best behaviour throughout, contrally to a usual classroom. Hence it was easier to get the concepts through during the lesson. As the Shanghai teachers said, this is how most students in Shanghai classrooms behave.