So here goes….

Posted by Jane on Feb 16, 2016

I don’t think that I have ever directly published work for an external audience so with trepidation here goes.

I enjoyed both. They made me think. They made me react.  At times with a sage nod, at other times with more of a ‘not sure life is like that’.

My strongest reaction – which I will say and then get over quickly – was that both pieces, especially the RSA presentation, were focused on education in developed countries. The dream of any mass, free education  being just that for many  across the world. This left me with the ambition to focus on improving rather than just condemning our current system.

The biggest take aways for me were ones common to both pieces.  The argument that children come to be educated with a sense of creativity and innovative thought.  The  sense that clumsy teaching and ‘of-their-time’ educational systems* drive this out with education and (in the case of Boaler’s article) maths’ teaching becoming an accumulation of knowledge for ends which no-one particularly understands.

The prescription for change that I take from these pieces is:

  • nurture learning rather than impose education
  • interest students in the ‘why’ and the ‘what if’ not just the ‘what’ (will there be time to have a lesson or two devoted to showing films or considering inspiring mathematicians?**)
  • invest lesson time in problem solving, and value collaboration, rather than structuring teaching around accumulating and applying individual knowledge

I also loved the idea of maths course work which – to my mind – gives scope for many of Boaler’s and Robinson’s ideas. I was left wondering, again, if there would be the opportunity to build this  method of learning into my career even if it won’t be assessed.

The other thought that came to me, prompted by this material, was taking time to properly introduce and induct classes into the year’s/term’s maths study. Seeking to explain the reasons behind the curriculum so that students are aware of what is coming.  I’d hope that this would bring a completer understanding of maths to students rather than simply trusting that the trip – that I may in time be taking them on – will make sense at the end when (if) they stop to look at the album of pictures.


*I don’t have sufficient knowledge to judge how much the structure of the system overrides the ability of the teachers to  support best learning practice, as set out by two commentators, and how much a good teacher can choose to bring these methods into their teaching.  One to keep considering.

** I paused at this point in my reading of the article. I haven’t seen the film about Fermat’s Theorem, and know little of modern mathematicians (so need to investigate these further) but I have a nagging worry that material aimed at inspiring could, if not delivered well, end up making the world of mathematics feel a long way from the world of many students.  This doesn’t mean not to try but the pathways and the bridges between worlds need to be sketched in too.


  1. pball1
    22 February 2016

    No trepidation required Jane, good piece. I think it is interesting that both yourself and another have mentioned the benefits of coursework, and from what I understand this has been scaled back in certain subjects. The idea of independent learning required for such work, is certainly one which helps the current system distinguish itself from systems of yesteryear and arguably the moves made are somewhat of a backward step.

  2. ajf29
    22 February 2016

    I think it’s a really great point about the coursework, which I also mentioned within my piece. It is our job as teachers to develop a balance between investigation projects and preperation for the formal assessments. The question is how do we do this?

  3. Ray
    22 February 2016

    Your trepidation was unfounded, in my opinion.
    Your summary of the current situation and ideas for change made sense to me.

  4. Fintan Donnellan
    22 February 2016

    I agree with you Jane that we take what we have already for granted. To think that around 200 years ago, free education for all was merely a dream for the majority of people. It’s not perfect what we currently have. There are flaws, but that doesn’t mean that we should scrap the entire system and start from scratch.

  5. Charli
    23 February 2016

    You express and explain your thoughts really well. I really like your thoughts on ‘nurturing learning’ and the idea that we are ‘imposing’ education at the moment. Hopefully the change in structure for the new GCSE spec lends itself to developing problem solving skills- but we shall see over the next few years. I think in theory, coursework works, but having experienced our systems last slap-dashed attempt- it didn’t have the desired effect. Hopefully with careful rethink and planning, coursework could be made better. Great piece! No trepidation needed!!

  6. pepsmccrea
    23 February 2016

    Great first ‘public’ thinkpiece. You have clearly engaged deeply with the ideas presented and begun to look at them through the lens of your own experience, and ask: what might we do as a result. Good to see you being critical of some of the arguments, and I particularly enjoyed your *NOTES >> please keep doing these!

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