Struggle and Share: The Way Forward?

Posted by Senay on Nov 26, 2015


The video provides a very interesting critique of the Khan Academy and the US education model within which it exists. The key difference in approach between the US and countries whose students are the most successful at maths are highlighted with the Japanese model given as an example. This is a real eye-opener: students are offered a problem but not given the solution. Instead they are invited to struggle with the problem, come up with their own solution(s) (there may be more than one) and then share it with their peers. Central to this is the idea that there can be more than one solution to a problem and this free thinking style of mathematics is openly encouraged by teachers.

This concept ties in with Table I in Andrew Blair’s article and the four levels of classroom. It is clear to see that the traditional US model is firmly within “level 1”, with the problem, the means and the solution being given by the teacher. On this table the Japanese model described above is at “level 3”. The important idea that comes out of Andrew Blair’s article is that of the “Inquiry Classroom”. This is summarised in Herron’s scale of openness. However, it is difficult to marry the idea of completely open inquiry with that of a rigid curriculum (and a list of material that must be covered to prepare students for an exam).

The biggest problem that the video and article show up in the Khan Academy concept is that there is not enough inquiry by the student and no struggle to obtain the solution to problems (there is as well only one solution offered). Whilst Michael Pershan offers the basis of improving Khan Academy in this regard, we are still left with the dilemma of how this style of learning/teaching (radically different to what students in the US/UK may be accustomed to) can be promoted within a heavily exam-focused curriculum driven learning environment. I would be very interested to know what kind of a curriculum exists in the Japanese system and how their students are examined/graded. It is difficult to draw a final conclusion without seeing this part of the picture as well.

In my own teaching I think it will be important to encourage inquiry. This keeps maths both grounded in the real world and makes it personal/interesting for the student. Lessons must be structured to meet the needs of the curriculum, but adaptable to allow this student inquiry to flourish.  However, I am conscious that the needs of the curriculum are paramount and wonder how far the ideas introduced in the video and article can be implemented in the UK system? It is important to mention also the cultural differences at play here. I wonder how the Japanese system deals with behavioural problems/disruption/lack of engagement/apathy in the classroom? Does a Japanese teacher even have these problems? It seems that without the correct environment being created teaching in this way would be very difficult to achieve in any case.


  1. Emma
    30 November 2015

    I agree with your description of the curriculum as rigid Senay, and the fluidity of the level 4 inquiry classroom may be counter-productive given the current curriculum. You make a good point regarding the behaviour of students and classroom management. We learnt from the Shanghai Maths day last week that there is perhaps more respect for teachers in terms of culture and attitude; “Heaven, Earth, Family, King, Teacher”. Do you think this is something we can achieve in the UK?

  2. pepsmccrea
    7 December 2015

    Strong links made between video and article. You have clearly been thinking deeply about both, as well as the limitations of the ideas presented. Great to hear you start to think about the implications of all this for your own practice. Keep up the good thinking!

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