Task 1 – Make school maths more interesting and relevant

Posted by Ray, Uncategorized on Feb 16, 2016

My overall conclusion from watching the Ken Robinson video and reading the Jo Boaler article is that they both agree that the approach to the teaching of maths needs to be updated to make it relevant to the 21st century. Whilst I agree with the fundamental arguments put forward in both articles, I do not agree with the Ken Robinson assertion that standardised testing should be stopped. I’ll summarise the key points that I agree with and then explain my reason for the supporting the continuance of standardised testing.
Ken Robinson approached this from the perspective of the historical evolution of maths teaching, the fact that the methods have not been significantly updated in recent times and that they are still based on requirements that were established during the industrial revolution. The old adage that a degree leads to a good job is no longer valid and the distraction of modern technology means that there are far more interesting things for a child to do than to learn maths by rote. The use of medication to ‘calm down’ children who react negatively to the teaching methods, due to perceived ADHD, further removes them from the learning process. He also mentions that the focus is on individual learning, one correct answer and no copying, which excludes any opportunity to collaborate. I find it hard to refute any of these observations.
Jo Boaler discusses the disparity between the student view of maths ( lots of rules and procedures ) and the expert view of maths ( patterns and a way of exploring the world ). No other subject has such a difference between the student view and the expert view. She gives a couple of examples of how children were inspired at a young age to want to explore maths beyond the typical rote learning presented in most schools, and this chimes with my own experience. She mentions how mathematical sequences such as the Fibonnaci one could be used to introduce how the wonder of maths is applicable to the natural world. She also likens mathematical notation to sheet music and, in the same way that music needs to be played and heard ( rather than just amending the notes on sheet music ), maths needs to be used to understand things in the real world. She also mentions that maths can involve working on long, inter connected and complex problems rather than solving the simple problems that students currently encounter in their school maths. Again, I find it hard to refute any of these observations.
My point of disagreement is with Ken Robinson on the value of standardised testing. Employers need an objective method of assessing prospective employees and are familiar with using the outputs from the current assessment system. I think that technology needs to be leveraged to provide new standardised assessment techniques that are integrated into the learning process and that allow students to collaborate whilst they learn. It would also be helpful to business if the types of problem being assessed had some relevance to the maths that is needed in the modern work place.


  1. ajf29
    22 February 2016

    I think you have done an excellent job in summarising both articles. However, I am unclear how technology would be “leveraged” to provide the new assessments. You do make a very good point about making maths relevant to the work place which will benefit both business and student and this could be done by careful lesson planning.

  2. Fintan Donnellan
    22 February 2016

    You make a fair point about employers needing an objective way of assessing prospective employees, but I’m not sure that should be a priority when designing a better method of assessment. One could argue that standardised testing is fair because it’s the same for everyone and it separates the good from the bad (to put it bluntly). However, a lot of the time, it could be because that student simply has a better memory. I think that’s the crux of the issue. We equate having a good memory with good ability.

    • Ray
      23 February 2016

      Thanks for the feedback. My thoughts on standardised testing would allow text books and internet during exams as these tools are usually accessible in environments where people would like access to reference materials. This takes a task away from being a memory test and turns it more into problem solving.

  3. fbontemps
    23 February 2016

    You are right standardised testing should remain due to the complexity of human being. Some people are more charismatic than others and it could be detrimental for someone who perhaps is the ideal candidate, but lacks the likeability factor. On the other hand, is a test done at a particular time and on a particular day sufficiently reflects competency in the long term?

  4. pball1
    23 February 2016

    Good work Ray, and read your comments on mine regarding standardised testing, certainly a hot topic, and possibly very difficult to implement and gain the full desired effect. I do think subjects should be broadened to cater for certain vocations or the skills and strengths of individuals but at the same time (echoing Martha’s thoughts) I would be loathed to want to “pigeon hole” someone to being good or bad at something.

  5. Charli
    23 February 2016

    I loved your thoughts on standardised testing. I thing that coursework, which is often seen as the only alternative to exams, doesn’t and didn’t work with the Maths GCSE. I would have loved to hear more on your views on how technology could be used to alter this.

  6. pepsmccrea
    23 February 2016

    Some really interesting ideas explored here, particularly around testing and the tensions it creates/feels within the system. There’s definitely going to be some tech disruption in this area in the coming years. In future thinkpieces I’d be keen to hear more about ‘what you think about what they think’ if that makes sense?!

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