Task 3 – can everyone learn maths?

Posted by Martha on Apr 1, 2016

‘I just can’t do maths’ is a common phrase we hear all the time, from kids and adults. Even from teachers in schools (not maths teachers I hope!). I’ve thought about it a lot, and since starting this course and from my experience in schools, I don’t agree with that statement. At school I hated French, I didn’t like the teacher and I thought ‘I just couldn’t do languages’. After being in just two French lessons as a TA back in September (with a fab teacher), I loved it! I’m not fluent or anything, but it’s a start. So, I do think the teacher has a lot to do with how students get along in subjects. If everyone has the ability to learn maths, as teachers it’s important to be positive and encouraging – motivate students to have a growth mindset.

I like the skiing analogy – the more you fall over, the better you get. Sticking with the skiing analogy, once you can get down blue runs, you start to want to improve your technique, get better at skiing and tackle red runs. If you understand why you bend your knees, or shift your weight depending on which way you’re parallel turning, this will help you improve your technique quicker. This is where conceptual are procedural learning come hand in hand. If someone has an instrumental understanding of maths and they are getting lots of questions right, it might occur to them to think ‘wait why does this work?’ or ‘what if I change this, what happens then?’. It could motivate them to explore different ideas and gain a relational understanding. The Kahn academy might help them do so. Does it matter which way around this it happens?

I think the Kahn Academy could be a useful tool to aid teaching*, but I don’t think the academy should take over maths lessons. Students shouldn’t be stuck at a computer lesson after lesson as it’s important that they are able to engage in conversations. They need to be able to discuss maths, ask questions & problem solve. It’s also important to provide students with lots of resources to help them gain a better understanding (relational & instrumental!) – especially when students don’t grasp certain topics, they can go over it in their own time. But how many students are going to have the motivation to do so? Can you trust that all the kids will watch the video for homework? There is also the danger that the lessons could be too pre-empted and restrict/limit teaching. Having spent the last hour watching videos, I really enjoyed them! AND I learnt why adding and subtracting two negative number makes a positive number (yes, I admit I just thought ‘it did’ before). However, I love maths – would kids that don’t love maths enjoy them?

All these ideas that we’ve come across seem great in theory and I think using a mixture of them all would be the most beneficial. But the reality is, so many different factors are going to come into play, the time of day, the weather, what the kids had for breakfast, their mood, which are going to affect the learning process in the classroom. It’s important to be open minded and play it by ear as it’s certainly not a one size fits all scenario.

*Having the odd maths lesson in a computer (if that’s feasible in the school you work in). It could definitely be time saving for teachers if they could set h/w which automatically gets marked by the computer and highlights the areas students are struggling in


  1. aw677
    5 April 2016

    I agree with you Martha, I think that it is really dangerous to prescribe to just one method or idea when it comes to teaching, having a completely computer based lesson almost takes the fun out of things and makes the need for a teacher practically redundant. When you learn something new it is more than helpful if you are interested and motivated in what you are actually doing, it is only then that you can truly engage and retain what you have learnt. Balance and adaptability are the key.

  2. Fintan Donnellan
    9 April 2016

    I also think that the Khan academy is a useful resource, but the math lesson shouldn’t revolve around the use of the software. Like anything, there needs to be some variety to keep it interesting. I understand your concerns about how students might not do the learning their supposed to at home, but that’s true as it is at the moment. I think there are always going to be students who are like that. Personally, I think more students would find studying the videos engaging rather than doing endless math exercises for homework.

  3. jat32
    11 April 2016

    I found your commentary on Khan really intreresting. After this week’s resources I must admit that I am very pro-Khan but interestingly because I think, if used in the right spirit, it could free the teacher from being at the front of the class and enable much more intereaction with the learners. That combined with the great ‘management information’ that it seems that the Los Altos trial could give would I think really enable a teacher to teach in a very personalised and differentiated way. It’s going to be an interesting discussion at this week’s session I think.

  4. pepsmccrea
    12 April 2016

    Lovely to see you grappling with all these ideas. The skiing analogy is certainly an interesting one – would like to see you develop that further. What would instrumental/relational skiing look like?! And how does falling over make you better?

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.