Teaching by Numbers
I remember partaking in join the dot drawings and paint/colour by number books, many of which I found to be extremely entertaining when I was a child. Unfortunately although I managed a B in GCSE art I am sure that most would find it hard to classify any of my feeble attempts at drawing now to be “Art”, however I do still enjoy dabbling in the occasional drawing and spend much of my time doodling on paper when I am on the phone. However does this mean there is only one way to learn a subject, and does my inability to create original art reflect the paint by numbers I partook in whilst I was a child?
I feel that the limitations of maths are that people are intimidated by the word, there are so many magical areas of maths which produce what many might consider art. Children in what are considered creative subjects are given a reasonably free reign to explore what their imagination allows, whilst within the more academic subjects we are taught a rigorous process (instrumental learning, Skemp). Lockhart suggests that by freeing up our teaching methods and encouraging students to use their imagination to explore maths students might be more likely to embrace the subject. Unfortunately whilst this would be an incredible idea there are some restrictions, there are rules that guide maths which do not appear within subjects such as art. Equally much of what is considered art now is revolutionary as it breaks with traditional ideals. Are we able to fully break the rules of maths or are most revolutions breaking limitations that were given by tradition?
What resonates most with me as a trainee teacher is what Sir Ken Robinson discusses which is that some people do not fit in to traditional schools. They thrive when persuing their passions. However does this mean that an artist does not need maths? Perhaps the maths they will find useful will be predominantly related to their subject, fractals, perspective and other areas rely on basic mathematical principles yet are rarely introduced as serious concepts with ties to maths whilst still at school. Would a student in a sports school prefer to learn basic arithmetic or the maths and physics involved in their sport?
What troubles me most is that we are still focusing on outcomes. While many great artists received recognition by way of hard work and sticking to the system, there are many who achieved equal if not greater recognition through their abilities to break the boundaries. Are we attempting to suggest one context and style of learning maths should work for everyone? Perhaps it works for some, and those are the ones who are branded as intelligent. Yet if we allow for the maths to be in a context which engages the learner it allows the teacher to introduce subjects that may not be directly needed. We are after all in the job of inspiring students to have an interest in our subject. Perhaps Skemps ideas of relational understanding relate less to how areas of maths link to each other but more to how maths links to other areas of our lives we have yet to consider.
So are we merely teaching in a methodical way or are we allowing ourselves to become truly creative teachers?