Thinking outside the box

Posted by Ash on Feb 16, 2016

I believe it is important to realise that we have all got an innate ability to think creatively and this should be reflected in the education system as a whole. Robinson makes an interesting point when he demonstrates this using his example of the paper clip and kindergarten children.

He points out that from a young age we are divergent thinkers but then education is imposed on us as children and our ability to think creatively greatly decreases.

The education he is referring to has been passed down to children, through a historical foundation. A foundation which served a purpose at that time, a factory-like system. In effect the universal system of education for all is based on the old Victorian values. These values fitted the world in that period, when the structure of society was different and where there was a hierarchy class system which did not encourage children to think widely. There was a lot of rote learning meaning stimulation was very limited.

But now in a technological age, children’s senses are bombarded with new ideas, new ways of thinking and a rapidly changing world. However, they are still being channeled into a schooling system that fundamentally dates back to over 100 years ago.

I agree with the points that both Robinson and Boaler make – it’s time for an adjustment to our education system. To try and continue to educate people in a historical straight jacket is no longer appropriate.

In my opinion we should be encouraging children to explore their world using all of their senses and imagination to maximum capacity. The question is how do we do this as Mathematics teachers?

I think we should aim to move a child’s focus from the rote learning method and shift it towards an understanding of the Mathematics behind the formula.

In a simple Mathematical example, rather than telling students the formula for Pythagoras Theorem and asking them to accept it (as I was taught at school) we should be asking them to explore, show and prove. Through investigation, using as many platforms of learning as possible, they will gain a deeper understanding not only of the theorem but also of wider geometry and the patterns in the world that surround them. Robinson implies that if this approach is taken to widening children’s minds they will be able to be more engaged and there will be fewer cases of ADHD.

It is therefore a great shame that, as Boaler mentions, coursework has been removed from the current Mathematics syllabus. This appears to be a backwards step as it doesn’t allow for the deep exploration of the fundamental laws, upon which Mathematics is founded.

The challenge for us as Mathematics teachers is going to be how to get children to think outside the box within an education system that has not caught up with the 21st century – how are we going to do this and still satisfy the thirst for exam results and league tables?


  1. pball1
    21 February 2016

    Ash, an excellent article and I agree with the points that you make 100%, but unfortunately as an individual Maths teacher, how are we supposed to adapt our methods when that will in effect go against the model in which we would be rewarded in terms of achieving certain grades, basically playing the system. It is sad and I argue massively against it but until new directives are passed down through government the reality is that as individuals striving for change we would be banging our head against a brick wall. Clearly, we can adapt our methods to engage with pupils to achieve the aforementioned goals, but is that enough??

  2. Charli
    22 February 2016

    I really like your ideas on creativity and how it can be seen to decrease with age. I do worry that without a basic understanding on the underlying arithmetic or geometry or algebra then students are not able to fully grasp way in which theorem could be proved. I think that this extra push could have the opposite effect than its intention by making things harder and creating more points at which students could drop their attention as they think it’s too hard. I think that coursework, in essence, is a great idea but I don’t think the way in which it used to work actually had the desired effect- if you could do an investigation with your whole class and talk them through how to analyse the data, you could make sure they all had a decent grade! You have some great ideas- I just worry that they wouldn’t be executed well enough!

  3. Ray
    22 February 2016

    Your enjoyable article gave me a good sense of the Ken Robinson views but contained less details of the points that Jo Boaler was making. It prompted me to think more about creative thinking vs league tables.

  4. pepsmccrea
    23 February 2016

    Sound response to the articles offered. You have synthesised the core arguments with elegance and make some nice connections to current policy changes (eg. coursework). In future, don’t be afraid to look for weaknesses in the arguments presented.

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