thinking about maths…

Helena’s teacher, for the 4 weeks she was in school, informed me Helena has gaps. She informed me in an assertive tone, being helpful? Letting me know I’m not doing it right? I didn’t get any qualification on this, I asked, but I was just led to believe Helena is on some kind of bad path with some undefinable holes in it!

I like maths, on the whole. Though I stopped liking maths at some point during school, I probably liked getting stuff right but I missed some days of the introduction to trigonometry and lost the possibility of understanding (we were never encouraged to forage for ourselves and I was the kind of good girl who would have needed to know this was OK).

My father separates maths into two streams, related to each other, intertwined yet different… Arithmetic and Mathematics. My associate teacher on my recent teaching practum taught Arithmetic (he believes teachers should only teach reading, writing, and maths) and this manifested itself in times tables, tested for speed and accuracy, and learning how to use specific algorithms (he didn’t use this word) and how they should be presented in their books because this was how high school would want it. I felt miserable to be confronted by this reductive idea of mathematics, the emphasis on speed, the importance of rote learning, the supremacy of the RIGHT answer (me and Stephen Hawking, terrible at times tables yet like the big ideas), not to mention the public performance thing. Ick. (I feel I should acknowledge that the students appeared to be enjoying themselves) I was discouraged from providing an open ended task… there was no joy of playing around with numbers, no thinking about numbers being used to explain the world. I heard one kid thinking of the size of number of seconds in a day but he didn’t do anything so I gave it to him in a problem in his book and he excitedly answered it but didn’t go on – seconds in a year?? That is not what I want for Helena.

A friend of mine, the daughter of a mathematician, put it so well.

I think maths should be taught like reading, as something shared and normal that’s easy and fun for most people, and any people who aren’t finding it easy and fun should have a delightful specialist teacher with lots of fun resources and cool activities who helps.

My father shared maths with me like you share craft with Helena, he did his own a lot, he was always interested in talking about it, he almost always found a way to answer the whole question given my level of understanding. He gave the impression that further through the syllabus maths would get more interesting more than harder.

Thanks Susan.

What I want for Helena is to find maths fun, like a game or way of talking about the world.. I want her to be able to do maths that is relevant to her life (I have no concerns here as she is financially literate and can save). Helena doesn’t yet like it when Dad and I talk maths at the table…. there was a period in my life when I flatted with a friend and every dinner party seemed to degenerate into a conversation about mathematics at the end. I did have two neighbors who had been maths teachers.. I hope that us modeling maths as dinner conversation will at some point give her a way into the big ideas.

the photos are of Helena’s school mathematics….

Later: It’s not just me, real teachers think this too.

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