Thursday, March 7, 2013

Preparing Students For High School Maths

Cover of "High School Mathematics (Resear...
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by Richard D Boyce

A Guide For Primary School Teachers

A High School Maths Teacher's Wish List

What has occurred in recent years as many more students complete high school and seek a tertiary education, is a growth in parents wanting their children to do Mathematics at a higher level.

They see Mathematics as a key to tertiary entry and insist that their children be given the opportunity to do the subject at the highest level possible even going against the school's advice on the matter.

Therefore, high school Maths' teachers must teach almost all students for all their years at high school irrespective of their innate ability in the subject.

This trend will not go away and high school teachers need the help of primary teachers to prepare their students to enter the rigours of high school Mathematics.

This article is written based on my experience as both a high school Maths teacher and as a Head of Mathematics who often had to advise parents on what was best for their students in the subject. Much of what I write here was presented to primary school teachers in a workshop on the topic.

Most, if not all of the points I make in this article, will be known to experienced primary school teachers so it is aimed more at those new to the profession. Mathematics is a subject discipline where the student must develop his/her understanding of Mathematics.

Learning rules and procedures can take the student only so far. It will not help in the modern world of real life Maths problems in unfamiliar contexts. To help prepare students for high school Maths, upper primary school teachers need to attempt to develop the following within their students.

  1. A work ethic and one which is self-motivating. Often, students in Mathematics will need to work alone and unaided.

  2. A homework ethic. The speed of teaching the syllabus requirements in high school is dictated by outside authorities. This means that the teacher must cover a mandated syllabus in a specific time. For the student, this means that homework is an essential part of the learning process if he/she is to keep up with the pace of teaching.

  3. A study ethic. It is important that students learn that homework does not equal study.

  4. A belief that all students can do some Maths.

  5. An understanding that Maths is an essential part of everyday life and we all do Mathematical things successfully every day, often automatically.

  6. A belief in students that asking questions in Maths is a 'cool' thing to do.

  7. A belief in students that Maths is unisexual, not just for the boys.

Below is a list of what I call essential preparation that is not directly Mathematical but will assist students greatly in their study of Mathematics as well as other subjects.
Students should be taught:

  • Study skills
  • How to be powerful listeners
  • How to ask questions
  • Checking procedures
  • Estimation as a checking device
  • Various problem solving techniques
  • An effective setting out procedure
  • That the answer only is not enough. The students must explain in written Mathematical form how they achieved their answer.
  • That there is often more than one way to solve a problem
  • An understanding of order convention
  • Examination technique

Communicating mathematically is a skill that needs to be taught. It involves students being taught the following:

  1. The correct use of Mathematical terms including their spelling;
  2. Correct use of all Mathematical symbols;
  3. Logical setting out;
  4. Justification of each step where necessary;
  5. Logical reasoning;
  6. The use of neat and clear figures, accurate and appropriate diagrams;
  7. To work vertically down the page to allow ease of checking and the elimination of errors in copying;
  8. The translation from one form of expression to another, e.g. numerical/verbal data to diagrams/tables/graphs/equations, and
  9. Correct and appropriate use of units, e.g. in area, volume and so on.

Lastly, you can give your students a taste of high school classes by doing the following (you might call these suggestions an Action Plan).

  • Set your classroom up with desks in rows and teach a number of "Chalk and Talk" lessons.
  • Insist that students work on their own while doing Maths exercises in a quiet environment.
  • Use textbook exercises.
  • Run some formal, timed examinations in a formal classroom setting.
  • Do regular problem solving exercises. Ones in unfamiliar contexts so they get accustomed to the idea that problem solving is an everyday event, not just one that comes up in assessment.

As I alluded to in the title of this article, this is a high school Maths teacher's wish list. Whatever you can do as a primary teacher to help develop this wish list would be greatly appreciated by Maths teachers but more importantly will help students to step into the rigours of high school Maths more confidently.

Our author has taught high school Mathematics for over 45 years. He was a Head of Mathematics for 16 years. Therefore, he is aware of the needs of students entering high school Mathematics. This article is based on a professional development workshop he presented to teachers from the primary schools that fed students into his high school.

This work shop was interactive, allowing primary teachers to put forth their ideas. These ideas have influenced this article. Our author has written many eBooks designed to help all young teachers begin their profession on as high a note as possible. The articles on this website give the teacher an informed idea of what these eBooks contain. You'll find these eBooks at

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