Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Teaching Mathematics In The 21st Century

Woman teaching geometry, from Euclid's Elements.
Woman teaching geometry from Euclid's Elements (Wikipedia)
by Richard D Boyce

Mathematics and learning your native language are seen as the cornerstones of education in our schools.

They are the starting points.

However, for many students, Maths becomes a burden and something to be avoided if possible.

Often this occurs because of the way we teach Maths.

Added to this is the fact that students are staying longer in school and Maths continues to be part of their curriculum.

Many students would rather 'drop' Maths in their later school years.

This article advises on how we can make Maths more appealing to our students.

Below are thirteen strategies to use to help students want to be totally involved in their Maths development.

1. Mathematics should be fun, relevant, life related. Use such strategies as a fun quiz, real-life questions, easy to difficult challenges, unfamiliar contexts and speed tests to name just a few.

2. Teach Mathematics the way you would like to have been taught, not as you were taught, i.e. remember that you were often bored and you could not see the relevance of Maths to your life. Don't allow your class to feel that way.

3. Maths is NOT chalk and talk and practice of multiple exercises. Use a variety of teaching strategies that fit the topics you are teaching. Assess each topic in a way that reflects your teaching approach. Use technology, cooperative learning techniques, hands-on material, practical lessons, the quiz and any strategies that take into account the different learning styles of your students.

4. Teach Maths through Stealth. The quiz is a way to create learning by stealth. It seems to be more like fun than learning Maths for many students.

5. Use your students as assistant teachers. More able students are better at some aspects of Maths than others. Use them as mentors in their areas of expertise. You may need to give them some training but you will find that the students react well to their help and progress faster. What is important about the mentor's words is that it is in the language of the student. This enables the less able student to understand more quickly.

6. Teaching Maths should be challenging, exciting and fun to you, the teacher. Look for real life examples to use in your teaching and assessment. Include a short problem solving/critical thinking exercise in every lesson. It does not need to be difficult every time; for difficult ones, give clues slowly.

7. Experiment, evaluate, review, plan and try again. Introduce new teaching strategies into your program and perfect them with a review process. These different strategies will better cater for your students' different learning styles as well as adding new, interesting, teaching challenges for you, as the teacher.

8. Lower and middle school years allow you flexibility in the teaching approaches and assessment that you use. This is because the results of assessment are used to rate students internally rather than externally. If a new type of assessment task doesn't work the first time, then change it and try again. You may well produce a great learning experience instead of an assessment task for your students.

9. Share successes and disasters with your colleagues. This process will become an informal professional development for you and your colleagues. You may, in fact, have an experienced colleague who can show you where you went wrong and how to overcome the error.

10. Develop every skill you can in all your students, irrespective of their Maths talent. The greater the range of skills you can teach your students, the greater is their chance of success in the long term.

11. Help students develop their own understanding of Maths, not adopt yours. In other words, introduce the ideal of 'Constructivism' into your teaching.

12. Model aloud how you actually think about a problem/exercise. Don't be the 'perfect' Mathematician. Include in your modeling any ideas that come to mind that you reject. Explain why you rejected those ideas. Model as many different solutions or approaches as time permits. If a student comes up with a different but mathematically correct solution, then have them convey it to the class.

13. Challenge yourself to help students want to come to Mathematics lessons. On the other hand, create a personal mindset that helps you develop lessons that you enjoy providing for your students. This means that you would want to be there.

Late in my career, I became a Head of a Mathematics Department in a large school. I found that many of my teachers were bored teaching Mathematics. During the next fifteen years, we had to introduce several new syllabuses with new teaching pedagogues and assessment techniques mandated.

That forced us to look at what we did in the class room. The ideas suggested above came out of that review. What occurred as a result of this process was twofold. Firstly, our students became more committed to their Maths and the behaviour problems reduced dramatically. Secondly, teachers began to enjoy their teaching again.

This article is part of an eBook titled, "Maths in the 21st Century" soon to be published on the website It is one of several eBooks on topics in Mathematics. The website contains many other eBooks on other classroom topics designed to help the new teacher begin a successful career.

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