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"In my day" - has the country got better at maths?

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by PaulDG, Jul 10, 2011.

  1. Maths_Mike

    Maths_Mike New commenter

    I must add one more point.
    Why does everything need to be useful / prepare them for real life?
    How does ART prepare anyone for real life - what use will it be to the majority in their careers ?
    Delete ART and replace it with just about any other subject and I would ask the same question.
    I love doing maths puzzles, spotting numbers pattern, manipulating algebra etc etc. The fact is maths is one of the most useful subjects with a multitude of applications - but that does not mean it should not be studied at a pure level nor that this study is misguided.
    Many qualifications in the majority of subjects do little to prepare for the skills needed in the wqork place - all the do is indicate a potential in that person.
    The vast majority of work skills and learnt on the job with experience be it a Doctor a Bin collector.
    Will an accountant every actually do a manual long multiplication sum - i doubt it but the fact that they once could indictated their potential.
  2. davidmu

    davidmu Occasional commenter

    Tandy and a few others are talking drivel. 60 years ago the majority of pupils left school at the end of the term when they reached 15. Many went into apprenticeships in engineering and they certainly had to be competent in basic arithmetic. This was achieved in schools much more successfully than today. I had a window salesman telling me that his company's windows were coated with a finish 10 microns thick. I pretended ignorance and asked him what a micron was. His reply, about a millimetre. I sent him packing.
  3. Tandy

    Tandy New commenter

    I do so enjoy drivel
  4. Tandy

    Tandy New commenter

    It doesn't. Maths for the sake of it - all for that. It's as beautiful an art as any other

  5. Tandy

    Tandy New commenter

    Great post mastermaths.

    But can you explain why you think they need these types of basics? What is it you want them to become? What is the purpose, in your view, of education?
  6. You cannot do beautiful maths with kids who do not have any idea what numbers mean

    When people talk about the Y7s coming with good basics I back them completely ... The problem with the Primary Curriculum seems to be that they are pushed on too far (most students) without understanding what the numbers really mean

    The 4 operations, shapes, number patterns ... they need to have these in a really solid understanding

    Decimals in the context of money

    Negative numbers in context

    I do not mean they should only know these BUT I do think these should be fully understood before they move onto anything else
  7. PaulDG

    PaulDG Occasional commenter

    I couldn't agree more.

    I was taught about someone's "knowledge pyramid" (forget who's 'theory' it is) and how it was important that we focus on the high level skills - the top players of the pyramid.

    Trouble is, without those "boring" (I don't agree with that description, but it's the one used by many) lower levels (which are best learnt by a great deal of practice), the pyramid falls down.
  8. DM

    DM New commenter

    Benji Bloom?
  9. Maths_Mike

    Maths_Mike New commenter

    Tandy - I for one accept your point (even though I may not entirely agree). All these basics could be done easily on a 50p calculator.
    Knowing how to solve problems is much more useful to the vast majority of the population than any ability to do calculations mentally or using a written method.
    I am a big fan testing application of maths - the days when formulas had to memorised are surely behind us?
    However I cant quite yet see that you can build mathematical competence without some fundamental arithmetic basics and I am not quite ready to abandon the diea that a sound knowledge of artithmetic, number bonds tables, fractions etc is essential.
    However Long multiplicaton / division and a few other things that they insist on putting on non calculator exams - I for one would like this to end - pointless.
  10. Maths_Mike

    Maths_Mike New commenter

    So for fear of hijacking the thread here is my list of calculation skills that I would like to see removed from the test non calculator test - to allow for more questions that require students to apply skills / solve problems.
    Stupid write this number in words.
    Long multiplication / division. In fact all the basic arithmetic questions - please if they cant do this by the age of 15 do we really need to keep testing it?
    Fraction arithmetic.
    Stupid BIDMAS questions.
    Negative numbers.
    (If a problem requires any of the above skills all well add good but to just ask to do this calculation for the sake of it - I would like to see them go)
    What I would but in its place - more measuring - estimating - yes I would include more statistics - money - time - why not some decision type maths - the bubble sort is hardly demanding, venn diagrams, I could go on.
  11. Tandy, I am with you on lots of your post.
    Te part below I would like to address though
    I dont think they are in the main.
    I think they do a very good job of channelling their skills into limited, superficial skills we as the older generation see as quite complex.
    Examples would be texting, social media and computer games.
    In reality they are not hard and TBH if kids ploughed as much time into basic skills at school they would be equally as good as those kids in the 50s. Its simply because they find that 'easier' or more interesting than learning worthwhile skills.
    I state worthwhile as resports this week show young people are struggling to get jobs because they cannot write letters in a professional manner and often have rude email addresses they attach to their CV.
    Now...as a teacher I set tasks using online tasks and when I set them and they are new to the kids, many many many cannot access them as they dont have the basic logical skills built beyond facebook etc...those exact skills built in the classroom.
    They can be good aat playing the computer games we suck at becuase they ondulge in repetitious learning.......
    What works to build basic numeracy......repetitious learning
  12. Tandy

    Tandy New commenter

    I don't doubt this at all. I guess my question is "so what?" What is it about these basic numeracy skills that we value so much as a society?

    I'm really enjoying this thread, because as I said previously, I'm sort of playing Devil's Advocate in some of what I'm saying - it's not necessarily what I believe in or espouse, but I find the questions fascinating and, having asked these questions to educators around the world, I'm yet to hear anyone convince me that our obsession with the basics (as laid down 200 years ago) is right. What if they are the wrong basics for today?

    I'm writing at the moment about the purpose of an education system and have been touring my speech "the sculptor", and having these debates. Great fun.

    I think I'm waiting to hear people tell me things like having basic numerical skills leads to those students living longer than having basic literacy skills (this is true, massive study done). Or that learning the times tables to the point of mastery gives an appreciation of the way the number system falls together and allows students to more instictively know if the piece of technology they will use in the job in the future is talking nonsense or not - look at how many times kids will mistype something in a calculator and get the answer to 12x6 as something ridiculous as 452, but then just write it down because they have no appreciation of scale and what multiplication means etc.

    What is the pupose of an education system? For me, it is about giving young people an arsenal of skills that they can draw upon in the lives so that they can lead adult lives that are fullfulling, rewarding, happy, exciting, successul. So that they can feel that they contribute. An education system should create a population that is not only able to contribute, but one that has an absolute desire to do so.

    At the moment, we have a system that rewards a tiny percentage of the population because they happen to "fit" an outdated notion of "intelligence".
    But what if these skills (although you think they are superficial) are actually new fundamental skills for success?
    What do you mean by worthwhile? When I talk to teachers about this, I get a real sense that what they are meaning is that the students will have the ability to do the mathematics that they want to teach them (or that they will meet on an exam!). Ok, fair enough. But does this make it worthwhile? What if for the majority of the popluation, the tosh that we are teaching them is not only not worthwhile, but is a backward step to achieving the outcome that I state above - ie that they live fulfilling adult lives.
    I often feel saddened by the recent move towards this thingamyjig "numeracy". I think this has done a great deal to downgrade mathematics. Mathematics is a way of thinking, of communicating, it is an art form. But for many this has been stripped down to being able to understand certain qualities of number.
    I perhaps would like to see secondary mathematics broken in to disciplines (Geometry, Trigonometry, Algebra, etc) and that numeracy becomes a discipline in its own right.
    I am absolutely sickened to visit school after school and witness 16 year olds being drilled with how to solve an equation, when some of said can't even tell the time or know how much money is in their hand.
    So this takes me back to the sort of thing I'm hoping to hear about these "basic skills" - I don't want 16 year olds not even knowing if they have been given the right change in a shop!
    Why has this happened? Is it the fault of primary schools teachers? The primary curriculum?
    I would say not. An appreciation of number needs to come much younger than that - to reach 16 and not be able to read the time on a clock is not a failing of the school system, it is a failing of parenting. Simple as that. And when I meet parents who berate their child's school because they can't add up, I tell them "actually, that's your fault". Same can be said about those who can't read or write.
    There has been a fundamental shift in the pupose of education over the last 15 years - an unhealthy emphasis on the state to raise the nation's children has helped to lead to a culture that says I know my rights (but neglects to even think their might be repsonsibilities.
    The basics are the responsibility of everyone - parents, child, school, society. When a child doesn't put a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence, the geiography teacher, or art, or maths, or whatever teacher, corrects it. When children string sentences together badly in speech, we correct them.
    The ability to read and write is not the subject of English, in the same way that basic numeracy skills should not define Mathematics. I would argue that basic numeracy should be picked up on by everyone in the way that basic literacy is.
    So maybe my point is actually that the mathematics curriculum that we need for our young people to live successful lives should not be confused with a set of basics.

  13. PaulDG

    PaulDG Occasional commenter

    Because, and this is direct personal experience, if the kids don't have those basic numeracy skills, they cannot "see" more complicated things.
    Going back to my trivial example, area is "important". We need to be aware of things like surface area, how much carpet to buy, how many tiles, etc.
    And it's not easy to get right in most practical situations. It's impossible to get right if you can't connect multiplication to area.
    And I've met kids who can't do that. Their grasp of simply arithmetic is so weak that they can just about count squares on the paper or carpet squares on the floor, but they can't connect it to "length x breadth" because although they can count the squares in 4 rows of 3 and get 12, they just don't know 4x3 is 12 and so there's no link.
  14. I agree that the numerical basics are the responsibility of everyone parents and teachers of all subjects.

    To go on a slight tangent the Deputy Head at my school made a massive fuss of one particular teacher (flowers, chocolates, presentation in front of the staff etc) for having a 100% A* pass rate at A Level last year. He failed to mention that there was only 1 pupil in that particular class.

    To be fair the same man who when told that 54% of our pupils come from non-Welsh speaking parents replied, "Goodness, that's nearly half!"
  15. googolplex

    googolplex Occasional commenter

    Well it is, isn't it?
  16. If only he'd been joking as well!
  17. Tandy
    Thanks for your well thought out response.
    OK to address it in short.
    NO I dont think we need to yet teach them new skills. Recently reports clearly show our current workforce neds are not being met by UK citizens and those from abroad outstrip their UK counterparts. Now, these folk are those coming from academically rich countries and those who can apply the skills ours do with computer games and facebook BUT on top of a huge foundation of suitable, current generic skills and knowledge.
    We are churning out many many underskilled and undereducated kids. We may need to go more functional but that is still underpinned by a huge academic base and not one of superficial tapping on a keyboard on very narrow skills.
    Regardless of technology being able to work out what to product of large numbers is, there is some basic human requirement (and in the workforce) not to have to do that and also I think this "I will get something else to do it for me approach" goes across the board for many kids.
    Whilst kids use technology, we need people to desing and make this technology or at least have the ability to apply a range of rounded skills more applicable to everyday life and work. Kids are woeful at communicating in comparison to yesteryear and I doubt respected institutes will buckle an accept this in their workplace.

  18. Huzzah! A cracking debate!
    OK, problem solving skills. A great idea and very useful in comparison to some of the Msaths that we are currently forced to teach. However, the issue for me is more complex than simply "Let's change what we teach."
    Unless and until we have students who are willing to learn and willing to work hard, the idea of taking time and effort to solve a complex real life problem will never occur. Too many kids simply give up when faced with anything outsdie of their comfort zone. And the upshot of this is often disruptive behaviour. Which is often then blamed on the teachers for not being interesting or engaging enough.
    This leads, inevitably, to teaching kids within their comfort zone, which often, oddly, means repetitive simple one step questions, with each lesson taught as an isolated island. It's a rubbish way to teach and leads to only superficial learning, but it has two advantages - the kids' books are full of ticks and the behaviour improves.
    When I have, in several pretty bleddy awful schools, tried to teach via group work, investigative tasks, problem solving, functional skills, I encounter the following:
    1) I don't get it. Therefore I'll give up, mess around.
    2) I'm trying to solve the problem, but I have literally no idea how to start, as I've never done anything like this before. So I'll need to be led through it step by step, as will almost every other kid.
    3) I think I know what I'm doing, but I don't have the skill set to decide which mathematical process(es) to use. So again, I need leading through it.
    4) I know what to do, but my basic skills are so poor that I spend most of the lesson solving a simple calculation and lose the point of why I was doing it. Even when I have a calculator, I cannot use it efficiently and write down any old nonsense that it tells me.
    5) We are porblem solving using ICT. Instead of doing the work, I'm emailing my mates, drawing pictures, playing games, switching off my neighbour's machine etc.
    6) We are problem solving using ICT. I am using the wrong software package. I'm told the right one to use, but have no ICT skills (I cannot use formulae in Excel, or even add up a column of numbers efficiently).
    In order to get over these problems, we need a root and branch approach to the learning of Mathematics. I think that STEM is a good starting point. But it only works if kids are confident with their number skills. So, the Primary curriculum should be partially about instilling these basic skills so kids have the tools at their fingertips, together with some investigative work.
    The secondary curriculum should focus on building up functional Maths skills. Looking at the Maths to do with sport, or D&T, or running a business, or managing a household, or builiding a house, decorating a room, your mobile phone tariffs etc.
    To keep the edubods at DfE happy, I suggest that there should be three possible exams at 16.
    1) Basic numeracy, in context. (Dave earns £5.50 an hour. He works 30 hours one week and earns a 10% bonus. How much does he earn that week?)
    2) Functional skills - a couple of questions based around the ideas above. You have a £1000 to decorate your bedroom. Here are catalogue prices, here are dimensions. You have two hours to come up with a solution). Bleddy difficult to mark, but a sure sign of problem solving and higher order skills.
    3) Higher Mathematics - calculus, trig etc as preparation for entry into courses that will require those skills.

    cyolba, standing in front of the white wall blindfolded, waiting to be shot :)
  19. Tongue planted firmly in cheek - standards of numeracy have improved beyond measure in this country in recent years. This has to be the case.
    A true story now: A very few years ago I took early retirement from my post in a university ( I had spent my life in higher education as a lecturer, senior lecturer, professor). I was less than 60 and consequently for a short time classed as unemployed. I duly signed on at the job centre. After six months they sent me on a "course" as part of their getting me into new employment. As part of this course I was required to sit a maths test. ( I am sure I got 100% on this test by the way). The lady at the centre in course told me that I was of level 1 standard in numeracy.
    Standards, as I said have increased enormously as I can only manage a Level 1 pass in the job centre test! Only level 1 and I have O levels in maths, A levels in maths and a degree all from the 1970's as well as a lifetime of teaching and researching?
    I didn't say anything ( what was there to say?).
  20. Anonymous

    Anonymous New commenter

    You should have tried the Level 2 test! You're only as good as the test they give you. But well done on a Level 1[​IMG]

    I did a maths test for RM recently - it got harder if you did really well. Now that was challenging. But I enjoyed the challenge. Didn't get the job but was told I did very well on the test.

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