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

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

  1. Referring back to Tandy's post 34 about what might be the 'right' basics for today, and then Cyolba's post 40 pointing out that students need to be willing ... surely what we are concerned with is something to do with values and attitudes (before we get onto maths skills per se)? How much can teachers teach values, motivation, attitudes? And how can we know what is a viable way to approach life for someone growing up in 2011?
  2. Tandy

    Tandy New commenter

    I wasn't aware that I was overlooking this - I certainly haven't tried or wanted to. In fact, what I am trying to argue is that MATHEMATICS can do this. But what we have at the moment is not mathematics - it is handling number and calculations.
    Everyone keeps saying this - but nobody is saying why.
    I do. Regularly. And I know that the CBI response is that we need adults who are numerate, but also (and much more importantly) adults who are freethinkers, independent, don't need spoonfeeding and who can attack a problem from many different angles and persevere.
    To me this sounds like not the fault with the technology or its capabilities, but more an issue of the profession not being sufficiently geared up to using it effectively.
    I think that actually we are missing a really important opportunity to bring back mathematics in its true sense. I don't think a curriculum that is bounded by a narrow definition of mathematics (as calculating and number skills) is one that will make us competitive at all. Interestingly, some governments that I am working with in other parts of the world are readying themselves to take the leap of faith.
    Maybe some of the meaning of my posts is being lost (hence the confusion) because I didn't emphasise enough that I am not talking about today or the needs of the current CBI, but as I said, I am talking about 50 or 100 years down the line. It takes great effort and time to change an education system, so these conversations must begin now. With other countries that I work with, they are making plans based on 2050 - I think we should be doing the same.
    Interestingly, I have not actually said that technology is the be all and end all, though some people are picking up on my remarks about tech over the rest of what I am saying and asking. However, there are those dedicated to the tech route, and if you have a spare quarter of an hour, I would highly recommend listening to the thought provoking speech that Conrad Wolfram made last summer
  3. I run the first ALAN level 1 with my bottom set year 11 a while back and these were the folk who didnt get beyond F grades in GCSE.
    Half the class refused as it 'patronised them' [​IMG]
  4. Students in secondary can be unwilling and indeed unabble (for a plethora of reasons) to engage with extended, cross-curricular tasks, but they can be trained into new ways of thinking. In this, I agree with Tandy. However, trying to start this at the age of 11, with the bugbear of league tables and so on hanging over departments and schools can be a brave/foolhardy step (delete as appropriate) to take.
    Instead, I envisage a Primary curriculum that gears up students to be more accepting of and familiar with the "whole school" approach that is currently often only done on speicial events days.
    Years R-2: Students are taught to behave, work together, take turns, listen, read and count. If some can already do this, then they can be pushed onto more advanced areas.
    Years 3-6: Students learn to read, write and do basic arithmetic. This can be done in context, but, and I think this is where Tandy has got the wrong end of the stick, they need these basic tools so they know what can be used to solve problems further down the line.
    Aside from time sepnt doing literacy and numeracy and PE, students should be approaching a broader curriculum via project work. A project on their local community (as an example) can incorporatre History, Geography, Science, Maths, English, Art and so on, if done in an open-ended way. Students can work individually on some aspects and in groups for others. They can be pushed or push themselves as far as they are able, learning new skills and using and improving on their existing ones.
    This approach also utilises research skills, commiunication skills, the use of appropriate ICT etc. However, in order for this to be done, the NCTs should be done away with, as thye currently act as a brake on teachers' and schools' willingness to adapt the NC to their students needs.
    Once such a model becomes the norm in Primary (and I certainly experienced much of this when taught in Primary back in the days before the Flood) once again, students will, hopefully, arrive in Secondary not expecting their lessons to be compartmentalised and understanding how skills can be transferred from amore formal lesson setting into practical,m relevant tasks.
    This is where projects such a STEM come in. I know of some local schools that have developed some excellent STEM day projects which they use with year 7 and year 8 classes. Again, there is an overarching aim and students get to do the Science behind, say, mobile phones; they design packaging or the look of a new phone; they work out the MAths of contracts, how signals are sent and so on.
    These days can take up as much of the weekly allocation of lessons as a school desires. Perhaps a lesson or two can be spent on practising and developing the skills required )working with money, perhaps), then applied to the STEM project in the next couple of lessons.
    To sum up by measndering post (sorry!), everyhtring required to make MAths relevant and to enable students to be more rounded learners is out there, but unless and until schools are freed from having the constant mantra of "levels and grades are all that matters" being used to assess them, then such an exciting and useful way of teaching and learning Maths will remain a backwater.

    cyolba, not on a soapbox, but on a pile of all Lever Brothers product packaging :)
  5. pipipi

    pipipi New commenter

    I think I'm agreeing with cyolba there.
    I like the sound of some these activities, but they might detract from methods that I know work reasonably well in helping pupils achieve their grades. With only finite time I am betting on a method that I know works, rather than gamble on a method that might, or might not.
  6. googolplex

    googolplex Occasional commenter

    This is pretty much what used to happen in primary schools prior to the NC. What goes around, comes around....
  7. Tandy

    Tandy New commenter

    Nice points cybola, but just to pull you up on one thing...
    I haven't said that they don't need the basics, I have just questioned which basics are the right basics and why.

  8. Dp you have any suggestions? I would suggest that it will never be a disservice for kids to be able to do rapid mental arithmetic. Understanding the structure of numbers is a thing of beauty and awe in itself. I agree that long multiplication and division may not be appropriate, but they are both multi-step processes that show the ability to work in a structured way.

    cyolba, having a lazy afternoon :)
  9. Tandy

    Tandy New commenter

    I think I would go for quick recall and application of those aspects of mathematics that are axiomatic. So lots of number facts. I would also beef this up (even though some people have assumed I'm saying we shouldn't) with abilty to multiply add single digit numbers (and as though the answers are axioms themselves). So the early building blocks.

    But I'd also throw in a massive dollop of skills around attacking a problem. Such as it being ok to not get an answer straightaway, of having to apply lots of different areas of knowledge, or having to work in a group because no single person will have all the ideas and answers, or that not getting the right answer can be perfectly ok (in the real world the answer is very rarely accurate). Lots on estimation and approximation, checking that answers are sensible in a real sense, being able to "feel" whether or not an answer is right.

    Lots and lots of mathematical talk. Thinking mathematically. Modelling real world situations, creating approximate models and translating back.

    And good old maths for the sake of it too. It can just be fascinating and beautiful - this can permeate.

    (Sorry for the slow reply! Have been flight hopping)
  10. No problem with the slow reply, Tandy.
    I agree that we need to develop the skills you mention - working together; taking time to solve a problem; using real life examples and modelling. I think, in the Primary area, many of these can be addressed as well planned project work, as I did way back before electricity was invented. In fact, given the number of Primary schools within any single LA, I'm sure that if each one developed a project for each year group, there would soon be masses of options from schools could choose those of most interest or relevance to their students.
    The elephant in the room, however, is the system as it stands. OfStEd expect to see certain types of lesson. They expect to see certain methods of collecting and analysing data. They judge a school before they arrive on the basis of NCT results or GCSE grades (as well as other criteria, but those are most relevant to Maths lessons). We also have the "professional development" system, wherein theachers are judged by management on the basis of the progress made by their students. In such an atmosphere of measuring and judging, it is a very brave teacher or department that will go out on a limb, even if the long term results of such work are more motivated, numerate and articulate students with transferrable skills.
    So, in a nutshell, until and unless the government changes how it assesses the impact of schools on their students, I sadly see there being no change to what is taught or (not) learned. In fact, I can see Gove's ideas leading us in two directions. The first is to more traditional teaching, like he had in private school (because private schools do better, so their methods must be superior), together with the reforms to pensions and terms and conditions of service in Academies and Free Schools leading to a further dimunition of the standards of teachers, leaving many school with few, if any, Maths specialists, relying on 10ticks and MangaHigh to "educate" the kids.
    cyolba, feeling as gloomy as the weather :)
  11. mmmmmaths

    mmmmmaths New commenter

    The problem is that Government deals with everything in the short term. High publicity tinkering with no real understanding. All political parties as bad as each other.

    I found this an interesting read


    Interesting that these ideas are not new, these ideas have been around for at least the last 10 years. Interesting that having an 11 year old himself suddenly makes everything so much clearer. Interesting that listening to a speech from a current head teacher, similar to many speeches I have heard at open days over the last 10 years, suddenly gives him an understanding of what education should be about.

    Whilst we have a culture of not valuing what is not measurable we will never get education right.

    Thinking back to all of the wow moments during my teaching of Maths would they have been OFSTED outstanding moments? No, but for the pupils involved they showed 'growth and development' in the types of attributes needed to help them in their future lives.

    Time 'they' sat down and considered what education actually means, looking forward as Tandy says to 2050 for starters.
  12. Tandy

    Tandy New commenter

    Hear! Hear!
    Which is why we must dare to dream about a system that we would want in 2030, 2050, 2100...
    This meandering thread is taking another new turn :)
    So... dare I say it, but frankly I thought that being a professional is exactly about being brave enough to go out on a limb. Who gives a toss what (misguided, not all) inspectors are looking for? Who gives a toss what the exams look like? Who gives a toss about what some misguided school leaders think?
    Being a professsional, particularly one in a vocation, should be about saying "look, I'm bright, I have the best intentions, I'm not reckless, I put the kids first... so this is what I'm going to do and these are the reasons why"

    Frankly, it's about time more teachers started using their power as individuals to do what is right for kids. Let's be honest, getting sacked is nigh on impossible if what you are doing is saying "Oh stuff your silly little rules and regulations and diktat, I'm going to teach children mathematics and they are going to learn mathematics."

    Also, to be frank again, if your head or line manager or whoever can't see what good teaching is and won't listen to the reasoned debate of professional people, then tell them to shove the job where the sun doesn't shine and go elsewhere - you are maths teachers, the world is your oyster!

    Why have so many teachers lost their umpphh?!
    If you can show that the kids are doing really well, if you can show that the approaches you are using are helping kids to learn mathematics in the true sense, if you are good at your job, then come the day that an inspector makes a judgement, if they can't see past the cribsheet, then fight your corner and tell them that they are mistaken and the reasons why. Teachers are supposed to be professionals not drones!

    And as for the exam system - and so many teachers use this an excuse for what and how they teach - don't worry about it. If you teach mathematics really well, if you get students communicating mathematics, engaging in modelling and higher level thinking, calculus in year 8 and the like (all possible), then come the poxy little GCSE exam, the questions will seem trivial and the exam results will be fine. You just need to be brave enough to believe, to take the leap of faith.
    None of this is new... mathematics teaching has been great at times in this country, it's just that the relentless march of prescription and measuring that happened particularly under the last Labour government and now adopted by the current administration, had seriously and dangerously de-professionalised the profession.
    Don't let the *** get you down. What we do, and why we do it, is the greatest job on earth. Just remember when driving in to work the reasons that you became a teacher. To give kids an amazing, exciting, rich experience of mathematics, to help them to grow, to make them feel valued and to help them to become good adults with successful lives. It was never about getting the work "outstanding" against your name from someone that has spent 20 minutes in your life.

  13. Tandy

    Tandy New commenter

    Absolultely. Shorttermism is the killer. I did a speech recently about this entitled "Does Democracy Harm Education. And Are Our Children Dying Before Their Time". Oh how I do love a sensationalised headline :)

  14. Tandy

    Tandy New commenter

    But whose culture is this? I bet you don't believe that? I have never met a teacher that believes that. I have met very few headteachers who believe that. I have met few inspectors who believe it.
    So, who? A tiny number of people in parliament? Small pressure groups?
    There are hundreds of thousands of teachers in the UK, why are we letting a handful of people determine the culture?
  15. I have! Hopefully, my next post will allow me to teach the kind of kids I want to teach the stuff I think they need to know in a way that will benefit them, me and society at large. [​IMG]
    Actually, Tandy, under the new capability procedures, if your face doesn't fit with the ideas of the juntas running some schools, it can be relatively easy to "get shot of" a teacher. I've seen this as both a victim; as a union rep and as a manager attempting to support a colleague that I valued. Sadly, some managers would rather have a compliant inadequate than a bolshy achiever.

    Anyway, it's nearly the summer holidays, so onwards and upwards.

    cyolba, more cheerful after a few hours in Bauble's Bar :)
  16. Unfortunately I do not have the 1975 papers yet. However I have now added scanned copies of the O&C board's mathematics 'A' level papers from 1951, 1952, 1961, 1971 and 1981 (the latter obtained from elsewhere on the web as the British Library's copy is missing) to my website at www.knowledge-dojo.com. The second link on the page is the one you want - the individual scans have been .zip compressed into a single file.
    Please accept my apologies in advance for the less than perfect quality, but scanning the papers is fairly laborious and quite tricky (and also not free of cost!).
    I also scanned in copies of the Physics, Chemistry and Biology papers for these years, and will also insha'Allah make these available in due course. Please note that there are no Further Maths papers available yet - I will try again for these next weekend.
    In the meantime, enjoy going through the papers - and why not let your students have a crack at them and see what they think!
    Best wishes,

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