by Joe Wang
Back in April, I attended a 4 day conference on teaching math held by the Association of Teachers of Mathematics (Sounds fun right?). While I obtained a variety of tools and methods to teach math and engage learners in the subject, a big take away from the entire conference is that math is not about numbers and equations, it’s about teaching the skill of problem solving.
1. Embed Lesson Study
Lesson study is simply the research/inquiry into professional practice and takes the following form:
Geoffrey Wake, who is a professor of mathematical education at Nottingham University, recommends that teams and department ideally get together once per term to plan one research lesson and use the knowledge gained from the research lesson in order to improve the teaching for each member of the team.
2. Focus on the Process not the Result
Emphasis should be placed on how the students completed the questions. A way to do this is through comparative study. Students are given a question such as the following:
Company A prints customised logo at a cost of £20 per shirt.
Company B prints customised logo at the cost of £15 per shirt but requires an initial £50 to set up the machine print.
When would you use which company?
Students are then asked to completed the question in small groups. The key is that there are different ways to complete the problem (graphical, algebraic, trial and error etc). Students should not be penalised for using different methods, instead the different methods should be compared and pros and cons should be discussed among the students. From these discussions, students can be asked which method they would choose if they had to do the question again. The teacher can also provide students with example working out (these examples may contain errors), and ask the students to compare the example working out with their own and find the good points and bad points in their own work compared with the example.
3. Fetch Mathematics
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Antoine de Saint Exupéry
This particular point may have been done to death but it is still an important point. Current math teaching focuses on ‘push’ where math learning goals lead to a demand for a (pseudo)realistic context. It is often much easier to motivate learners if we use a ‘fetch’ model, where real problems lead to the need for mathematics. The difficulty often lies in finding the relevant problem that will fit with the syllabus. However, there are tons of resources available online.
A particularly interesting one discovered at ATM is http://mathshell.org.uk/