Thursday, May 21, 2009

maths weeps

Imagine a situation where maths classes are streamed or set for ability and maths is compulsory until year 11

Students who are not good at maths and have little interest and sometimes active dislike for maths are concentrated together into classes where these negative attitudes reinforce each other

Imagine what it is like for a teacher trying to teach maths to these students who are mainly interested in pursuing social conversation

If the teacher insists they do maths then he might get comments like, "Why are you so serious?" or "Chill out". If the teacher persists then the students at that table might do a little maths while the teacher stands over them but other students in the class will break into social conversation. This sort of transaction is repeated over and over.

Imagine if parents or politicians were aware of this situation happening throughout the country in hundreds or thousands of classrooms. I wonder what they would think or say or do.

PS. the late Garth Boomer did some in depth studies of language skills comparing year six and year tens about 20 years ago and found that in many cases the year sixes demonstrated better skills than the year tens - subsequently he gave his famous "slash my wrists" speech to Principals which was then leaked to the press and became front page news


Unknown said...

During some recent visits to a 3rd world country (East Timor) I have been carefully considering how best to help people in the developing world.

After a lot of deliberation my best solution so far is education - what really separates the 1st from the 3rd would is education, rather than say money or technology, or infrastructure.

This suggests teaching is one of the most valuable professions we have. It has brought me new respect for teaching.

Posts describing teaching situations like this suggest that our society has problems setting priorities.

Mark Miller said...

The simplest stuff (literally not figuratively) often blows right past me. I looked at the triangle figure in your post a couple times and I didn't get it. I read through the text, looked at the figure one last time and burst out laughing. :)

What you describe sounds like a pedagogical challenge. It sounds true that the kids you describe have little interest in learning math, but it doesn't mean they can't learn it. It's a matter of approach. Think Jaime Escalante (that's what came to mind for me, anyway). I think he faced a similar situation.

Scott Rippon said...

Do you have a link to Garth Boomer's "slash your wrists" speech? Tried searching for it but had trouble finding a transcript.

Bill Kerr said...

hi Scott,

It was 27th or 28th September 1991, so the www was only getting started then. As well as the "wrist-slitting" comment Boomer also made a "low-level crap" remark which gained more attention at the time. I still have a thick Garth Boomer file.

After the speech I wrote an article for the Union Journal about it. Subsequently, Boomer wrote privately to me and we had an extensive private exchange of opinions. I also have a copy of the three year WRAP survey (Writing Reading Assessment Program) report which provided the basis for Boomer's comments.

Bill Kerr said...

hi Mark,

I suppose the purpose of my blog was to draw a little attention to a situation which does exist across the nation. It is a systemic problem.

Yes, I think people like Jaime Escalante and more recently Geoffrey Canada have an important role to play in thinking about solutions. But one problem with inspirational individuals is how to scale their influence. I had a conversation about this on Tom Hofmann's blog recently (see comments on blog links below) and hope to be able to do some more research about it.

Brooks and Fryer Poop on Canada, KIPP My Reading of the Dobbie / Fryer study ... KIPP v. Promise Academy