I had an interesting conversation with a former maths teacher who was telling me how much she disliked ‘investigations’. She said that you could never tell whether a student had done the work themselves or if their Dad had done it for them. It was clear to me that steering the conversation round to wondering about the difference between investigating mathematically and submitting GCSE coursework, wasn’t going to get me anywhere, so I had to nod and force a polite smile. On one level it was deeply depressing how pleased maths teachers were when GCSE coursework was abandoned for maths exams. On the other, the whole process had been so discredited … I remember well when Letts brought out a 50p booklet with an exemplar solution to the painted cube problem, thereby rendering it unsubmittable. Then, two weeks ago Charlie Gilderdale of NRich came to run a session for ATM/MA at King’s London Branch and 50 people spent their Saturday morning just doing some maths and having those wonderful lucid moments and deep insights that remind us that doing maths is simply wonderful fun. Realising that a simple problem looking at sets of sequences starting with the odd numbers, followed by the same sequence multiplied by successive powers of 2 generated a proof of the fundemental theorem of arithmetic was a magic moment for me.
I was delighted that some of the King’s PGCE group who were there took one of the problems and did it with their students the following week. happily the students were up for it and the experience was positive. Trouble is that this overwhelming focus on assessment as the only feature to decide what can and cannot be done in maths lessons, means that exploration and investigation is so against the expectation that the initial student response is negative. “Just tell us how to to do it …” they cry! So, don’t just try once, or twice, keep at it until the penny drops. In my last post I suggested practical materials in the form of puzzles and games is helpful to get the grab factor quickly. But, whatever it takes, give young people the opportunity to love actually doing mathematics, not learning some pointless rule or technique. We love it, and our job as maths educators is to share that. Danny Brown at Thomas Tallis School popped in and he has that love and passion for the subject, so I immediately grabbed at the chance to get one of my students in there so they can share it too. Check out his blog and share your thoughts.
We desperately need more people who really care about getting school student into maths (and who rail against those who say “how do I make it interesting?”… it is interesting!). So, please go to www.londonmaths.org.uk ask for a log in and post something, come to the ATM/MA sessions, post on Danny’s blog and share your ideas and let’s have a proper community.