Life always bursts the boundaries of formulas

Title for this post is from de Saint-Exupery’s (author of The Little PrinceFlight To Arras.

As we approach the start to a new academic year in Australia, it is time to reflect on what did and didn’t work last year, re-think approaches to the teaching and learning of mathematics for the new year, revisit that vision of what you would like education to be and set out optimistically on the journey. 

I believe that ‘setting the scene’ at the start of the year is of the utmost importance. What sort of classroom will yours be this year? What expectations for students’ thinking and learning will it convey? What routines and structures will guide the life of our classrooms? What opportunities will we create for our students?

Too many mathematics curricula, in my opinion, consist solely of a list of content. Having a framework for what to teach is necessary but so is a focus on big ideas and desired understandings. I will try and be mindful of these things and attempt to develop a sense of ‘mindfulness’ in my students as they engage with the concepts and ideas we explore this year in my classes.  

What I don’t want them to do is expect mathematics to be full of recipes and formulas that need to be ‘taught’ in order for them to engage mathematically.  A relative of mine recently related a story of how he asked his 15 yr old son how long a car travelling at 100 km/hr would take to travel 150 km and was appalled that his son couldn’t answer him, saying “We haven’t been taught that yet”. I have a feeling that it is the way a lot of mathematics is communicated in schools that leads to students believing that they can’t even start to think about something until they have been shown a ‘method’; been given an example.

I would like my students to feel and believe that they can ‘have a go’ at problems without looking to me to provide them with a method of solution each time. My aim is to scaffold their learning and signpost the thinking required in their approach, not a formula for the solution.

An excellent resource for engendering thinking in students (and teachers!) is the Project Zero website (not available through search engines) at http://www.pz.harvard.edu/

The downloadable sheet Looking At Opportunities – http://www.pz.harvard.edu/vt/VisibleThinking_html_files/05_SchoolWideCultureOfThinking/05e_ToolsForAssessing.html –  is especially recommended as a guide for the preparation of lessons and as a reflective tool when considering how they went. 

May a rich and rewarding teaching life and its concomitant thinking burst through the boundaries imposed by educational bureaucrats for all of you in 2007!

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About Linda

I have been involved in secondary mathematics education in Victoria, Australia for over 25 years.
This entry was posted in Ideas for teaching & learning, Pedagogy, Vision. Bookmark the permalink.

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