Math can be an intimidating subject and out of all the subjects taught in high school it is probably the one that likely has the most notoriety for bringing students to tears. (And some times to their knees.)
I suck at math
How many times have you heard this: "I suck at math."
But really .... What does it mean to be bad at math? AND WHY do so many students feel this way?
It is no secret that education systems in a lot of developed countries, including the United States and the UK, is, for lack of a better phrase, falling behind in comparison to other countries...
Evidence of this stems from various sources, but perhaps the most notable is the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test scores.
The PISA, a test taken every 15 years by more than 50 countries, is used as an international benchmark of success in math education.
In fact, the results show that the United States ranks lower than 39 other countries in mathematics alone, just ahead of Croatia for example.
So, what can we do about it?
Grass roots change
One simple solution is to go looking to the success of countries leading the march in math education such as: Singapore, Switzerland, and Hong Kong.
BUT I think evoking change in the mathematics classroom requires changing the entire structure, from the bottom up. From the ground up.
And this mindset has to be grounded (no pun intended) on the basis which will both encourage and teach students to LEARN how to "truly think" when they have to solve engaging problems and figure things out. They need to learn how to become creative thinkers.
For many years, the focus in the classroom has been on rote memorization and driven almost entirely by content. Don't get me wrong; this works for some subjects. But I don't think that this approach bodes well in the math and science space.
VNPS and the thinking classrom
Peter Liljedahl and his Building Thinking Classrooms approach offers a interesting take for the problem solving classes out there like math and the sciences for example.
Peter's strategies place an emphasis on critical thinking and problem-based learning, allowing students to be autonomous learners as they work to synthesize their thought process and develop the skill set to solve real-world problems.
"As these students begin to break down barriers both individually and as a group, they will begin to have more 'Aha!' moments (Liljedahl, 2015)." These moments will hopefully help to shape our youth to become lifelong learners with a more positive view of math and science centred subject-matter.
Teaching that encourages collaboration
Using The Thinking Classroom model, teachers are regarded more as facilitators, not as the source of ALL knowledge. In fact, students are encouraged to collaborate and communicate with one another collectively in groups of 2-4 to find a viable solution.
And the classroom itself is arranged to facilitate GROUP WORK when using The Thinking Classroom approach. And whiteboards, and other sources of vertical non-permanent surface (VNPS) help with this process by allowing students to model their ideas in a "safe space," one that welcomes mistakes. The result: students are more willing to try and therefore are WAY more engaged.
Another important component of The Thinking Classroom: at the start of class, random grouping is encouraged to help facilitate a team centred environment with fewer social barriers. Each day, students should have an opportunity to work with different peers who have various strengths and weaknesses.
Adding each of these elements into the math classroom will hopefully lead us on the path towards change.
And you know what, perhaps, there will be a day in the not too distant future when hear that afore-noted dreaded phrase a little less frequently.
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