How to make maths really boring


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  • Thank you Dave, for your brilliance and generosity sharing the innovative = harmonious, right-left brain balanced and integrative (hence - more effective) way of teaching mathematics. Your students are very lucky. And I am honored to be one of them.
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How to make maths really boring

  1. 1. How to make maths really boring. David C, 2014
  2. 2. I see a lot of online essays about how to make maths fun for kids. It occurred to me that an essay on how to make maths really boring for kids would be useful as a contrast.
  3. 3. I see a lot of online essays about how to make maths fun for kids. It occurred to me that an essay on how to make maths really boring for kids would be useful as a contrast. So here goes.
  4. 4. 1 Give out pieces of paper and walk away. Kids are social creatures and need to interact at least as much as grownup humans do. Probably more. In fact the younger they are, the more socially motivated they are. That doesn‟t mean you need to sit next to them and do the math for them, but it does mean that your presence should be felt. Laugh with them when they tell a joke. Stay close by, even if you don‟t interact with them. They can feel that you are around. Make it clear that if they have a question for you, you are just an arm-length or two away and can respond immediately, not to the whole class but to them individually.
  5. 5. 1 Give out pieces of paper and walk away. Be interested in their work. Be interested in the stuff that isn‟t work too because you‟ll be amazed at how much the chatter between kids can actually keep them happy while they work. Some of it is distracting and some of it is not. Some of it actually keeps them going, and if you are part of that occasional mindless chatter that keeps kids going then the kids know you are with them, not against them.
  6. 6. 2 Only accept answers that are written down. When you ask a question using your mouth, it is a whole different experience for the kid compared to asking that same question using a piece of paper. It‟s interaction, not hieroglyphics. By asking the question verbally, you are appealing to a very primitive part of the brain that reacts to people. The part of the brain that reacts to words on a piece of paper is still under construction. There‟s emotion in verbal communication. In everything that is said there‟s always a trace of „I like you‟ in it, or its opposite. When the message to me is „I like you‟, I teach better, and when the message to my students is „I like you‟, they work better.
  7. 7. 2 Only accept answers that are written down. Ditto with writing the answers on a piece of paper. Yes kids do have to learn to write, but is this a writing lesson or a maths lesson? Does it have to be both? Sometimes you just want the kids to see maths as something they can pick up through conversation, because that‟s how kids pick up ninety percent of everything they learn, at least until they get to university. So have classes where you call out a question and kids call out answers. Let the writing be the random scribbling of subtotals that lead to a verbal answer.
  8. 8. 2 Only accept answers that are written down. Do you have to collect the work in? I‟d like to think you could assess kids just by listening to them. That runs counter to the industrial model of education we currently cling to, but I think it‟s better than treating kids as creatures who can only impress us by correspondence. Leave the serious pencil-pushing til the end-of-year exam.
  9. 9. 3 Make the boxes too small. Downloads off the internet, or examples printed in books all have to face the economic problem of squeezing as much data into a finite number of pages in order to make the book affordable. Therefore the so-called “space for working” is about as big as the back side of a postage stamp (remember them?). The font of the question is reduced to near illegibility and the lines are squeezed together so that it looks like alphabet Lego rather than instructions. That‟ll turn a kid off pretty fast.
  10. 10. 3 Make the boxes too small. Kids need elbow room in which to write stuff. They‟re going to make mistakes. They‟re going to need to cross stuff out. They‟re going to need to draw pictures and experiment with approaches. Give them space to do this. Writing precisely in a small space sends the message, „Maths is small. It‟s finicky. It‟s like crochery, or fixing a watch‟. Screw the book! Who needs to have examples out of a book or off the internet when you can create problems just as good on-the-spot, right there in the classroom, scrawled in your own handwriting with tons of space around it for alterations.
  11. 11. 4 Make the questions multi-choice. Nothing screams I-don‟t-give-a-damn louder than a multi-choice test. It says, “I have to check how smart you are but I don‟t have the time or the patience, or basically I just want to put this answer template over your writing and get it the hell over with as fast as I can because I‟m bored and unhappy too and just want to go home.”
  12. 12. 4 Make the questions multi-choice. Let‟s have some dignity in the classroom. Maybe the kid actually wants to show you how smart (s)he is. Maybe the kid has found a way to bang those numbers and x‟s together that the writer of the worksheet never dreamt of. So what the hell kind of education is it when all we are doing is testing whether kids can recognise a plausible answer against several implausible ones?
  13. 13. 5 Make the examples meaningless. What‟s the worst that can happen when you hand in a wrong answer to a meaningless question? So the sum of these random numbers is not actually what I said it was? Oh, well I‟ll ponder that in a meaningful sort of way while I‟m in bed tonight. That‟s if I can remember it thirty seconds after I walk out of this room.
  14. 14. 5 Make the examples meaningless. It might still be meaningless to count the bricks on the wall of the classroom, but watch how different the problem becomes when the kids can wander round „inside‟ the problem rather than outside of it. That‟s meaningful in sensory sort of way. Watch what happens when a kid can put his/her hand on the items being counted and pat them as they count in a very tactile way and know that the answer means something, even though it‟s a small something. It‟s primal experience. It‟s engaging in a way that abstract thinking isn‟t.
  15. 15. 6 Everybody freeze! I can‟t sit through even the best movie without wanting to move around once in a while. Therefore to have an environment where students have to pretend to be statues is kind of silly. Let them walk around a bit, hopefully with you as the leader of the pack.
  16. 16. 6 Everybody freeze! Next point: how exciting would the best movie be if the hero never got out of his chair behind his desk? Even if your students don‟t get permission to walk around with you, then at least get up and walk around yourself, so that students at least have a moving target to stare at. Movement adds dynamics and drama to the points you make. Do it right and your lesson becomes street theatre, improv comedy. If nothing else, that aimless pondering back and forth puts oxygen in your lungs, which alone is enough to make you teach better.
  17. 17. 7 Use a whiteboard attached to the wall. The only way you can look at a whiteboard on the wall is to sit with your gaze slightly upwards from horizontal. That means sitting with your back more or less vertical and your neck slightly curved back. How often do you do this at home? And for how long? Even those poor desk-clerks in those dreadful cubicles in a shared office get to look down at the papers they need to read. If you don‟t know what I mean then take a chair to an art gallery and park it in front of your favourite painting and sit on it facing the painting for an hour. Feel your eyes drying up? That‟s what gravity does. Feel your neck starting to ache? That‟s more gravity. Getting a headache? Welcome to math education.
  18. 18. 7 Use a whiteboard attached to the wall. Have six to ten kids in a circle around a whiteboard placed flat on a table and then watch the style of attention it creates. Heads come together, and so the minds of these kids come together too. Gaze is downwards instead of upwards. Close proximity reduces voice volume. Hands come out and point at the details on the board. The pen is passed around. People lean down, stand up and stretch when they need to. Kind of like everything else we do in life, except drive a car. But if I had a seat in my classroom that was like the seat of my car – complete with headrest - I might not mind.
  19. 19. 8 Prove their suspicions right: Maths has no connection with reality. Maths can be taught as an endless series of lemmas and corollaries, and that may look like the best way to teach because of its logical sequence, but it‟s often a LOUSY way to learn a new subject. Jump in at the interesting point and go back to the beginning and forwards to the end, like many good movies do these days. Let the first five minutes of a lesson assure kids that the rest of the lesson will be worthwhile. A traveller is better motivated if he knows where he‟s going and how long it will take to get there.
  20. 20. 9 Prove their suspicions right: Maths has no connection with reality. Finally, bring in people who use the maths you‟re teaching, or be one of those people. Build something. Predict something. Measure something. Maths is not the crunching of numbers but the crunching of data. Without data, maths is meaningless in the same way that words are meaningless without things to say. Would we teach speech by opening a dictionary and practising the words in alphabetical order? No. Yet we seem to want to teach maths in this sort of way.
  21. 21. 9 Prove their suspicions right: Maths has no connection with reality. We do this because maths is logical, and therefore it seems improper to teach it in an illogical way. But good education isn‟t a chess game, it‟s a good story told well, and sometimes that means mixing up the chapters to create a better effect. Want your kids to get good at fractions? How about teaching them probability at the same time, because what is probability if it isn‟t about fractions. Want kids to get good at decimal numbers? How about teaching them geometry at the same time, because what is a measurement if it‟s not a decimal number.
  22. 22. [END]