Sunday, 16 August 2015

Charlotte Wilkinson's personal view for the Direction of Maths Education

Where might we be heading with Maths Education

During June of this year I paid a visit to the UK and while there I visited a number of schools to find out what is actually happening in the teaching and learning of mathematics and how it has changed since I left 16 years ago.
New Zealand appears to be following a similar pathway in educational policies, albeit about 10 years behind.
What have we got to look forward to and are we ahead in some areas? We need to make sure we are not forced into making backward steps?
Firstly the UK have just been hit with a new curriculum which has no levels but in the maths there is a list of what should be taught at each year group level.
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A maths lesson consists of a whole class starter activity (about 10 minutes) followed by a whole class delivery of a concept then individual work with support from teacher or teaching assistant. All classes in this school and apparently many schools have a teaching assistant during a maths lesson. (A teaching assistant has received some training and is not a teacher aide nor a fully qualified teacher).
Lesson type is review -teach -practice which research data says while very common may not be the best method for teaching mathematics, particularly new concepts. (Teaching Maths in Primary Schools R Zevenbergen, S Dole & R Wright page 71)
The new curriculum focuses on mastery which was explained to me as meaning the bright students, instead of being introduced to new content knowledge are to explore the content assigned to their year group in greater depth through problem solving to develop higher order thinking skills.
So higher order thinking is only for the students who grasp new concepts quickly in the way they are taught.
Lesson type problem based learning is most beneficial when encountering new content - aligns with how people learn, use and apply knowledge in the real world. (Reference as above)
Another school told me that generally teachers teach skills and provide opportunities to apply them if there is time, but most often time runs out and the application of the skills doesn’t happen.
I suggested the NZ model of teaching through problem solving rather than only teaching for problem solving. This was a novel idea to the teacher concerned and she liked the idea.
There is no professional development to assist teacher to make this change and many teachers think problem solving is confined to solving arithmetic word problems. There is no longer an advisory service and no professional development courses.
I had the opportunity of having a long conversation with a teacher based at an SEN school (Special school) whose role involves going out to mainstream school to assist teachers with students who are struggling in mainstream. Firstly there is much more comprehensive support for students with special educational needs, many more being taught in dedicated special education units. In supporting the students who struggle in mainstream the new curriculum dictating what should be taught at each year group is causing problems as teachers are trying to teach, for example, fractions to students who are unable to work with numbers beyond 20. Many teachers are struggling with differentiation as concepts are taught whole class, only follow up work is differentiated.
On the way home we stopped in Singapore where they were celebrating 50 years of being an independent country. On visiting an exhibition I was very interested to read in a section on education a radical change they made in 2012.
They stopped all league tables comparing schools and even stopped naming their top students.
Reason: They found schools were becoming focused on rankings rather than real learning. They are trying to break down the “caste system” of education which ranks academic learning as superior to all other learning in recognition that they need people skilled in trades as well as university graduates to build their economy. Knowledge AND Skills is how they have achieved what they have in just 50 years.

Maybe a lesson could be learnt by looking closer to home rather than to the UK.

Doesn’t Singapore consistently rank higher than UK on international rankings?

Published with permission ©Copyright N C Wilkinsons Ltd 2015. All rights reserved.

I find Charlotte's Philosophy on Maths Education refreshing in an era where much is being driven by politicians.  
I would just love to see New Zealand, and the UK, as well as the USA and Australia, take a leaf out of Finland's Book.  A number of years back the Politicians unilaterally agreed that Education would be left to the specialists without political interference.  They decided that the teachers should be well trained educated and supported. In Mathematics they wanted a Problem Solving Approach to be the driving force.
It is my understanding that Finland is near the top of all International league tables, with overseas educators beating a path to their door to see what they are 'doing right'!     Len

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