Thursday, March 05, 2009

Maths and B+Q

Maths teachers up and down the Land are to be sent a little booklet showing them how to teach their subject. Apparently Ofsted, the Schools Inspectors reckon that the kids are just being taught to pass the exams.

This is of course absolutely true and has always been the case, whether it was for the 11+, the 'O' Level or whatever. For the vast majority of people, Maths just isn't very interesting and 99% of the population will never need to do any algebra or solve a quadratic equation after they leave school.

The fact is, most of them can't do the things that might be of some use. For example if are at B+Q and you want some skirting board which comes in 3 metre lengths and your room is 17 feet by 13, then a grasp of mental arithmetic and estimation might well save you an extra journey (and if I had to give one benefit of mathematics it would be avoiding a trip to B+Q)

My 60 year old handyman can do this easily, (and he left school at 15) but if you ask a selection of school leavers, most will look around helplessly until you provide a calculator which will enable them to get the wrong answer.

Try asking "what's 20% off £15?" for a similar response.

Throughout my teaching 'career' (don't laugh) pupils would ask me "why do we have to know this?" and wave a page of their textbook at me. If nothing else, I was always honest and would reply:

"So that you get a certificate which might help you get a better job, or allow you to learn more things"


Rich said...

The BBC article tells us: "Ofsted's report on maths teaching, published at the end of last year, said too much of it was "taught to the test" and that this did not equip pupils for their futures." and "Ofsted says that more pupils should be achieving higher grades in the subject." Surely these can't both be true? If teacher's leave off "teaching to the test" won't grades fall because they'll be teaching more material irrelevant to the test? Am I making a mistake seeking sense in an Ofsted report?

Anonymous said...

I spent most of yesterday afternoon trying to teach 2nd year University students (Russel group -so they should have some degree of intellect) how to plot graphs on a semi-logarithmic scale. Most of them claimed to have never seen logarithmic graph paper.
I was particularly pleased to see them reaching for their calculators when asked to subtract 1 from another value. Mental arithmetic? What's that?

crowlord said...

I couldn't agree more. What the hell is a cosine anway, I've never needed it. I have needed to work out how many square metres of floor is in my bathroom however!.

Why is the emphasis always on teaching knowledge and not skills?

Anonymous said...

Well, yes, but before that only really started in the last year before O Levels/GCSE. Now it starts at about 9 and continues throughout. So children learn nothing.

jerym said...

As a ten year old sixty five years ago we would have mental arithmetic lessons where the teacher stood in front of the class and fired questions at us. I can still see the arms shooting up and the cries of "sir,sir" as we tried to get his attention if we knew the answer.That and the times tables learned by rote proved to be excellent mental exercise and my children still look at me in astonishment when I come up with an answer before they have even picked up their calculators.
Education is not only exam passing instruction but brain exercise and training and encouraging curiosity and a thirst for knowledge.

jerym said...

Talking of O levels from the telegraph---------
Computer says no

SIR – I have recently been made redundant, after 26 years as a property lawyer. I considered that my skills and maturity could be useful in the teaching profession. Inquiring at a local college about enrolling on a PGCE, I was asked whether I had five GCSEs. I stated that I didn’t, but have a first-class honours degree, legal qualifications, three good A-levels and eight O-levels.

I was told that I couldn’t apply for the course because I didn’t have five GCSEs.

I tried to explain to the young lady that O-levels were what preceded GCSEs, but the computer wouldn’t allow her to enter my information and complete the application.

Jackie McClean
Barton-le-Clay, Bedfordshire

MarkUK said...

At junior school we thought we knew our tables until we moved into Mr Charles Laughton's class. (Yes, that was his real name.) He made sure we knew our tables from one times two is two up to 12 times 12 is 144. We also had to be able to recite them backwards, and do 5 into 5 goes once, 5 into 10 goes twice and so on for each table. We also did mental arithmetic.

When I was 13, I earned a few bob (12/6 or 62½p per day) working for a bloke who sold sweets from a market stall. The till was a cardboard box, and electronic calculators hadn't been invented. Adding up the price of a quarter of this and that, half a pound of the other and a bar of something else came naturally. Obviously this was in pre-decimal times, with 12d to the shilling and 20s to the pound.

I have nothing against calculators and am happy to use them. However, I can still often beat my daughters to an arithmetical calculation, me using my head and them using a calculator. Even if it's a more complex calculation, I can have an approximate answer very quickly.

Thank you Mr Laughton

Lilyofthefield said...

There seems to be a dogma that states that rote-learning is boring and soul-destroying, that constant practice is in some way a disservice to children.

It probably is to some, but to many it was almost a relaxation, a chanting, the support of voices in unison so if you forgot the words you could still sing the tune.

My lower-ability KS4 classes used to quite enjoy some mind-numbing copying of text and neat diagrams. They liked the five minute ten-question test at the end with a prize (fun-size chocolate prize, that is, rather than the racing bike and iPod presently on offer at our school simply for turning up more often than anyone else) for the one with the most one-word answers.

I grant you that I'm not developing independent learning nor joining many dots here but analytical thought and conceptual leaps were not in these kids' mental circuitry. They worked quietly and purposefully, had a book of neat, intelligent-looking work and were proud of their achievement if they did better this week than they did last in the test.

And they liked chanting. They learned all their weights and measures by chanting.

Anonymous said...

What I don't understand is why the policy makers can't see the truth in this. Is it a case of they don't get promotion if they don't come up with something new or are they simply wreakers?

The same applies to discipline. Everyone knows that indisciplined kids will not be equiped for the adult world but they keep letting the little darlings behave like monsters.

It's almost as if they want these kids to fail ...

Fran Hill said...

Enjoying your posts after finding your blog from a link on someone else's. I wrote an article in the TES on this booklet for maths teachers issue. You might like it.

Quick Home Sale UK said...

Tsk! Please someone pay attention to this kind of disturbing news!...

Quick Home Sale UK said...

I could not get over this site! How come its not updated anymore?