Growing Mathematicians

So, we just had a very constructive year 10 “Growing Mathematicians’ meeting. Actually, I’ve just invented that title but a title always makes you feel part of something and not just like going to another meeting so maybe it will stick.

Craig presented one lesson idea which was the very simple “Reflective Flags” exercise. And yet from a very clean and simple (and strangely addictive) activity a whole range of quality maths ensued.

Some important ideas that stood out for me were:

  • There are skills that we as teachers/mathematicians have but which very few of our students do. These are not the skills of being able to rotate a quadrilateral or find the area of a triangle but a range of skills which enable us to have a pretty good crack at any problem that might arise.
  • These skills are often hidden and require significant higher order thinking and in particular meta cognition.
  • It is important for these skills/approaches to be made explicit, both from ourselves as teachers but even more importantly from the students.
  • Our job as teachers is to tease out these skills and empower students to feel able to attack any problem. This role of teaching seems meaningful to me. A truly honourable endeavour.
  • This approach does not mean finding the right answer quickly or easily but having the confidence that we will be able to figure something out.
  • This feeling is deeply empowering.
  • Giving students the problems and letting them go is not enough, however excited and motivated they may be. Busy is not good enough. The true skill in teaching is how to take these learning exercises and to facilitate a growth in the students’ confidence and ability.
  • Monitoring/evaluation is important in this. What do we want to achieve?How are we going to check to see if that has been developed?
  • Many skills may be being developed but it may only be possible to fully evaluate and report on a couple of these per task.
  • Some (in fact in my experience, many) students find this approach deeply unnerving. I think this is due to the fact that they feel lost and don’t believe they will be able to find their way out. We need to be able to develop mathematical thinking in students, allowing them to feel they have a range of approaches at their disposal and a toolkit of ideas which should work. Notice, this is confidence in a process not in ‘finding the right answer’.
  • A sign of success for me is when students accept challenges willingly and don’t run and hide at the onset of confusion.

I think we do need to talk more about how we go about this process of growing these skills in our students and I think how to monitor and evaluate will be an important aspect in this.

Today’s meeting had a lot of great discussion and feedback as well as ‘doing maths’, which I think is something we should do more of and apologize less for. I hope future meetings continue to discuss and hone these ideas.

I am also keen to keep these valuable resources and ideas properly documented. It is all too easy (for me at least) for these things to be forgotten with no real change taking place. Not sure how I’m going to do that yet, though.

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