Archive for the ‘Why Don’t Kids Like Maths?’ Category

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Maths News: Around the World

August 9, 2016

MATHSPIG ICME 13 HAMBURG

Mathspig’s head is almost exploding with the maths ideas she picked up at the ICME 13 maths conference in Hamburg last month. Mathspig’s interest is in ‘Popularising’ maths. Enthusiastic conveners of this group were:

Patrick Vennebush (Discovery Channel, USA), Carlota Pires Simoes (University of Coimbra, Portugal), Prof Chris Budd (University of BAth, UK) and Christian Mercat (Universite Claude Bernard, Lyon, France).

QUICK SUMMARY:

HARNESS CURIOSITY: Maths educators from many countries have found that informal styles of maths education encourage students’ interest in maths.

ENCOURAGE INVOLVEMENT: Maths educators from around the world have found maths activities engage students more in mathematical concepts than simply opening text books or handing out worksheets.

POLITICAL INTERFERENCE: Politicians of all flavours believe they know more about maths eduction than maths educators and use funding to push their ideas into the classroom.

CURRICULUM CONFLICT: Politicians around the world have virtually opposing views on ‘good’ maths teaching methods. See UK vs SINGAPORE vs AUSTRALIA. 

So here are some of the fabulous ideas from the International Congress of Mathematical Education ICME 13 plus some additional research and links.

UK: Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 3.39.28 PM

The UK govt has offered £41 million to encourage half their primary schools to adopt Asian-style methods of teaching maths used in Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong (The Guardian, 12 July 2016) and return to using math text books. One favoured (and expensive – try  £4000 for a text book package) program is INSPIRE, which is a very visual and very structured text book series. But, as maths educator Dr Jennie from University College London commented, just because something works in Singapore does not mean it will work in London.

SINGAPORE:        Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 3.53.51 PM

Meanwhile maths educators from Singapore are adamant that there is no such thing as SINGAPORE MATHS. There are just a lot of maths teachers working hard. While parents, teachers and cultural expectations also make a contribution. In fact, there are many struggling maths students in Singapore. Tin Lam Toh from the National Institute of Education, Singapore, gave a – dare I say – ‘inspiring’ talk on the use of maths comic books to engage reluctant students. Would the UK government be happy if some of that £41 million was spent on COMIC BOOKS? But it is SINGAPORE MATHS! (The Straits Times, 30 May 2016)

 

PORTUGAL:        portugal

Andreia Hall, University of Aveiro, and Sonia Pais, Polytechnic Insitute of Leira demonstrated the power of maths magic from their MATHEMATICAL CIRCUS PROJECT. Their Circo Matematico road show has delighted and astounded many students and teachers. (More info on this project coming soon). 

Portugal pic

But others explained that Maths education in Portugal has its problems. Every time the government changes, the maths curriculum changes because – you know how it is – politicians know more about maths education than maths educators. And guess what? After 3 years of a disastrous regressive curriculum, there has been a change of government. ‘So what will happen next?’ maths teachers wonder.

COSTA RICA:      Cost Rica

Costa Rica has, however, avoided some of Portugal’s curriculum headaches. The very cheerful, Angel Ruiz, University of Costa Rica, explained that he and others schmoozed the politicians of all political flavours before each election so that educators remained in control of the curriculum. There is a clear message for maths associations around the world in this news.

FRANCE:      French

Glorious France. The French have long admired philosophers and mathematicians so it is no surprise that some amazing maths projects are taking place in France. Martin Andler, University of Versailles St Quentin, described the exciting Animath Project, which has been running for the last 4 years. With a €2 million government grants expanded to almost €6 million with private contributions, the project funds maths clubs, expositions, websites, competitions, prizes and more. (More info on this project coming soon. Look at Animath Facebook for now.)

 

GERMANY:     German

Wow! Andreas Matt and Bianca Violet, Mathematisches Forschungsinstitut Oberwolfach, Germany, introduced the extraordinary Imaginary Project.

This free, open source, collaborative website encourages involvement from around the world. Imaginary is funded by a Philanthropic Foundation and embraces concepts from Cloud Conferences to shopping mall displays to 3D printing competitions. It is mind boggling in its mathematical breadth and creativity. Just go to the website for a quick shot of amazement. (More on this project soon). And it is in ENGLISH.

USA:     USA

My good maths friends at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics provide resources, conferences and support for maths teachers. The NCTM are, significantly, not shy about making public comments on maths education topics from the teachers’ perspective. The NCTM is highly critical of the misuse by governments et al of high-stakes testing and the No Child Left Behind initiative, which produced a maths curriculum focused on ‘mostly low-level and disconnected skills’. Meanwhile, it was Marta Civil, Arizona, who highlighted the challenges faced by the individual math teacher especially in a multicultural classroom. Here, for instance, are two samples of long division USA-style and the Mexican Method.

Long Division Mathspig

No wonder some students and their parents get confused.

CANADA:   CANADA

Frederic Gourdeau, University of Laval, Canada, is one of the editors of the maths magazine, ACCROMATH, that has been promoting math in Quebec for the last 10 years. The success of the magazine – apart from the vibrant layout, fascinating topics and broad mathematical content – is based on tireless testing of the articles until they appeal to a broad range of students and teachers. The magazine is in French, of course, but if you Google Accromath images you’ll get the picture.

FINLAND:    FINLAND

Finland is held in high esteem among maths educators because of its consistently high math scores in the PISA tests for 15 year olds. But Prof Matti Heilio, Lappeenranta University of Technology, Finland, advises caution before jumping to conclusions. Yes! Teachers are highly trained and school quality is consistent across the country. But Finland’s success in maths education doesn’t necessarily flow onto their tertiary level.  As Prof Heilio explained ‘we need maths fundamental to the sustainable development of a technologically-based society’. Meanwhile, my favourite comment by a Finnish educator: ‘Our mission as adults is to protect our children from politicians’.

But, at least, Finland did give us ANGRY BIRDS.

AUSTRALIA:    AUSTRALIA

Last year the Australian government granted $1.5 million to Prof Robert Fitzgerald of INSPIRE Centre, University of Canberra (Not the Singapore Inspire) to bring back STUDENT ‘fascination’ with maths and science because, according to the professor, the ‘old text book approach is not working’.

Meanwhile, the mining conglomerate BHP has donated $22 million to fund the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute ‘Choose Maths’ program to do what? Guess? Produce text books! And these text books do not appear to be very exciting at all – definitely not up to $22 million worth of excitement. Go here to have a look at The Laws of Arithmetic and their use in Algebra for Year 7. This approach could excite you into a coma! What’s going on?

NEW ZEALAND:   NZ

In his keynote address (Full video recording here) Bill Barton, The University of Auckland, NZ, emphasised how little maths education had changed since Felix Klein criticised teaching methods over a hundred years ago. If maths students were apprentice carpenters then we would subject them to 14 years of repetitive tests of their hammering and sawing skills without ever letting them build even the smallest dog kennel. His talk was a plea for innovative thinking in maths education. He also criticised streaming students into ability groups as a form of Human Rights abuse. Think about it. The lowest ability group is always given a watered down curriculum, which is against their rights to a standard education.

RUSSIA:    RUSSIAN

Sergei Pozdniakov, Saint Petersberg Electrotechnical University, Russian Federation, spoke magnificently as if driven by the full force of Russian history. Yet he did not speak about tradition but rather the need to enhance the ‘bookish’ approach to maths education with activities for students of all ages. These activities included websites with algorithm challenges for all ages (See pic below) and Olympiad competitions with open and difficult problems. In each case students are encouraged ‘to build their own solutions and also find individual paths of searching for the solutions’. 

RUSSIAN PIC 2

THE NETHERLANDS:   NETHERLANDS

Bumping into middle-school maths teacher Jeroen Spandaw proved that a creative approach to maths education was alive and well in The Netherlands. In one maths challenge  for his students, he asks  ‘if all the people in China – the world?- stood on each other’s shoulders would they reach the moon?’

ISRAEL:    ISRAEL

Nitsa Movshovitz-Hadar, Israel Institute of Technology, had a unique approach to popularising mathematics. She runs public lectures open to all. It is astounding to learn that, say, 85 members of the public would turn up and pay a fee to listen to a lecture on Infinity. But they do. The fee supports grants for innovation in maths teaching. Nitsa carefully prepares each lecture and wins the audience with intriguing titles such as ‘The wonders of logic or: A mathematician’s April fool trick’ and ‘How many guards are needed to protect an art gallery?’

SOUTH AFRICA:   SOUTH AFRICA

Duduzile Mkhize, University of Johannesburg, South Africa, described the program she has developed to help some of the poorest students in her country. This Outreach program works beyond curriculum to improve high school students self-perception. Teenagers are forming their identities and it is as this time they decide they are NOT mathematicians. This 10 day residential program aims to change this view. Students are immersed in mathematics and return to their schools feeling more confident about their maths abilities. And this new found confidence persists throughout their education.

INDIA:   INDIA

Rajaratnam Athmaraman Veeravalli, The Association of Mathematics Teachers of India, explained that maths education is celebrated in India with TV shows, competitions, displays, Maths Awareness Months and even a National Maths Day celebrated on 22nd Dec, the birthday of the celebrated mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujam, whose life was portrayed in the film ‘The man who knew infinity’. Nevertheless, the attitude to maths in India is not good. Many think maths is not useful so efforts to popularise maths will continue. And ‘the target audience has to be almost the entire population—young and old, the well educated as well as the poorly educated, and, of course, men and women. Sometimes, it may have to include reluctant mathematicians.’

TURKEY:  TURKEY

Education is a servant of politics. This became sadly apparent when we learnt that the Turkish presenter for my popularising maths group, who I will not name, was prevented from attending the conference. The audience sat in stunned silence as we watched his video presentation of a very normal, busy middle-school maths classroom filmed only 4 days before the political turmoil began in Turkey.

ITALY:   ITALY

Marco Turrini, MMLab-University of Modena e Reggio Emilia, described how his Laboratory of Mathematical Machines is used to popularise maths in Italy. Students work with or create similar machines to develop an understanding of the underlining mathematical principles (see pic below).

ITALIAN MACHINES

ICME 13 photographs 

ICME 13 2016 2Row 1: 1.ICME 13 Hamburg Opening Ceremony, 2. Friendly Helpers at Congress, 3. Fabulous French PhD maths students Alix Boissiere and Lisa Rougetet,

Row 2: 4. Patrick Scott, IACME, USA and Angel Ruiz, University of Costa Rica, 5. Mathspig and Christian Mercat as a comcam Mandelbrot set,

Row 3: 7. Dr Axelle Faughn, Western Carolina University, 8. Jana Sierk Mintfit HamburRow

Row 4: 9. Christian Mercat  at the Mayor’s Reception City Hall hamburg, 10. Mathspig’s Workshop ICME Hamburg, 11. Mathspig at her Hamburg Workshop

Row 5: 12. Amazing image from the IMAGINARY website, 13. Prof Matti Heilio, Finland, 14. Patrick Vennebush (Discovery Channel, USA), Carlota Pires Simoes looking as if they’re giving  Prof Chris Budd (Looking like his head as a trophy, The Popularising Maths Group.

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MathsPig MathsPig MathsPig MathsPig MathsPig MathsPig MathsPig MathsPig MathsPig MathsPig MathsPig MathsPig MathsPig MathsPig MathsPig MathsPig MathsPig MathsPig MathsPig …………………………………………………. with Kerry Cue

September 14, 2012

Helloooooo America,

There’s been lots of talk about dumping math. Recently The New York Times ran an article ‘Is Algebra Necessary? and in the Huffington Post  a NY junior high student noted that math ‘feels meaningless’.

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But don’t you worry your pretty little head about math America.

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Don’t tell students:

* that every pipeline, powerline, car, building, baseball stadium, sound system, TV, video game, fashion item, food product, phone, hair goo and anything else you buy, wear or plug your ears into needs math.

* that Harry Potter movies need Math and The Hunger Games series is based on Math.

*that they can work out how much models legs are stretched in photoshop using math.

*that probability counts. Let them believe in Luck. (Don’t mention that Las Vegas was built by losers)

* that some people who use algorithms don’t know what they’re doing like, um, bankers!

*that it can be fun (The Great Math Scavenger Hunt) and funny. (Manly Moustache Math)

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And don’t let teachers be creative. Make sure they teach math like a dead language. Everyone does.

Make sure teachers grind their students through repetitive exercises to make math boring and irrelevant.

Make sure math is taught simply to pass standardised tests. The math whizz kids will. But as in Australia and the UK those math whizz kids don’t stick with math. Why would they? It’s boring. They get their scores, dump maths and go off to college to do Law or the like.

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But don’t you worry your pretty little head about math, America.

Some folk in some country somewhere will do the math we need. Five letters. Starts with C. Ends with A. Or am I going too fast for you?

This is the FIELD OF NIGHTMARES. Make maths horrible and they won’t come.

Cheerio

Mathspig

By the way, you do have some crazy math mad folk who believe math is really useful, relevant and fun. They get excited about math. And they spread the excitement around.

Here are two of them: 

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Kyle Gerrity is Co-Founder of Slader.COM,  an interactive math forum providing homework help for students across America.

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Patrick Vennebush, Manager of Online Projects for the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics.

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How many Mathematicians Does It Take to Change A Light Bulb?

September 14, 2012

Patrick Vennebush

When not solving problems, telling jokes, playing gameswith his sons, managing projects for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, or finding fun ways to help kids learn math, Patrick Vennebush plays Ultimate Frisbee, where he occasionally wins a national title.

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Patrick Vennebush is the Author

of Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks

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Here are two jokes from the book:

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Without geometry life is pointless.

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Economists have forecast ten of the last six recessions.

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There are some great resources @ Illuminations, The National Council for Teachers of Mathematics website.

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INTERVIEW WITH PATRICK

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Q1: What math topic was your favourite at school?

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Geometry is a mathematical jigsaw puzzle, except that you have to figure out which pieces you need as well as how to arrange them. But there was always something powerful about combining things I knew to prove things I didn’t.

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Q2: What math topic drove you insane?

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Combinatorics drove me mad. There are a million wrong ways to think about permutation and combination problems, but there’s only one right way to think about them. Even when the required calculations only take a few seconds to complete, the thinking to come to a solution might take hours.

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(Mathspig: Combinatorics? Wha? We just call them Permutations and Combinations in Aussie Land.)

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Q3: Did you ever do anything really exciting in math at school like go on an excursion to some weird math convention?

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No. I mean, this is crazy, but I can’t think of a single reason that I should like math… at least, not based on any great experiences.

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Q4: What math error in the media annoys you the most?

Misleading graphs, like this one from The New York Times.

 

 

Yep, Bush won, but this makes it look like it was a landslide.

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And I also hate arguments based on “man who” statistics. These are based on statements like “I know a man who…” and from that one example, great generalizations are made. More mathematically, results pulled from small samples are a huge problem, both in the media as well as in much of math education research. I can’t tell you the number of times that a researcher suggests that a particular teaching method is effective because there was a positive impact in just one or two classrooms. Oish.

(Mathspig. I think Oish is an underused word. We need a bring back the Oish Campaign.)

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Q5: Give me 3 reasons why you think students should do math.

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1)    To become proficient at problem solving, but more importantly, to understand that the greatest asset in problem solving is perseverance.

2)    To think logically. All the computational skills in the world won’t help if you can’t put the pieces together. (Mathspig: Yey!!!! My fav too)

3)    To be facile with numbers for daily life. So that when they’re confronted with various loan options or statistics in a newspaper, they can make an informed decision.

4)    Most importantly, to understand the jokes in my book. (or ve hit them vith pi. Mathspig)

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Q6: What is wrong with the way math is taught in American schools?

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Educators are too willing to sell kids a bill of goods. The curriculum contains a lot of topics that most students will never use. Honestly, when’s the last time you factored a trinomial? Part of the problem is the standards. Take the Common Core standards, for instance—they contain eight “practices” that artfully describe what a mathematically proficient student should be able to do, but then the practices are followed by a thousand standards that require nothing more than rote skills. Honestly, why are students asked to “derive the formula for the sum of a finite geometric series” to “calculate mortgage payments,” yet they’re never asked to consider the pros and cons of taking an adjustable rate mortgage?

But I’d also blame a lack of passion. The exceptional teachers I’ve met, the ones who are able to get their students excited about learning math, love numbers and shapes. They don’t have to convince their students that math is useful or interesting; their passion makes it obvious.

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Q7: What can teachers do right now to get kids more interested in math?

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I think there are two things they can do. First, be interested in math themselves. Second, keep their eyes open for examples of the usefulness of math in everyday life. (But, please, no more examples about measuring and cooking!)

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Q8: How does your blog/website/book help students with their math?

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Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks contains 400 jokes, which I think helps to dispel the myth of humorless mathematicians. Teachers can use the jokes in class, and research has shown that humor has physical, psychological, and pedagogical value. Laughing decreases blood pressure, reduces anxiety, increases retention of information, provokes thought, hones prediction and decision-making skills, creates a more open atmosphere, and actually aids with classroom management.

 

On the MJ4MF blog, I post funny math stories, interesting math problems, and examples of math in the real world. I don’t know that a student would ever become proficient in math simply by reading my blog… but hopefully I can help them see that math can be both fun and useful.

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Q9: Tell us one funny math story/joke.

 

Just one? Surely, you jest!

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How do you know if a mathematician is an extrovert?

When he talks to you, he looks at your shoes.

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A woman goes to the doctor. The doctor tells her that she only has six weeks left to live.

“Oh, my goodness! Doctor, what should I do?” she asks.

“Are you married?”

“No.”

“Then find an actuary, and marry him!”

“Will that help me live longer?” she asks.

“Well, no,” he says, “but it’ll feel longer.”

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Q10: If you ruled the world what would change to help kids get excited about math?

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Foremost, I’d make Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks be a required text for all courses.

Seriously, if I ruled the world, then I could do anything, right? I’d make teachers the highest paid professionals in the world, based entirely on merit. Teachers would get a base salary on which they could survive; and then, when their students were old enough to honestly and fairly assess their teachers, the students could provide ratings that would send huge bonuses to their previous teachers. I would never base a teacher’s pay on students’ standardized test scores. And while we’re at it, I’d throw away all standardized tests, period.

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Patrick Vennebush, for services above and beyond the call of math duty and for your outstanding contribution to the field of math humour, you are declared an Honourable Mathspig.