While English is my first love, Maths is my first teaching love - it's the first subject I ever taught, and probably my favourite subject to teach. Well, maybe not. I don't know. But anyway I enjoy teaching it.
I've been teaching Maths for four years now, and I believe I am starting to get the basics right. Of course now the syllabus is changing, but I think the underlying principles are remaining the same, and I can teach those. I have a solid selection of basic resources for different topics, and enough headspace to create more as necessary during the year. I have also developed a sprinkling of interesting/inspiring ways of introducing topics and making them come to life which I can reuse each year.
So yes, I think (hopefully without hubris) that I'm a pretty decent Maths teacher at this point.
Now to improve!
The thing about Maths is that it's often awfully dry. Most people don't find the subject interesting for its own sake. They take it because they have to, and hate it most of the time. They struggle with it, stress over it, get poor marks for it. They blame the teacher, blame themselves, blame the system. All in all Maths is a stressful, often unsatisfying subject to teach or learn. Understanding seems to be an unattainable goal.
The role of the Maths teacher, if anything, is to tie the learner up in knots, confusing them and rendering them complete incapable of making the climb to Mathematical brilliance.
The Maths itself, rather like Rapunzel's hair, becomes this esoteric weapon which the teacher wields mysteriously, and the learner has no hope of developing for him or herself. But it doesn't have to be. The teacher could teach every learner to wield a weapon. If not the glorious hair of Mathematical truth then at least... the sword of logic? The frying pan of hard work? And once the learners are armed? Well then we can all tackle the tower of Mathematics together instead of working at cross purposes.
How to make Maths magical? I think the answer is somewhat counter-intuitive. Make it more magical by making it more predictable. Predictability is where the learners will discover the frying pans and swords which will make their Mathematical experience manageable.
Usually I would think that predictability would make a subject boring. But actually I think that predictability cuts down of stress. And cutting down on stress makes learning possible. And once learning is possible - then you can start having fun.
Here are some of the ways in which I will be trying to increase predictability in my Maths classes this year:
- Structure: Learners need to feel that they know how each lesson/chapter is going to go. I had great results this year when I published a lesson by lesson plan of a chapter before starting. This helped the global thinkers to work out where everything fitted in, and helped the incredibly busy people to plan their workload. And it helped all of us to stay on task.
- Homework: Unfortunately Maths is one of those subjects where homework needs to be done (and checked in class) every.single.day. I hate this. I find it tedious and boring. BUT. It is necessary. I got it mostly right in 2013, but let it slide a bit (at least the checking part) towards the end of the year when I became demoralised by how many students weren't bothering. That's not okay. I need to find the energy to persist in following this up all year.
- Independent Work: I want to make a greater variety of resources available to the learners online. This includes extra worksheets and memos, videos, quizzes and so on. I want them to be able to do extra "frying pan drills" whenever they can. In our department we are going to try and make better use of Edmodo to post these extra resources once a week after our subject meetings. This also puts some of the onus onto the learners and parents: if they want to improve, the tools are there.
- Communication with parents: This is key. It connects with structure, homework and independent work. It links to preparation for tests and exams. The basic principal is this. If the classroom is the battleground of Mathematics, then the home is the training ground. And the parents are the drill sergeants. They just need to know what to do. SMSWEB, Edmodo, emails and phone calls... essential.
I know that despite its title this post hasn't really mentioned much about Maths itself. But all these structural points are what I believe enable me and my learners to actually get the Maths done. Because trust me, it's a WAR out there, and we need to be as thoroughly equipped as possible.
Do you think predictability helps or hinders learning?