Sunday, April 20, 2014

Mirror mirror on the wall, are kids in maths classes having a ball?

R is for research in the A to Z challenge...

Have you ever noticed the way people talk about maths? "I don't like maths" or "I'm bad at maths" Even in my post graduate level, starting masters degree, critical research methodologies course, from a top university, students shy away from quantitative research due their 'feelings' about maths.

A 2009 report from the New Zealand Ministry of Education suggested that 37% of the students in their survey selected maths as their least favourite subject. Incase you think you might be bad at maths too, let me interpret for you... This means that more than a third of students have selected maths as their least favourite subject. Not just that they dislike it, but that out off all the subjects they do dislike, maths is the one they dislike the most.

In 2013, New Zealand fell from 13th to 22nd in their PISA maths scores. Although there was some discussion in the media and in staff rooms, PISA was labelled just another test. And since, I have heard nothing of it.

As a bit of a maths victim myself, I set out to restore the relationship between myself and maths when I accidentally ended up teaching it. And yes, we really have restored the relationship. I have discovered that I am very mathematically minded and that I enjoy maths. So why is it that for so many years as a student, I thought that I was bad at maths? Why is it that I too would have chosen maths as my least favourite subject?

Images from Pic Sauce and Teenager Post via Pinterest

Over Christmas I read Jo Boaler's The Elephant in the Classroom (a MUST read for all maths teachers). There is a great line in her book that is echoed in much of the work on Dan Meyer's blog too -“in maths classrooms, trains travel towards each other on the same tracks and people paint houses at identical speeds all day long. Water fills baths at the same rate each minute, and people run around tracks at the same distance from the edge” Boaler (2009, Loc 715). Both Dan Meyer and Jo Boaler then go on to then talk about how the maths classroom could be changed, for the better. And so I started wondering... What is actually happening in maths classrooms? And the more I wonder, the more I am dead curious and actually want to go look.

All over Twitter and and all over the internet educators are sharing fantastic, innovative, engaging pedagogy. You can just look at the great conversations that happen anywhere, anytime using the symbol of the moment, the hashtag. Even a quick look through #mathchat on Twitter reveals some exciting and engaging maths tasks.

Area project idea that incorporates real world concepts! #mathchat

— Matt Davis (@Mathman17) April 21, 2014

Neat collection of real world math problems w/ theme "Would you rather...?" #mathchat #ntchat

— Betty Fei (@BettyFei) April 21, 2014

So if all this is going on in the cyber world, is it happening in maths classrooms? I'd like to know. So after much deliberation, going this way and that way, I have officially chosen a topic for my masters. I want to know what is going on in maths classrooms at the moment. Are teachers using e-learning to make rewindable videos for their students? Have they mastered the art of the explanation on a white board? Are they using flipped class models or project based learning? Are they using cooperative strategies? Or are kids going it solo, focussed on the task at hand? Where are the problems the students are solving coming from? Textbooks? The internet? Did the teacher choose the problems? Did the teacher make up the problems? Do the problems require replication of methods or analytical thinking skills? I want to know!

What do you think I will find? Even better, what do you think I will find in those first two years of high school where I want to focus my study?

Boaler, J. (Ed.). (2009). The elephant in the classroom: helping children learn and love maths: Souvenir.
Davison, I. (2013). Gap widens between NZ students. The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved from
Meyer, D. (2013). Fake World Math.  Retrieved from
Wylie, C., Hodgen, E., Hipkins, R., & Vaughan, K. (2009). Competent Learners on the Edge of Adulthood. Wellington: Ministry of Education