[Maths-Education] The resource for the course

Anne Watson anne.watson@educational-studies.oxford.ac.uk
Tue, 18 Sep 2001 00:30:45 +0100

It is interesting to use some KS3 questions as starters for 
whole-class discussion, posed as problems and approached as 
problem-solving tasks rather than as practice for tests.

It seems to me there are only two ways to see the teaching of 
mathematics in schools.

The first is that tests, levels, league-tables etc. etc. are the real 
aim of education (how else can you get the market to operate?) and 
hence the job is to train students to jump exactly through the right 
hoops ... never mind their deeper understanding, never mind their 
intellectual growth, never mind their souls.  If we accept that view, 
then teaching exactly to the test and testing exactly what is taught 
seems OK, why not make everything so familiar that autopilot takes 
over. Worrying about understanding and going beyond the syllabus is a 
waste of time.  But is that mathematics?

The second is that learning mathematics, becoming a mathematician, 
developing understandings about mathematics are not really testable 
in themselves but make passing tests a lot easier and continuing to 
study maths a lot more appealing and fulfilling (and the possibility 
of teaching it a lot more attractive).   In my experience as a 
teacher, which was not unlike what Jo Boaler describes in her book, 
doing the exam was not a major trauma and it was quite surprising 
what students could do in exams which they had not been specifically 
taught.   This was because they had an understanding of what 
mathematics was, and what sort of questions to ask themselves when 
tackling unfamiliar problems. You cannot get this kind of awareness 
by being trained to solve familiar problems; you get there by working 
imaginatively with the unfamiliar.  Incidentally, you also get more 
interesting students.

Anne Watson


Dr. Anne Watson
Tutor for Higher Degrees,
University Lecturer in Educational Studies (Mathematics)
University of Oxford
Department of Educational Studies
15 Norham Gardens
United Kingdom

Tel:  44 01865 274052
Fax:  44 01865 274027

Email:  anne.watson@edstud.ox.ac.uk