26 November 2019

Creating and critiquing good mathematical tasks with variation theory

Variation Theory applied to teaching mathematics and statistics Highlights Careful selection of exercises can turn purposeful practice in maths into a task that also develops conceptual understanding. Poor, off-the-cuff or random selection of exercises can create barriers, feed misconceptions and at best miss out on opportunities for better learning. Using a framework of variation theory can help teachers examine and improve their practices and tasks, preferably collaboratively Spurious rules If students can learn a spurious rule for answering questions rather than the desired concept, they will grab it with both hands. In my class a student worked out that if […]
12 September 2019

Talking Maths in Public

Three types of people There are three types of people in the world: those who can count and those who cannot. Just kidding. But the ways people respond to mathematics can be put roughly into three groups – the maths-likers, the perplexed and the traumatised. See “Writing about Maths for the Perplexed and Traumatized” by Steven Strogatz. Maths-likers Strogatz uses the term “naturals” for this group. The maths-likers are people who liked maths at school and find it interesting. Some maths-likers go on to become maths teachers or accountants or statisticians or work in some other area that uses mathematics. […]
12 August 2019

How to help your child with her multiplication facts

Multiplication facts matter Fluency with multiplication facts makes learning later skills easier. When simplifying fractions, it is helpful to know multiples of numbers. When learning division algorithms, fluency in the basic facts means that the brain is free to learn the new procedure. In algebra, it is extremely helpful to be able to recognise common factors of two numbers, such as 36 and 24. Being fluent with multiplication facts is invaluable for estimating in many areas of life. A recent survey of high school teachers reported that they value knowledge of tables highly. Parents helping The advantage a parent has […]
19 June 2019

Fluency in maths

Fluency in language I can recite Latin verbs: the present tense of love is amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant. I recited them as I swam up and down the pool forty years ago: Amabo, amabis, amabit (breathe) amabimus, amabitis, amabunt (breathe). But if I were suddenly faced with an ancient Roman and had to express my affection, it would take a bit of thinking. I lack fluency in speaking Latin. When we are fluent in a language, we can respond and converse without having to think too hard. The language comes naturally, and we do not use up space […]
5 June 2019

Achievable challenge in teaching maths

I like a good challenge I always choose the most difficult Sudoku puzzles. I like it best if I get really stumped and have to leave the puzzle and come back later. If I do manage to crack it, I feel a sense of achievement, and completion. From time to time I have tried “The most difficult sudoku” but have never managed to place more than one number. There isn’t a lot of fun in that. Fun exists in what is sometimes called “The Goldilocks zone” – not too easy, not too difficult, but just right. I have also seen […]
1 May 2019

The big deal about fractions

Fractions are a big deal When you ask people what topics in maths they like and dislike, fractions tend to appear in the dislike column – often vehemently. Recent polling found that maths teachers think fractions are important for students entering High School. I teach in a career course in maths for people who have missed out on maths on the way through school, and a large component of that is fractions. I love fractions. I prefer them to decimals because they are more exact. One seventh is so much neater than its decimal equivalent. I like adding fractions and […]
26 February 2019

What Maths Teachers wish Year 9 students knew

What do high school teachers want from their students when they arrive in Year 9? This is an important question. One of the biggest jumps in education in New Zealand is from primary/intermediate (years 1 to 8) to secondary (Years 9 to 13). In most cases children are taught by generalist teachers in primary/intermediate (which I will call primary from now on) and by specialist maths teachers at secondary school. Please be clear that this is NOT a criticism of Primary teachers. Primary teachers do an amazing job teaching such a wide range of subjects in a crowded curriculum to […]
16 January 2019

Learning Progression Framework – A good idea or a poor use of time?

Not all that is good needs to be done That something is a good thing to do and will improve learning outcomes for all students, is not sufficient reason for doing it. I have recently become aware of the Learning Progression Framework. As explained in a previous post, there are multiple ways of expressing the level of learning in maths for learners in New Zealand schools, including the New Zealand curriculum (broad brush), Numeracy project stages (fine uni-dimensional and embraced by Primary teachers) and National Standards (no longer current, but casting a long shadow.) To this the LPF adds steps, […]
13 November 2018

Conceptual knowledge and procedural fluency when teaching maths and stats

Conceptual vs procedural when teaching maths and stats April 2008, Salt Lake City. It was my first NCTM conference and I was awed by the number of dedicated teachers of mathematics in one place. I had soaked in a pre-conference series about teaching statistics and my head was full of revolutionary ideas. I can’t remember the workshop I was attending but I declared that I saw no point in teaching students to calculate standard deviations by hand – and that I never did. The response was awesome! There was just about a stand-up battle between teachers who agreed with me […]
26 October 2018

Evaluating Mathematics Games

Evaluating Mathematics Games A guest post by Dr Shane Dye How can you choose the right mathematics games for your classroom? Games are engaging but sometimes that engagement distracts from the learning. Can a game be both engaging and support learning? How will you know? Dr Nic and I have been pondering those questions recently. We were developing a multiplication facts card game. The game had to be a great choice for teachers. It needed a solid educational foundation and to easily engage students. That led us to think about evaluating games for the mathematics classroom. We looked at the […]