If it can be fun for some, why not for all?

March 23, 2009 at 11:57 am 1 comment

As I look around different educational initiatives that are aimed at helping our young people learn I am struck by the fact that some of the most interesting initiatives are aimed at ‘disaffected’ students who for one reason or another are not doing well.

An example is Winchmore School who are piloting a scheme called ‘Study Plus Maths’ aimed very specifically at disaffected students who are not doing well in the subject ( http://www.teachers.tv/video/5466)

The scheme involves what they describe as studying maths through context. This might mean working out the figures involved in discounting the price, say, of an MP3 player. Or simply integrating maths activities into other subject lessons.

It also involves a degree of ‘personalisation’ in that the teacher will gather information about an individual pupil’s interests and hobbies and aim maths activities at that.

So this is setting maths into a real life context and in my view is a good and positive thing.

However, looking into this more deeply I find some rather more disturbing aspects of this.

There seems to be a feeling amongst pupils who are taking this that learning maths in this way is more fun and more interesting than the normal maths classes. So I would ask the question if that is the case why is this more enlightened way of teaching not available to everybody learning maths. Why make this false distinction between normal and disaffected pupils.

In a sense it is a way of rewarding those who for whatever reasons haven’t found the normal lessons particularly compelling. Their reward is to get interesting Maths lessons. Why is that not available to all pupils?

More disturbing is the headteachers comment that if pupils do get grade C in Maths then the options for the future are very limited. I find this astounding.

How good was David Beckham at Maths, I wonder, or Paul McCartney?

Incidentally, mathematics professor Jason Brown claims to have solved the mystery of what chord is used at the start of ‘It’s a Hard Days Night’ by using a mathematical calculation called Fourier Transform. There is also evidence that children that listen to music do better at math, because math and music both use the brain in similar ways.

In furtherance of the headteachers false statement suggesting ‘no maths, no future’, some of the pupils have foregone other subject options in order to undertake this ‘StudyPlus Maths’ scheme. In the words of one parent, ‘Better to give up an option in order to ensure she (her daughter) did well in a core subject than use another option that wouldn’t benefit her really’. And in the words of another parent his son was ‘disappointed to give up geography which he was interested in’.

Even as I write this I can feel my hackles rising.


Entry filed under: Education, individualised learning, Personalisation, Research.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Ian Smith  |  April 1, 2009 at 11:13 am

    Finding your passion is vital – I think a lot of people never quite manage it, which is a great shame.

    Equally, some people blossom later than others; whilst at school a friend of mine was told by the Head of IT (in the days when a BBC Micro was a must-have item) that he would never make it in computers and he should give up. He didn’t give up, struggled through his O and A levels then scraped into University to do an HND. Something in his brain clicked into place, he powered into a degree, got a 2:1 and has worked all over the world in… you guessed it… IT.

    Find your passion and stick with it – its hard to know what that might be when you’re 12 or 13 but we should help kids see what is out there. As you said, it’s not just about maths!


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Mick Landmann on education, digital technology, and the 21st century

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