Lofty Lipservice: Maths as a Vehicle

Based on my previous post where I struggled to reconcile my beliefs about Maths with the things that happen day to day in schools, the department spent a morning fleshing out our thoughts

  1. Read article in silence, and reflect independently
  2. Harkness Debate. Essential Question: “What is the purpose of Maths at School 21, and how does it inform our pedagogy?” Some really outstanding insights, I learnt a lot.
    Record of conversation.

    A quick summary:

  • Debs: We all feel this contradiction between the system and our values. It is useful to attack this head-on.
  • Karenann: Any conversation about making maths optional, or splitting maths into beauty and numeracy, should be treated very carefully. If we allow students to drop maths early we are running the risk of closing doors and widening social inequalities.
  • Rosie: “Maths is a vehicle for deeper skills”. It is not the only subject in which you can learn deeper skills. It is merely something that we happen to be passionate about. As long as the teacher is passionate, then the students will be too.
  • Alberto: “It is likely that learning Maths massively helped me in later life. Even if I cannot pinpoint how or why, I do not want to deprive my children of this chance”
  • Karenann: “There is a distinction between content and process. We as teachers should ensure content is covered, but students should see lessons as process.”  Students should not enter the maths classroom thinking that they will learn how to add fractions. They should focus on broader skills, such as logical thinking, spotting patterns, explaining reasoning, collaborating, constructively challenging. Teachers should ensure that the necessary content is covered, but the students do not necessarily need to be aware of this.
  • Maths is difficult. This should be celebrated, as a way of making brains bigger. Not apologised for.

3. Brainstorm possible beliefs, and the resulting actions.

4. Sort these in a two-way table. Which beliefs do I believe in but never put into practice? Which beliefs do I disagree with but accidentally (or otherwise) put into practice?


My highlights:

  • Lessons should be student-led. Students should decide the broad direction of study, and should focus on skills such as collaboration, spark, pattern spotting. It is the teacher’s creative task to weave in the necessary content through this. Maths is the vehicle, not the driver. (I do not yet do this)
  • Maths is not a unique subject. Student should not be taken out of other subjects for Maths Intervention – our curriculum should be good enough for all.
  • I think that maths should be hard, but often plan to remove as many obstacles for the students as possible. Re-find this balance!
  • I think that students should never work through a drill-and-kill worksheet, but set them often (either for behaviour management or because I haven’t had time to plan properly). How to resolve this?

Thank you to everyone for thinking so deeply and effectively on these important issues!


Next steps: plan a lesson on Pythagoras that encapsulates a belief that I hold but rarely use.


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