“Me and Math … are barely on speaking terms.”

“Me and Math were good buds until high school. Then we started to drift and now we are barely on speaking terms.”

“I am naturally drawn to stories. The romance of a and b just doesn’t resonate with me like that of and j (Romeo & Juliet).”

This week, we met with a group of student teachers beginning their first teaching practicum. They were asked to reflect on their experiences learning math. Most of the responses were negative. I listed two of the more creative ones above.

Similarly, whenever we meet with a group of experienced teachers (and/or administrators) and announce that we will begin by solving a math problem, there is always a noticeable groan. You can feel the stress level rise in the room. And remember – this is always a group of educators who have voluntarily signed up to learn about teaching mathematics.

Two themes came out of the student teachers’ comments. First, for many there was a specific grade when math stopped making sense. Often this was grade 8, but grades 7, 11, and 12 were also mentioned. Poor teaching and/or an inability to remember which rule to apply were given as reasons for this. Second, many didn’t see themselves as “math people”.

From this, there are two things to consider. First, it is important that non-specialists be self-aware and not transfer this fear to their students. Second, it is important that we (secondary math teachers) provide our students with opportunities to make sense of mathematics concretely. An emphasis on the procedural may have worked for us math geeks (I might argue this later), but it didn’t work for the majority.

A problem-based approach addresses the above. Students (and teachers!) build conceptual understanding while having fun.

Aside from getting the chance to teach students in many different classrooms, the most rewarding part of my job is hearing teachers say “I used to hate teaching math, but now I love it”. This can’t help but be a great thing for Surrey students.

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