Mathematics in the Mirror

Alice_queen2I spend a fantastic amount of time thinking – typically about mathematics and education, but often about gardening and my plants – with the rest of the time being taken up with thoughts of the newest member of my family, my daughter, Adelaide. She is the lens through which I look at progress and the world I want for her, other women, and for future generations.

Educators often engage with thinking about their practice in a cyclical way, where what the student is able to do is the primary focus.

What do students need to be able to do?

How do I know students can do it?

What are the skills needed to achieve that?

What learning activities can I lead so that students can achieve them?

This powerful, reflective process, brings about increasingly innovative pedagogy that has many layers of consequences for the learner.

The first order of consequences:

  • More engagement
  • Better grasp of context
  • Student self-efficacy improves

The second order of consequences:

  • Increased attendance rates
  • More questions asked
  • Student centred assessments

The third order of consequences:

  • Majority of teacher time is devoted to reinvention
  • The ‘new’ becomes the ‘normal’
  • Student expectations change

The majority of teacher time devoted to reinvention can be described best by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass, “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”.

Teachers’ time is misplaced in this way, as the ongoing task of creating new ways to teach and assess the same ‘skills’ leads to no systemic progress.

While reflective practice is deeply valuable, the right mirror to view Mathematics through is one that shows us what it really is: Mathematics is purposeful, it is challenging but accessible, and it is a part of a wider culture of knowledge-building.

Mathematics education in schools is, almost exclusively, an endeavour in teaching students how to do what has already been done, and by reinstating mathematics in its rightful place as part of a knowledge-building culture, it can be a vital step in the navigation of our world.



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