Friday, July 13, 2007

Maths is BORING!

Yes- 95% of the students who I have come across feel this way. Since I've started the placement at school most students find maths boring and not interesting. They don't particularly enjoy their maths lessons. Some say they don't like the teacher and others because of the way the lesson is structured. Before I go off on another tangent I must say that maybe I'm being a bit harsh by saying 95%, but I can only count the students who were enjoying their work on at least two hands! One got a real buzz out of understanding something, and the other had good mathematical ability which helped. There are a few more but these students are outnumbered!

Today I happened to engage a year eight student in conversation:

'Do you like maths?' (me)
'No, it's boring.'
'What would make it interesting?'
'I don't know.... all we do is exercises from the book, which are hard and boring. We used to play games in the first year but don't anymore.'
'What kind of games?'
'Maths games. But not all the time- just sometimes!'
'Do you find maths hard?'
'Yes, it's very hard.'
'So if you were to sometimes play maths games, you might enjoy maths more? Do you think that'll help?'

That was today, but yesterday when I had been distracting(!) students who had been drawing the posters the following was said:

'How come you don't look happy drawing posters?'
'It's boring and we did one last time.'
'What do you want to do instead?'
'Maths work.'
'Do you like maths?'
'Sometimes, but especially when 'my supervisors name' is teaching it.' (the second student said No!)
'Do you find maths hard?'
'Sometimes, but I like doing fractions and area.'
'How would you make the lesson interesting?'
'By not drawing posters!'
[the students preferred English lessons to maths ones.]

The first kid was from set one and the second from set three. Another couple of students in the set 1 class told me that they found maths boring and not interesting as well. Some of the set three students are lazy but I'm glad that at least one student who I spoke to said 'maths is areet'. (3 points if you can figure out what that is!) I've only been in the year 8 set two class once, and the same comments about maths being boring were echoed.

I've not really asked the year sevens this question directly but the class I be in are taught by my supervisor (who is a great teacher), which is probably why the class enjoy maths. (Although there is this one lazy student with whom I had a nice conversation about sponge bob square pants, so I can't say anything 'bad' about this student!) Then it's the year 9's. Students in set one tend to get on with the work and talk at the same time (well a few do), but there are some who just sit there copying. The people who copy are the ones who don't like maths and don't put any effort into their work. A few of these students know what they're doing and can grasp the ideas pretty quickly but they don't seem to be enjoying it.

When I was at school Maths lesson used to be one of the best ones that I had. That was mainly because of my amazing maths teacher, who I remember a lot during the 'nostalgia' sessions. I wouldn't be doing maths had it not been for my teacher. My mates laughed at me because of this, but my maths teacher was indeed special. There are some people who you can't help but admire. The way they carry themselves and the way they behave with you is the main factors. I could easily have been cast away and squatted like a bug by most of my maths teachers and lecturers, but thankfully where I see myself as a bug, I hope they see an enthusiastic student! (Well one teacher reassured me that when I bug lecturers with trivial questions and other things, they don't mind this but they enjoy it! How true is that? :D)

Anyway, because I've yet to dedicate a post to the real reason why I'm doing maths I seem to always jump at the opportunity to do so. I had a great teacher which brought the fun factor into maths. *gets lost in thought again*. However, I think there was another factor behind why I wasn't lazy in maths. I could never find maths boring since I tended to compare it with English comprehension lessons which were murderous. Don't worry I'm slowly getting there, but the group of friends that I had also helped. (We were quite large a group which had smaller groups operating within.) We had AB and Trevor- the maths boffins. :D AB was brilliant at everything and was always determined to understand things, whereas Trevor was more focused on maths. There was also Annie who sat next me for most of the time. Maths lesson used to be good namely because AB always got moved to the back of the class since AB and Bruno used to always talk!! AB never used to bring a calculator so I used to lend mine and then share with Annie. (yup- I remember maths lessons like yesterday and could go on. :))

So *drum roll*, I think one of the main reasons why I may have done alright (areet!) in maths is because of my competitive nature. In my introduction for my personal statement, which I will be posting in due course, I wrote:
'My interest in Mathematics stems from my energetic personality, which has fiery competitiveness etched into it. Thus I find the intensely challenging nature of Mathematics riveting. Not only do I enjoy competing with others, I also enjoy competing with myself. This ensures that I put maximum effort into everything, guaranteeing my work is of a high standard.'

I have to put my hand up and say that this has been my motivation- not only in maths but other things. You have to aim to do the best you can- always. In my school maths lesson, as I've said previously, I used to try to finish the exercise or set work before AB and Trevor. That never happened but I never stopped trying. I always wanted to finish first. Trevor and AB never knew this since they were competing which other, but there you have it! This competetion was friendly, and sometimes Annie and myself even competed. The main motivation was our eagerness to finish the set work and get more work to do! To some extent I think my dad might have had a hand in my nature (duh!). He's always told us that if you're doing something do it properly. I don't know how to continue this line of argument without making me sound like some sort of psycho and I don't really want to say much in this post since it's already in the draft of another post. Competing with yourself and pushing yourself is indeed difficult, which is why sometimes other people can help you to work at the level you should. *

You see I believe competition can be a healthy way to motivate people. Obviously it's a bit silly if two people with pH 1 and pH 14 compete but if you have a pH 4 and a pH 5 student then this competition can encourage the students. (Or even a pH14 and pH13.8 student!) I don't know whether my argument is correct, but on the few occasions that I told two students who were copying to see who can finish first, I felt the results were positive. The students stopped letting their neighbours copy and worked with more grit and determination, and less laziness than before.

Yes- most of the students are lazy. Most of them don't see school as a place where you learn. I used to love going to school and even as I say this to some of the Teletubbies an argument erupts since they hated it. Surprisingly, some of us went to the same school but my experience of it is much different to there's. I think this is because of the attitude I have towards my teachers and lessons (the teletubbies missed days of on odd occasions. :( ). I pause for a second and think to myself that it's the end of the year, but then I remember the English lesson I sat in the other day and notice the contrast. I had wanted to observe the English and History teacher, since from my conversations with these teachers I felt I could learn a lot from them. The history class are doing a research project and so I decided not to go to it but the English class were discussing how to argue etc. (The devil's advocate was mentioned and I tend to do that myself in a number of occasions!).

The students really got into the lesson and were enjoying it. You might think that this was a one off but to prove otherwise I came back to this class on two more occasions. The teacher is really great- I can't think of anything negative to say! The teacher may be a reason why most of the class seem to enjoy English but the English lessons were alive. Alive like my maths ones used to be. Students argued with each other in the way we used to argue with each other if we didn't agree with answers. Then the teacher would ask Trevor or AB to confirm who was correct. That is what is needed in a classroom. Life. Not always, but a balance of it. I thought that the students who didn't like maths and found it boring would not like science as well, however I was shocked to find that many of them liked sciences! Actually they 'loved Biology' and the other sciences. Most people I have met tend to like 'maths and science' and not like 'English and humanities' as much. I think the case may be that if you like maths you might have a preference towards science subjects but the converse is not true. Fair enough, but then how can you get students to like maths?

Maybe the scientist can be 'persuaded' to like maths through science. I don't know. I'm just writing a load of waffles but the attitude that many students have towards maths nowadays is worrying. When I was at school, from my whole year (i.e set 1, set 2 and 3) I am the only student from about 90 I think, who went on to do maths at university. From my college, which was large, only four of us went to university to do maths. I believe a large number of people have applied to study maths at university this year, but looking at the current attitudes in this school it is easy to conclude that at least no student might do maths! These year sevens and eights will definitely change as they grow older, but can't anything be done to make their attitude to maths positive when they're not 'more mature'.

Lenient teachers may be a problem or maybe it's the way the lessons are structured. It's true- apart from the year 7 class all the other students do is exercises from the book. I never complained of that because I enjoyed maths, but these students are not being shown the beauty of maths. They're being drawn away from it. Students should always be pushed. The 'I can't do it attitude' must be eliminated. If the students feel positive to tackle any questions then they're already half way there.

Sigh. I tend to get lost in posts like these since I myself am not quite sure what's happening. Quite a few students have the attitude that you can only do maths if you're clever. (well students from the lower sets do.) For many students getting the right answer or understanding a concept is indeed pleasing, but what about those who don't understand or have difficult understanding? They just want the answers and as soon as they get the answer and are asked a question regarding it, they want to move on. I'm becoming frustrated with myself because I'm not getting anywhere!

I will be at the school for a final week. This time I'm going to sit in some year 10 lessons and hopefully this will be give me a bigger picture on the attitudes. You see there are kids who are great at maths, but they don't really like it. They think 'it's OK'. I suppose that's better than the boring attitude. I had to teach again today and I felt more calm than Wednesday. It seems that when the teacher went out I felt normal but as soon as the teacher came into the class my mind went blank. :o It's all about preparation and I'm hoping to be better prepared for the year seven lesson. The topic was ratios but I didn't follow the book! I spent far too long going around and confiscating calculators and showing them how to do 19 x 5 without a calculator! Apart from that, and the chalk breaking, it probably went better than yesterday. I was told that interaction happened which is a good thing I hope!

I'm getting scared about the year 7 class since it's set 4 and I don't think the teacher is going to go out for even a minute! I'm thinking of doing 'Zeller's (?) algorithm', which will give them a chance to work out the day they were born on. (don't quote me on that- I need to check my file). I think it'll probably be the last lesson of the year so I don't want to do anything taxing, and this might be fun...? Another suggestion I've had is area, but I've got the weekend to ponder on this.

In an effort to summarise what I've written, I think that many of today's students are lazy or maybe they're not being pushed as much as possible. They're allowed to be lazy. Free lessons when the teacher used to be absent was one thing, but free lessons (i.e. poster drawing!) whilst the teacher is there another matter altogether. The students need motivation of some sort and I suggest competition. That has helped me a lot, and as I quoted from the movie Fearless, 'competing allows us to learn our own weaknesses, from which we may learn to better ourselves'. Not necessarily in maths, but generally. I compete when I play football, or when I played video games against my brother. You have to set the bar at a certain high level.

I know these kids are 11-16 years old, but are you expecting a spectacular transformation in them when they turn 16 or 17? Is there attitude going to drastically change? Then there's the matter of maths lessons. Is it the syllabus which needs scrutinising, or is it that great maths teachers are very rare to find? (Boy have I been lucky, and this luck has thankfully followed me to university!) Is maths actually being portrayed as boring? How can we show that maths is fun? Games is one idea, but my eyes keep on turning to the teacher. It's the teachers job to teach in a controlled environment and try to make sure that everyone knows the score and are listening. I don't think that I'm going to make a very good teacher :o, but sometimes I feel frustrated at having to sit there.

So what are your thoughts on this, if indeed you have any? How can maths me made interesting to secondary school kids, not college students. Secondary school kids who maybe lack some motivation and have a 'lazy attitude'- if they don't understand something then that's it. It seems that maths has to be made 'fun' at times to appeal to the students. In this day and age I suggest that we at least try to do this. Not just one or two teachers, but the department. Show these students enthusiasm and they respond! I imagine things to have been different years ago, and sometimes I do wish to have experienced such a time!

Alas- I have just remembered something! Today I couldn't help but try to convince a few other staff members that maths is 'cool'. I used syllogism to do this. What I call mathematical poetry. I began by writing 'All history teachers are ....' and then asking them for an adjective. They came up with brilliant and so I then wrote, 'MA is a history teacher', 'So MA is brilliant'. This got us talking about philosophy and maths and then I said the most absurd thing, 'We have to write sentences in maths!'. They found that amusing and had a good laugh (meh-humanities teachers!), but I was being serious!

Bleh- yesterday I said my brains age is 53 (it's 26 today!) and I got this information from Dr Kawashima. Having read this post here, I was intrigued. It's about the effect that the game pictured on the right had on a group of students. Supposedly, from the students who were made to play this game on the DS for 15 minutes a day, a dramatic increase in performance was noted. I thought of actually seeing what may happen, and so in the name of 'education' I bought the game for Po, without letting on why! Before I did buy the game I actually believed this to be a good strategy for helping students. Having played it, the activities that you do are designed to increase the activity of your prefrontal cortex. It's a 'fun' game and I enjoy the little snippets about the brain. I think that this game might actually have a positive effect on year seven and eight students. Just an idea I thought of sharing but if you look carefully you may notice that this game brings about a competitive element- that of trying to get your brain's age the lowest possible. Even the teletubbies who are older than 14 have all been competing with each other! (It's pretty fun and today I sleep knowing that my brain is 26 and there's is 34+ muhahaha... ahem!). If you compete againsts yourself, the aim is to get your brains age to 20. (Everyday you have to do 'brain training').

It seems that I have a lot of thoughts on this matter, some which may sound absurd like the game, but I've lost count of the number of students who I hear saying, 'awww, it's maths lesson next. :( '. Maybe it's because I'm 'passionate' about maths that I want to change this attitude? Also helping a student sometimes makes one feel hopeful- do I want to go down this road?

PS: I had a good day today- no year eights. :D

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