Tag Archives: mathematics

Stop Teaching Calculus!


Recently I was privileged to be part of a discussion between two of my trainees on the Distance learning PGCE. This course, apart from being transformative for many of us (students and teachers), is also based upon the premise of ‘The Community is the Curriculum’. I purloined this phrase from Dave Cormier, and have been heavily influenced by his #Rhizo MOOCs over the years.  Emma and Stephanie (yes, these are their real names) are happy for me to re-post the discussion here. Our G+ Community is a closed group – perhaps it shouldn’t be but there we are -so I am unable to provide a link. Do continue the discussion using the comments below.
This was Emma’s first post:
For anyone else looking at maths, I stumbled upon this guy really like his ideas. He challenges the purpose of maths. Thought it would be a good link to mastery and problem solving.
Stephanie replied – and this is what piqued my interest and curiosity to watch the video. Before this I may not have entered the discussion and would probably have just left them to it. I thought that I didn’t have anything productive to contribute as mathematics teaching is not my specialism.
Thanks for posting this Emma.  Have sat through the whole thing and I have to say that I disagree with some of his opinions.  He says that computers are the only way forward in mathematics but agreed ‘times tables are somewhat useful.’  He would have been brought up learning his times tables over and over again due to his generation – something which maths in primary education is returning back to.  Therefore, do you not need to have the basic maths embedded, to be able to move forward and progress to doing mathematics on a computer?  Maybe technology is the way forward, but as demonstrated with his phone – it is not ready for us yet.
As soon as I watched the video and thought about Stephanie’s response I realised that the debate resonated so well with my reading and research during my PhD. Why do I seem to find John Dewey at every turn?
Here is my contribution.

Thanks Emma for posting and Steph for your challenging critique. Why is there a chasm (according to Wolfram) between mathematics in education and maths in the world? Does the answer lie in the separation between the abstract and the concrete (the knowing and the doing). A reading of Dewey can help here, as he recognised the problem of education and schooling.

“On the other hand, if an experience arouses curiosity, strengthens initiative, and sets up desires and purposes that are sufficiently intense to carry a person over dead places in the future, continuity works in a very different way. Every experience is a moving force. Its value can be judged only on the ground of what it moves toward and into”. (Dewey, 1938, p. 37-38) – Experience and Education.

Wolfram demonstrated the fallibility of computers during his demonstration, and he failed, in my view to reposnd well to Jon Snow’s question on this. He is also , again in my view, looking down the wrong end of the telescope. From his perspective he already has his ‘facts’ learned probably by rote and continued practice at school, yet he rejects the premise that they should be taught in schools. is that a risk worth taking? Perhaps we need to hear from a mathematician who was taught entirely by experiential learning (Montessori etc).

Experiential Learning theory implies the continuous interaction between the person and the context with reflexivity at the heart of learning from experience. However, there is a significant difference between the ideal and the reality. Stott (1995), commenting on Dewey’s influence on educational practices in North America puts it thus:

“Dewey’s educational experiment-revolution designed to bring democracy to North America has not been successful: its humanistic promises lie unfulfilled, and classroom group activities can be even more oppressive and less growthful than superior class instruction. Education is at the crossroads”. (1995: 32)

I find his conclusion troubling when listening to the recent ideological debates around Traditional v Progressive education (see here:http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/nick-gibb-teach-children-important-facts-not-joyless-processes-minister-urges-a6859401.html ).

…but for me Dewey’s pragmatism, and Wofram’s endorsement  entail an enlightened profession that connects the knowing and the doing. Are we there yet?

Dewey, J. (1963) Experience and Education. New York: Collier Books.
Stott, L.(1995) ‘Dewey a Disaster?’. International Journal of Research and Method in Education. 18 (1), pp.27-33.

Those of you familiar with the networked power arising from twitter spats around progressive v traditionalist teaching may, like me, become more optimistic about the next generation of teachers – as I am when working with Emma and Stephanie.