My take on the Maths Crisis

As with the Leaving Certificate results, the Junior Certificate’s showed that there is a worrying trend in maths results in this country.  Most of the focus is being centred on the estimation from the Teaching Council that over 30% of maths teachers hold no 3rd level qualifications in mathematics.
However, just because a teacher has a lot of knowledge about maths, does it make them a good teacher of the subject?  Isn’t a qualification in mathematics less important than a qualification in teaching mathematics?  Perhaps this is where the focus should be.
At primary level, the aims of the maths curriculum include fostering a love of mathematics, problem solving and making maths all about real life situations.  None of these skills (as far as I remember from my degree) are learned in a 3rd level mathematics degree.
From http://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/

Gone are the days in primary schools where children used “borrow and payback” and other random unconnected rules for solving problems.  Gone are the days of Maths books with pages of meaningless sums.  Gone are the days where a teacher gives an example of how to “do” a problem and children simply “do” more of the same problems with different numbers without really understanding why.
How primary school teachers help children learn these concepts has completely changed.  We encourage children to use concrete materials as much as possible before moving towards the more abstract areas of maths.  We build upon their previous knowledge so they don’t have to learn loads of rules off by heart.  We give children strategies and make them real to them. Do we see this at second level enough?
It’s often been said that teachers who struggled with Maths in their own school days make much better Maths teachers than those who got the abstract concepts easily.  There may be some truth in that.  Perhaps, these teachers can bring their students along the mathematical journey more effectively,  from figuring out that 1+1=2 towards differential equations and giving them the stepping stones along the way.
From http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikehamm/

Engineers Ireland claimed the “crisis in maths” at second level reflects a “total systemic failure in national education structures” and it’s difficult to argue against this.  The worrying thing, as usual, is that the blame is being centred at the wrong place.   While having a base level of knowledge and understanding of maths is important, the way it is taught is much more important. It’s good to see that Project Maths is being rolled out because it does focus on good methodologies and making maths more real to students.
Perhaps if Project Maths is given a chance, we may see increases in our mathematical scores.

 

0 thoughts on “My take on the Maths Crisis”

  1. I agree with the points made in this article, although I do think it’s important that teachers of maths have a qualification in maths. What’s also crucial though is that maths teachers are trained to teach maths. It’s about putting the maths in context and explaining why you’re doing things as well as how to do them. Showing that the distance formula is a result of Pythagoras’ theorem, for example, means that the formula should no longer just be a jumble of x’s and y’s that makes no sense. What’s also crucial is that teachers of maths have a love of maths themselves.
    Regarding the focus othe numbers of so called unqualified teachers and the focus of what classes these teachers are teaching. For me, the most important year in secondary school for maths is probably first year. If students don’t get the basics here, they’ll never progress to Honours at Leaving Cert.

  2. I also agree with this unusually fresh and well thought out article. Anybody teaching should have the ability to teach their given subject. Once this is understood it is far more important that they have the ability to impart that information to the level that they are teaching rather than the fact that they themselves have the ability to outperform others at university level. It is an unfortunate fact that the ability to remember facts and excute exam papers in third level determines the likely job a person will get. However, it has much less relevance on their proficiency once in that position.

  3. Great article, I agree. It’s like saying a primary teacher will be good at teaching 3rd class English. Third level Arts subjects are entirely different from a Teaching degree in the particular subject.

    • Great article, I agree. It’s like saying a person with a third level English degree with be be good at teaching 3rd class English. I studied English as my honours degree and it certainly has not made me a good teacher. I can write a good, third-level critical essay analysing the text but help children learn how to read, write, spell…no, nothing there!Third level Arts subjects are entirely different from a Teaching degree in the particular subject.

      • Thanks for all the supportive comments. I was a bit resistant to post something up like this as I don’t want to seem as if I’m bashing second level and I hope that didn’t come across in the article.

  4. Great article, I agree. It’s like saying a primary teacher will be good at teaching 3rd class English. Third level Arts subjects are entirely different from a Teaching degree in the particular subject.

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