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I am quite sure that every teacher of mathematics at some point in their career have had their students question the relevance of mathematics to their everyday lives. Actually, it is not a strange question if you think of some of the mathematics, students have to study while in school. Have you ever counted the number of lessons students spend learning mathematics in the most abstract way? Now count up the number of mathematics lessons a student has in a day, week, month, year and over their school career. imagine sitting in rows learning some abstract mathematical concepts, that has no immediate bearing on your life. Would you be enthused about your learning? The typical mathematics lesson goes something like this; the teacher comes into the classroom and the first order of business is to check the homework from the previous lesson. After that, the teacher introduces the new content by doing some examples on the board, followed by giving the students some questions to answer, normally on a worksheet or from a textbook. The teacher may then check the work and explain further if the students are having difficulties. At the end of the lesson, the teacher gives some homework. And this repeats day after day and year after year.

Updating our methodology

In PISA (2016), students were asked about the frequency with which their teachers use student-oriented versus teacher-directed strategies in their lessons. Findings indicate that today, teacher-directed practices are used widely. Across OECD countries, eight out of ten students reported that their teachers tell them what they have to learn in every lesson, and seven out of ten students have teachers who ask questions in every lesson to check that students understand what they’re learning.

Today being “good at school” means for too many students knowing how to play the game of school. Mathematics lessons are predominately made up of teachers holding the students’ hands and telling them step-by-step what to do. We all know that students are motivated by what interests them. Asking questions and giving them space and time to find the answers is a good way to motivate them. But it is not enough. We have to show them where Math is used around them. We have to give them possibilities to discover and find solutions to different kinds of problems. They have to be given the opportunity to work together and discover the power of teamwork.

Combining theory with practice

Rounding is often taught as a discrete function, with rules dictating when to round up or down, mostly connected to shopping. Measuring, if taught, is often connected to length, area and volume measurements. Estimation is probably missing from the books!

Here is one example of how to effectively combine theory with practice. Bring different amounts of different objects; like paper clips, nails, macaroni, beans, cord etc. to the classroom. Then put the objects on different numbered desks, let the students circulate and estimate the amounts without touching the objects. They make marks on their estimation tables and round the amounts to tens, hundreds and thousands. All the members in the group have to come to a similar understanding of the estimated amounts.

Secondly, let the students count the objects they just estimated in groups. Now they have a situation where they have to negotiate to find a sensible way of doing that. This is a very simple way to create a situation where students have to practice co-operation, negotiation skills.  After counting, ask the groups to write down the exact amounts and practice rounding again to the nearest ten or hundred. Very often the students notice that the estimated numbers are often too small. They also notice that the estimated rounding and the rounding of the exact amount can give them the same result. Students have fun and they think that Math can be meaningful.

By: Maarit Rossi