Mathematics…Creative. Fascinating. Satisfying. Everywhere.

Bronwyn WilsonCommunity Action, Learning, Proof of the pudding, Technology

‘Creative.  Fascinating.  Satisfying.  Everywhere.’ These are words used to describe mathematics by mathematicians.  ‘Stressful.  Pointless.  Memorisation.  Practice’.  Sadly, these are words many students use to describe mathematics.  At St Peters we support each and every student in viewing his or herself as a powerful mathematician who enthusiastically engages in the wonder of mathematics and develops ingenuity as he or she seeks and identifies patterns, rules and concepts, communicates mathematically, questions, justifies, hypothesises, tests, proves and creates.  We want all our students to develop an inquiry relationship with mathematics that they find creative, fascinating, satisfying and purposeful.

 

One important way in which we do this is by using neuroscience to inform mindset.  Research (such as that by Carol Dweck) tells us that there is no such thing as a ‘maths brain’.  Believing that some people have a ‘maths brain’ and some do not is a product of a ‘fixed mindset’.  This means that some people (about 40% of students) think that their intelligence is more or less fixed and you either can or can’t ‘do maths’.  Students who think like this are more likely to give up easily.  People with a ‘growth mindset’ (again about 40% of students) believe they can learn anything and that their intelligence can grow; people who have this belief, keep going even when the work is hard and are persistent.  Research tells us that it is possible to change mindsets and this has been shown to result in higher mathematics achievement.

The following is based on neuroscience research by Professor Jo Boaler, Stanford University, CA. We at St Peters believe and explicitly support our students in believing that:

“Everyone can do well in mathematics.

Mathematics problems can be solved with many different insights and methods.

Mathematics is a connected subject and a form of communication.”  At St Peters, we constantly represent and communicate mathematics in different ways like words, pictures, graphs, equations – and link them.

“Questions are really important.”   We always ask: ‘Why does this make sense?’

“Mathematics is creative and about visualising patterns and creating solution paths that others can see, discuss and critique.”

One way in which we teach all of these is by using digital learning spaces.  The Year 5 and 6 student manage a blog where they share, question and justify different insights with each other, parents, staff and even classes in other schools.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also teach our students that:

“Mistakes are valuable.”  Neuroscience tells us mistakes encourage brain growth and learning.  “When I worked out that mistake, my brain fired a synapse.  I felt it!”  Ben, Yr 5

“Depth is much more important than speed.”  Research tells us that firing questions at people can actually cause a shut down in thought processes where the brain actually freezes through what has been dubbed ‘maths anxiety’.  Girls are particularly susceptible to this.  Top mathematicians think slowly and deeply.  Laurent Schwartz actually thought as a student that he was not good at mathematics because he did not come up with the answers quickly.

“Mathematics helps us in our lives, not because students will necessarily see the same types of problems in the real world but because they are learning to think quantitatively and abstractly as they develop an inquiry relationship with mathematics.”

 

One way in which we do this explicitly is by building partnerships within the wider community:

  • Sam Bird (university student, old scholar, winner of the Australian Mathematics Competition Medal, bronze medal winner of the Australian Mathematics Olympiad and gold medal winner of the Australian Physics Olympiad) has worked with students who choose to stretch their mathematical thinking and performance.

  • Scott Boocock (entrepreneur and inventor of the highly successful Heg and based in the Tonsley Innovation district) recently worked with Reception, Year 1 and 2 students to develop their enterprise skills in communication, problem solving and creativity.
  • Since 2004, Year 6 and 7 students have regularly built their own small businesses.  Profits in total have reached over $3000 – all of which has been given to Australian Lutheran World Service and CARE Australia to enable people around the world without collateral to benefit from microcredit and build their own sustainable businesses.  Enterprise skills developed by our students included financial literacy, communication, effective relationship building, team work, presentation, problem solving, creativity, critical thinking and digital literacy.

 

Our latest exciting news is the new partnership St Peters is forming with the CSIRO through their STEM Professionals in Schools program.  Dr David Bird, PhD High Energy Astrophysics, Adelaide University, 1991 and currently Research Scientist at the Department of Defence will be working with students and staff to bring together real and contemporary STEM practices from a wide range of disciplines that are relevant to our school context.

As you can see, at St Peters, we believe mathematics is relevant, it’s for everyone and it is beautiful!