Notes from a grumpy old man

Posted in Uncategorized by icttalk on February 1, 2015

I went to the BETT exhibition recently and noticed a change. It seemed to be far more about product than education. Each presentation seemed to be about how it could transform your class or school and solve all your problems and was aimed at all the things that are at the front of a teacher’s mind nowadays. It’s education but not as I know it. Still, I no longer have to do it so what’s my problem?

I have a granddaughter who has just started school and is full of enthusiasm for learning. Her little brother will be joining her soon so I want the best for them. That might include tools and systems but most of all it is about teachers who can use them innovatively. Instead we have lists of ‘stuff’ to be done. It’s called the National Curriculum. There seems to be no thought about how topics connect nor what prior learning is necessary. Children who can already read are unlearning the ability to use context to decipher words as they struggle to read nonsense words phonetically. Now I see on Andrew Marr’s programme this morning that the key indicator of success in maths is the ability to learn multiplication facts to 12 x 12.

Why this has surfaced again when it is already in the NC I can’t understand. Now, I like the idea of being proficient in basic multiplication. I’m not suggesting abandoning learning and getting out the crayons and the wendy house.It means you don’t have to take your eye off a problem while you grapple for a relevant fact but I get the strong impression that it is seen too often as an end in itself. And why 12? I could have sworn our system was decimal. I used to use multiplying by 12 as a way of learning how to multiply double digit numbers mentally as x 10 and x2 were already internalised. Perhaps we could continue to 16 x 16; it might have some benefit with things hexadecimal.

There seems nowadays no need to function mathematically, merely to compute. It is ‘the basics’ it is ‘traditional’. This despite the fact that inspector and government reports going back 150 years lament poor standards. Children will still get what they always got. Ask any adult who endured ‘traditional’ maths how they liked it. You won’t get many takers and few people become good at something they don’t like. Those of us at school in the 50s and 60s were the generation for whom it was OK to be no good at maths. And yet that is what we are told is the way forward.

What a shame that a subject so important and so exciting keeps being reduced to lists of facts while innovating with Computing. Bob Harrison tweeted “Surely now children are taught about algorithms and to code they could write a programme (sic) for 12 times table and a spelling/grammar check?” Yes, but they wouldn’t be allowed to use it in maths lessons!



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