How do you teach the maths?
It’s the first question out of everyone’s mouth when they discover that you’re an unschooling family. Maths has come to be universally recognised as the most important subject kids need to learn and yet so few people believe that they could teach it to their kids. Could maths classes in schools actually be damaging to students and as a result, society? Could it be that the presentation of maths is altering our perceptions of the subject and skewing it’s importance?
Whilst it’s true that maths is important in our daily lives, it’s also true that much of what is taught as maths in schools is completely irrelevant in adult life. It serves little purpose apart from scoring a grade. Maths like times tables, adding and subtracting, basic algebra, fractions and percentages is all useful. More complex algebra, calculus, and trigonometry are suited to certain occupations but not daily life. However the way schools are teaching maths is so far removed from life that students don’t value it as a subject.
Maths in school fails to take into account the different ways children learn, and the different rates at which their brains develop. If skills aren’t developed one year, a student fails maths for that year, and the next year again because the rudimentary skills aren’t there to draw upon. It’s possible that a child could fail maths terribly for as long as they are being graded on it and yet as an adult they may be perfectly functional with numbers.
The way testing is carried out fails students. It is unfair to test a student on something simple, deem them to have failed, then attempt to teach them something more difficult and fail them for thirteen years. The idea of teaching children maths should be to give them useful skills, not to teach them as many mathematical things as can be crammed into their schooling years, especially when so much of it will never be relevant to their lives. Furthermore students who fail calculus may have an excellent recall of their times tables, an ability to work out percentages, estimate, add and subtract. Those students may have a sound understanding of the basics, surely that is what really matters. Why do they leave school feeling inadequate?
It’s unfortunate that maths has become such a hated subject, but what’s more unfortunate is the huge number of people who think they are stupid because they failed maths class. If such an enormous number of people feel that way then perhaps the problem is not the students themselves. If so many people can be such failures and yet the world keeps on turning …. maybe maths – the way schools teach it – ISN’T that important.
We do students a great disservice when they feel like failures year after year. Ask a bunch of students what they hate most about school and a decent number of them will say maths. If maths were being fostered well in children more of them would feel confident in their mathematical capability and less of them would hate it.
All this brings us back to unschooling and maths. If so many children go to school, fail maths and hate every minute of it, then as adults speak openly about how terrible they are at doing maths, why do we think sending children there to learn it is beneficial? If all those same adults that ask unschooling families about maths went to school to learn maths and yet believe they didn’t ….. how will this generation of bright eyed youngsters succeed?
When maths is just a part of daily life kids never start to hate it. When their ability to perform mathematical tasks isn’t under unpleasant scrutiny they never start to think they can’t do it, they just keep trying until they get it.
Maths is everywhere, it’s fun, interesting and above all it’s useful! Instead of asking how children learn maths without schools the better question might be how do they learn it WITH schools? How can schools fix things so that kids stop hating it? How can we improve maths grading so students stop calling themselves stupid?
Unschooled kids love maths, they don’t view it as something separate to living like schooled kids do. Unschooled kids learn to live by incorporating mathematical skills into their lives and it works really well for them …. without their schooled parents having to remember calculus.
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