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how hard is maths?

David Harris

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I confess I’ve been busy hence the lack of posts, but I suppose everyone who contributes to this site is busy, so what does that tell you? ;)

I’ve been thinking recently about what exactly makes teaching and learning mathematics different to that of other subjects? Actually I have been thinking about this for a while – some of you might recall the Cockroft Report, published in the 1980’s in the UK. It was a government report on the teaching of Maths, wittingly called “Mathematics Counts”. There was one entry that made the statement

“Mathematics is a difficult subject to teach and to learn”

When you read a showstopper like that you then expect a qualification – how do you compare and contrast the learning process between different subjects? But I can’t recall finding any evidence or argument in the report to back up that statement. If anyone is interested I can supply the page number etc of this quote.

The classroom is still a private, sometime secretive place in which teachers spend a lot of time teaching or pondering how to improve their teaching, but every now and then a student will say something like “you don’t really have to revise for English, but you do for maths” - these kind of comments make me wonder about the learning process across the wider curriculum. I guess students are the ones who understand it most since they experience the whole spectrum from Art to Science every week.

So let’s pose these questions –

· Is it true that “Mathematics is a difficult subject to teach and to learn”

· How? Why? When?

· If our students have a more developed understanding of the relative demands of the subjects they learn than we do, what is that understanding?

· Is their understanding right? How can we learn from it? Are there ways to improve it?

I am off on holiday now for two weeks. A warm welcome to all, and I hope to hear from anyone on my return! :(


PS the maths section of the forum is sparsely populated at the mo - newcomers welcome!

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  • 4 weeks later...

Thanks Andy! I read the 'debate' and enjoyed it....some lively banter going on there, the wit and the eloquence comes through despite the technology!

Disappointed with some of the sweeping generalisations though, I'd have thought that those would be frowned upon by any Historian who appreciates logic! B)

Yes, maths has to justify its high profile in the scheme of things, as does any subject. Yes, maths can seem irrelevant - but so can any subject if not taught well.

Yes, students' logic skills could be developed through cross-curricular links not just with History, but other subjects.

I'm going to play this one safe though -

(a) I think all subjects are as important as each other

(B) that’s why I think the IB curriculum model is the way to go.


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