Mathematical Thinking

7.30 is an ungodly hour of the morning to have to get up on a Saturday! However I managed it and got to Nottingham in time for the first HEI session of Module 2. Half of the session was devoted to Assignment 3 which will form the assessed part of the module. More on that in a different post I think.

The second part followed on from Thursday’s work on algebra and the part that this plays in getting children to think mathematically. My memory of algebra is of having to solve equations and find the unknown value eg y = 3x + 32 etc etc. However in primary schools it does not really have to be about using letters or symbols at all.

We looked at how algebraic thinking is when you look at the structures of the calculations that you do. Algebra is seeing how the operations connect with each other and being able to use this connectivity to solve problems. If you can identify the structure of a calculation then you can do others and can apply that knowledge to any calcualation of the same type which is when symbols begin to be used.

The tutor has an excellent grasp of her subject and we moved through things very quickly. There were several times when I was still thinking through something she had said to find that she had moved on and I was now lost. I wonder how many of my children feel like that?

We discussed again the importance of children finding their own solutions and having a real understanding of how maths works rather than just applying rules or algorithms learned by rote.

So where does this leave me and my previous post? Do I throw up my hands in horror and leave them to their own devices? My initial reaction yesterday was that my decision to get my children to practise things more was probably wrong but having considered things, I don’t think that it is.

Practise makes perfect and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a tap dancing routine, a football skill or a maths algorithm. If children practise something then they will get better at it and gain confidence. The more confident they are in being able to do something, then the more likely they are to use it. I’m not teaching methods in isolation, I will continue to explain different methods and encourage children to use their own as well. I want to give them a choice so that their reaction on seeing a maths problem is to wonder which is the best method to choose rather than panic that they simply can’t do it.

After the session, my head was spinning with all the ideas that I had to try and make sense of and use to improve my own and others teaching.

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2 thoughts on “Mathematical Thinking

  1. Jan Pringle

    Have to say I’ve been struggling with the same dilemma (also with Year 5). Unfortunately mine were drilled to death last year and so came up with very inflated results which means it’s going to be very hard to show much progress this year. What I’ve been doing is filling in the gaps (calculation skills were very good but basic concepts very insecure) and promoting problem solving skills and creative thinking which were very lacking. However, as end of year assessments get ever closer, I’m thinking there may have to be some skills practice so that their results at least partly reflect the work I’ve put in this year!
    Looking forward to the algebraic thinking on MaST. Read Algebra chapter from Derek Haylock’s book today which is an excellent introduction.

    1. My head was buzzing after Saturday. I’ve got so much to get my head around. I’ve got the Haylock so will have to look at that. I just want to give mine some tools so that they can begin to problem solve. At the moment a lot of them just haven’t a clue. I need to find a balance.

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