As children, whenever we used to crib over the mathematics homework, we were always told one thing by our elders - “Math is a subject that you will require throughout your life.” And that is the message that is still being passed on to students. Faced with the seemingly daunting derivatives and integration sums in the higher classes, students wonder when these would actually be useful in their lives, and they struggle to somehow get through that semester with the mere intention of passing. And here is where the fault in our math classrooms is unveiled.
To the majority of the children, math is merely a subject, and that too, a tough one. To motivate them, they are often told, “Math is the most scoring subject,” and this, over a period of time, cultivates the belief that the only purpose of math, its sole outcome is good marks. Also, in our classrooms, time is often considered as a factor for judgement, when it actually should be a thorough understanding of the subject. Those who solve sums the fastest are declared as “smart”. But the one who is taking longer, but developing a full understanding of the topic, tends to be discouraged. In this process, the beauty of the subject is lost, and it becomes something that the students study to fetch a few marks.
Recognizing this problem, our classrooms, over all these years, have slowly evolved to make math seem more and more interesting to the students. But for students to be passionate about it, it is vital that they look at it as something beyond just a mandatory subject in their curriculum. Here is when understanding a mathematician’s take on math can prove helpful. A mathematician is someone who recognizes a problem in the real world and aims to find a pattern that would act as a solution to that problem. His work is motivated purely by the possibility of finding an answer that would help the world in some way. Even if that takes a few days, weeks, months, or even a year, he will spend the time required to solve the problem.
Another interesting thing we can learn from mathematicians is that they often collaborate to solve problems. Math is a subject that requires debating, reasoning, contradicting, and building up of one thought upon another till the solution finally emerges. This atmosphere of convincing and reasoning and learning together needs to be introduced in our classrooms. Letting the children work in small groups for a few days, as guiding them as they struggle to find the perfect solution is a much more mentally rewarding activity than a student sitting alone and solving a number of textbook-generated sums.
Solving multiple sums is definitely a way to fully acclimatize oneself with the subject, and it is often an approach parents insist upon, but studies have shown that although it provides good mental exercise, it does little to actually increase the thinking power of a student. In comparison, when understanding mathematics becomes a collaborative effort to solve everyday problems it becomes a rounded learning activity, in which the students help each other.
Thus, learning from mathematicians’ point of view and seeking inspiration from their commitment to the subject can truly help us to make our students look past the veil of marks and perfect grades, and actually see the beauty of the subject.
About the author: Siddharth Rajgarhia, Chief Learner-Director, Delhi Public School, Nashik, Varanasi & Lava Nagpur
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