Vlog Ep #08: Teaching Math Unshackled from Standards and Curriculum Documents


Are you getting a little tired of other people interfering in how you teach in your classroom?

I see around the world teachers being put under greater and greater pressure to perform, as if they were mere employees or servants of the state. And I’m over it!

Most politicians have never taught a day in their lives, from what I can tell. How dare they act like teachers should somehow get more motivated to achieve higher results, for the good of the nation?


Now, of course the curriculum is important, as I say in the video. But bureaucrats and nit-pickers seem to think that teachers need to stop being so opinionated, and just accept that they are there to do the will of their masters. Arrggghhhh!!! What doctor, engineer or lawyer would accept such treatment?

So let’s stand up for professional autonomy in our classrooms, go out and do an outstandingly excellent job, for our students, their families, and of course our nations.

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Math in the News: Is Rote Learning the Secret Behind Chinese Mathematics Success?

Education planners and commenters in the west seem to be looking enviously at Asia, especially China, Korea and Singapore, for inspiration to improve math test results in their own countries. But everything is not as it may first appear; let me explain why below the video:

Apparently, since students in developing countries did so poorly on international math tests compared to most Asian nations, we in the west should adopt Asian methods as soon as possible. This is surely a scenario that old-style communist dictators could dream of: China beats the United States (and most of the developed world), showing the superiority of the disciplined approach forced on their citizens by the central government.

I admit, that last paragraph sounds just a little over the top.

But consider this: the government of the UK is spending £41m to train teachers in 8000 English primary schools in so-called “mastery maths”, based on the approach in Shanghai, China.

So, can we deduce from this decision by Whitehall that “Shanghai Maths” is the secret to success in maths for schoolkids in the UK?

Not so fast.

The space here won’t allow for a detailed analysis of this issue, so let me instead list a few points for consideration:

  • First up, why copy Shanghai? It isn’t a country, but rather a city, albeit a very large one. Perhaps Shanghai is cited as the example to follow because out of all results in China, Shanghai’s were the pick of the bunch?
  • Do planners believe that merely training teachers and changing textbooks will provide equivalent results with today’s English schoolkids as teachers in Shanghai see?
  • Why should we assume that an educational system based on a highly-regimented repetition-based pedagogy is preferable to teaching for understanding, after abandoning rote teaching for English students in the 1960s?
  • Why should western democracies copy nations in which avoidance of failure and measuring a person’s worth is based on academic results?
  • While Shanghai did well on highly-structured math tests, statistics on the numbers of Nobel Prizes tell a very different story: the USA tops the list by a huge margin, whereas China is almost dead last.

What do you think?

How much rote learning should we allow? None? A little? As often as possible? Share a comment below.

Reference Articles

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Asian Kids Beat Out the West in Math Again

Pisa test results released:

Why do western nations like the US, Australian and the UK struggle to compete on the international stage when it comes to school mathematics?

A couple of days ago, the Programme for International Student Achievement (PISA) results from OECD countries were released. I encourage you to go over and have a look.

If you’d rather read someone else’s summary of what is shown in the results, try one of these articles. It’s fascinating to see the different interpretations put on the results in just these few media outlets:

National Rankings:

The big majority of visitors to this site are in the following five countries. Check out the position of each one on the mathematics test, out of 65 in the PISA rankings:

  • USA – 36th
  • Australia – 19th
  • UK – 26th
  • New Zealand – 22nd
  • Canada – 13th

What can educators in the West do about the relatively poor showing of their students in mathematics?