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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K-6 Math in the News: Censuses, Counting People and Math

The Australian Federal Government recently conducted a survey; have you completed your form yet? Or are you waiting to see whether the Australian Bureau of Statistics website gets attacked again?

The recent national census really caught the attention of the Australian populace, mostly for all the wrong reasons. The official website couldn’t cope with the traffic to the site on “census night”, which was entirely predictable, and at the same time it was subjected to several “Denial of Service” (DOS) attacks.

But apart from that, what can we teach children about censuses? Here are a few ideas:

  • Governments use censuses to find out how and where to spend money on schools, hospitals, rail lines and highways
  • School math includes taking surveys, collecting data and analysing the results, just like in a census
  • Jesus was born in Bethlehem partly as a result of a census conducted by the Romans
  • People expect survey-takers and governments conducting censuses to protect their privacy


What do you think?

Do you have favourite activities for teaching children about statistics? Share a comment below.

Reference Articles

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K-6 Math in the News: Schools Failing to Recognize Kids Who Don’t Fit In?

Are there kids in your class that you just don’t “get”? Do you teach students who you feel will never amount to much?

The video that prompted this week’s blog post came across my newsfeed in Facebook. It also appeared in YouTube: it’s an interview between Larry King and Gary Vaynerchuk.

Gary Vee, as he’s known to his followers, is a serial entrepreneur with hundreds of thousands of followers, who regularly speaks at large conferences about business, social media and entrepreneurship.

Chances are, you’re not much like Gary Vee. And nor am I.

If you’re like most teachers, you were good at school, you were good at following the rules, and you worked hard to figure out the educational system and succeeded at it. The system is designed to reward such behaviour, with academic awards, good grades and ultimately a pathway to a good job.

But that path doesn’t suit everyone, and that’s what Gary Vee is talking about. He reckons that schools are failing kids that don’t fit the “mould” that school recognizes, kids that are like round pegs in square holes, the kids “marching to the beat of another drummer”.

Famous People Who Failed at School

Lists like the one following list scare me, in a way. I think to myself “What if I’d been this person’s teacher; would I have treated him or her differently?” Or even more scary is the question “What if the next genius the world is waiting for sits in my class every day? What if I don’t recognize genius or ability and it goes undeveloped?”

  • Albert Einstein: dropped out of school at 15; didn’t speak until 4, or read until 7
  • Thomas Edison: teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything”; failed 10,000 times to create a viable incandescent lightbulb
  • Richard Branson: dyslexic, dropped out of school at 16
  • Benjamin Franklin: 15th of 20 children; left school at 10 to work with his father
  • John D. Rockefeller: dropped out of high school, went on to become history’s first recorded billionaire
  • Walt Disney: dropped out of school at 16; fired by a newspaper editor because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas”
  • Charles Dickens: left school at 12, worked 10-hour days in a boot-blacking factory
  • Aretha Franklin: dropped out of school to care for her child at age 15

What can a teacher do to truly help kids who don’t seem to be fitting in, who just might be the high achiever the world is waiting for? The video includes some suggestions you may find thought-provoking or helpful.

What do you think?

How do you recognize every child in your class? Do you have a method that allows for different approaches to life within your classroom structures? Share a comment below.

Reference Articles

► More Lists of High Achievers Who Failed at School:

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► Photograph credits from Flickr, used under license:

K-6 Math in the News: Supermarket Math Fails

Do your students believe that math is irrelevant to their lives? Sadly, all too many of them do, especially as they reach high school.

The article I discuss this week lists 10 occasions in which major Australian supermarkets got the mathematics behind their special offers totally wrong. Sometimes the “offer” was worse than the standard price, sometimes it was exactly the same. And occasionally the offer was better than the staff member who put up the marketing ticket realised.

I love this article for its immediate relevance to students. Very few people don’t enjoy finding a bargain, but no-one wants to be ripped off. The examples here provide lots of examples for students to figure out what each offer is, what it’s really worth, and suggest a better, more honest offer.

Buyer beware! Even though stores are using computers to create special ticket offers, human beings are required to think up the actual numbers in each offer. And sadly, some staff members don’t recognize their own mistakes before letting customers find out about the specials.

What do you think?

Do you do “shopping math” in your classroom? Share a comment below.

Reference Article

10 Times Aussie Supermarkets Failed at Math

► Worksheets connected with this week’s video:


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K-6 Math in the News: Pokémon Go and Math for Kids

Are you a teacher who uses Pokémon Go? Are you looking for ways you can tap into the Pokémon Go craze to connect with your students?

Pokémon Go is the latest in the Pokémon franchise, and has broken records at the Apple iTunes store, where it is now the most-downloaded app in the first week of release in the store’s history.

But for teachers, how could the game be useful? Google as indexed over 15M pages on “Pokémon Go education”, reflecting the creative efforts of teachers thinking up ways to incorporate current trends into their curriculum.

Are you thinking of incorporating Pokémon Go into your teaching? How can enjoyment of computer games inspire our students to study math at school?

What do you think?

Will you be using Pokemon Go at all in your classroom? Do share a comment below.

Reference Articles

Main Article: August 2016: Pokémon Go in the classroom

► News articles about Pokémon Go:

► Other math-related articles about Pokémon Go:

► Education articles about Pokémon Go:

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K-6 Math in the News: Everyone CAN Succeed at Maths

What do your students believe about their abilities in mathematics? Do they say “I can do this”, or “I’ll never get this”?

Original article link: How ‘Everyone Can’ Succeed at Maths – TES UK, 6th July 2016

I’m sure all teachers know about the idea of the “self-fulfilling prophecy”: if you start off believing that you have a high achieving class, they are more likely to do well than if you believe from the star that they are a “weak” class.

This article focuses on the message that “Everyone Can” succeed at math, urging teachers and students to believe in the students’ success.

I recommend that you watch the video linked in the article, which has a really nice performance by a young girl taking the role of teacher “Miss Rose”, teaching a class of adults acting as the students:

Maths: Everyone Can from White Rose Maths Hub.

What do you think? Is simply being positive about students’ abilities and capabilities really going to make a difference to the results that they achieve? And are some people simply born “with a maths brain” and others not? Please leave a comment below; I’d love to hear what you think.

Teach Measurement Using a Rain Gauge

Standing in the Rain, Teaching: Video

Rain gauges measure rainfall by collecting a small sample and measuring how deep the water is. The trouble is, we are interested in very small units – in the metric system, rainfall is measured in millimetres/millimeters. How can you accurately measure such small amounts?

How can we use everyday examples to teach measurement?

Watch the video: I explain how a rain gauge amplifies the depth of water collected to make it easier to measure.