Dr Melodie de Jager
If we were to make a list of school subjects in order of popularity, maths and science are likely to end up right at the bottom.
It is a mystery why children fall out of love with maths and science if you consider that they’ve spent an enormous amount of time exploring maths and science as preschoolers:
Preschool children spontaneously learn about Newton’s law of gravity when they play ball and learn that what goes up must come down. Similarly, they experience gravitational acceleration and the laws of momentum when they speed down the fireman’s pole of a jungle gym.
According to Cronbach & Suppes it is easy to take the sting out of maths and science when you create structure and order in your thinking about real life phenomena by applying systematic and logical methods.
Maths and science create structure and order in your thinking about real life phenomena by applying systematic and logical methods.
Maths and science is not something separate from real life, maths and science are part and parcel of every master chef moment as well as the core skills needed to drive a car, buy a t-shirt, apply toothpaste to a toothbrush, and to make the perfect cup of coffee.
Imagine a day in the life of a hairdresser or neurosurgeon… In both professions meticulous mathematics is needed to avoid a disastrous outcome.
Maths and science are both processes that help us to define, clarify, understand and solve problems. Yes, these problems can be hypothetical and very abstract, but math and science at school are more focused on concrete, real life phenomena:
Why would we want to predict patterns?
Jean Piaget, a Swiss Clinical Psychologist, said it is a human trait to search for constancy, because constancy brings predictability and predictability leads to a sense of safety and security which fills us with confidence and creativity, which in turn boosts problem solving abilities.
Patterns help us to survive:
Patterns brings sameness, and sameness soothes.
Patterns also protect nature. For instance when the numbers of rain forests and rhinos dwindle, or when HIV/AIDS statistics rise, it says: STOP! Something needs to change!
Patterns allow us to predict. Not to label, but to enable.
The problem with maths and science is that:
We need to realise that the brain is not in the skull alone. The brain starts in the coccyx’s area and when children are expected to sit stil and concentrate for longer than an age-appropriate period of time (to the maximum of 17 minutes) then concentrating becomes almost impossible. To quote Gavin Keller: if the bum is numb, the brain is dumb. Maths and science are found in life, not on paper. Children need to learn hands-on. They need to use as many senses at a time as possible while being actively involved in measuring, calculating, comparing, finding patterns, etc.
Teachers need to point out the relevance of each topic – relevance improves concentration, it motivates, it aids in the transference of info to memory. Nothing motivates as much as showing: “what’s in it for me?”. Maths and science come alive when it is rooted in real life – the child’s life. And if you cannot find the relevance? Use your available resources! Children with cell phones and data and IT savvy. Challenge them and give them marks for finding relevance.
Take hands with the feeding schools and ensure that every phase lays a solid foundation for the next phase, which starts preschool. Expect preschools to send schoolready children to grade 1 – children who can:
Insist that preschools limit the use of workbooks and worksheets and refrain from teaching reading and writing, but rather maximise controlled and skilled gross and fine motor movement:
Expect the foundation phase to send children who can read and write with ease to the next phase, where learning to learn is the priority. Children are not born with an ability to spot key ideas and summarise them. Children need caring adults to unlock the world and to provide relevance and meaning through asking questions, conversations and debates. Children need teachers who are enthusiastic about their subject(s), because enthusiasm is inspiring!
High schools, we expect you to send children into the world who can:
We need you to send children into the world who have earned their grades and who know they CAN do maths and science.