Why is Mathematics like a Drivers License?

Do you need to be a mechanic to drive?  Do you need to be a Mathematician to calculate how much paint to buy?  It is like hitting a nail with a pile driver to get the job accomplished.

Now are all drivers licenses the same? No, here in Ontario you have M for motorcycles, G for general driving, and then classes F up to A for buses, trucks, ambulances …   Each higher level needs a stronger skill level to achieve that license. Do we train everyone to be a mechanic to learn how to drive? No you go for the license for you need.

So now let’s look at Mathematics and the dilemma we have today.  We tend to lump Mathematics into one massive lump.  When I went to school, I did Arithmetic till grade 6 before I heard of Mathematics.  The fundamental manipulation of integers (drill and kill), fractions (including percents) and problem solving was my first six years (yes there was geometry and measurement as well). My G license in Math.

In high school my sights were sent being an engineer like my uncle so the math courses selected was for that target. Pursuing the lower math courses would not get me there. So my F or E license here. This is why we have the different levels for mathematics as not everyone follows the same path.  We definitely should not be barriers to our students but an open hand to assist them on their way.

As many other students, my focus changed for university, now it was a B.SC in Mathematics (becoming that mechanic).  Other classmates became doctors, lawyers, engineers and accountants which are all higher level of licenses. While others went into the workforce with a G license level of Mathematical knowledge for day to day living and their careers they pursued.

What I have heard from fellow secondary teachers, community college and university professors is that we have many students deficient in integer  – fraction (convert everything to decimals for the calculator)  and problem solving (literacy) skills. This gap also is present with honor students in my Calculus class. They grasp the concepts of the higher licenses but do not have the fundamental driving skills.

Times have changed, so has the cars and the technology in them. My next blog will look at Mathematics in the changing classroom (workforce).


The Comments are Worth …

Now the Washington Post article Stop telling kids you’re bad at math. You are spreading math anxiety ‘like a virus.’ echos my last post.  The comments were more interesting to the way people reacted to the article.  Yes some comments in my eyes had valid points.

Those who disagreed with the premise, I changed the word Math to either read or write and the argument seemed very weak.  I use to say I can not draw but it was pointed out I can draw basic shapes by a visual arts colleague.  So yes I can draw but I am no artist.

So what is wrong with I can do Math but I am no Mathematician? Nothing!!

We Need to Change the Conversation!

I am sorry I can not read. Writing was my weakest subject in school and my brother is great at it. Change the subject to Mathematics and the first two lines become acceptable?

Ontario announced millions of dollars focused on Mathematics in public elementary schools recently but the root I feel has not been identified.

How do we change an attitude? I hear principals and Education Officers say how poor they are in Math in front of other Educators and some laugh. Parents say it as well in parent -teacher interviews. It is okay not to be able to do Math is the implication here.

Yes I have a Mathematics degree and I do not expect everyone to be like me. Not everyone is a novelist with a best selling book but we can read and write (communicate).  We all are consumers, have homes, earn a living and live in today’s society. We all do basic calculations, check prices, check our pay checks, check our bills and bank accounts.  Some do it better than others but we all are able to function in today’s world with the Mathematics background from our schooling.

Mathematics is another way to communicate and I will say another Literacy.  If Mathematics had the same stigma as reading and writing and we stopped saying we can not do Mathematics, may be we will see a change in our achievement rather hearing acceptable excuses.

Today in the Toronto Star is a commentary by Graham Orpwood is Professor Emeritus at York University. Emily Brown is Professor of Mathematics at the Pilon School of Business, Sheridan College.  The Toronto Star

This part stood out.

“The most important step is one of changing public and private attitudes. Whereas lack of literacy is a matter of personal shame and embarrassment in our society, a corresponding lack of numeracy is not. Indeed, many people openly claim to be unable to do mathematics. This is not an attitude found in Canada alone; it is encountered in many western (but few Asian) societies and is one that we dismiss as the “myth of the math gene.” Instead, Ontario should adopt and then act on these two principles:

  • Everyone can be numerate as well as literate.
  • Everyone needs to be numerate as well as literate to function fully in the 21st century.”


In the past 24 hours I have received my daily feeds in my inbox and two headlines caught my eye.

Should schools count coding as math? (eSchool News Today ) – There is the buzz right now on how to get more students interested in programming (coding).  The changes in the Math curriculum in my opinion took out a skill for coding.  I am referring to two column geometric proofs and the logical sequencing that was required.  Geometric proofs also gave Visual Arts students an opportunity to shine with their “minds eye” to geometric shapes.  This change to the curriculum had a side effect that was missed. Are transferable skills still in vogue for education?

Study: Millennials Spend More Than 3 Hours a Day on Mobile Phones (T.H.E. News Update) – The age group referenced in the article are the 16 to 30 year olds.  These are our high school students in front of us.  This article has me looking at my classes and how can I leverage this rather than shut it down? This is a change that is now rooted with us and not a fad that will wither away. The students have changed, how do I adapt and change to work with them? How can this help me with students’ deeper understanding and critical thinking?

I have questions but do not have a quick and easy answer. What needs to change?

If it worked for me as a student then..

My high school math experience was log and trig tables working with a slide rule.  Calculators were a year away and $100 to buy one.

Does my classroom today reflect the way I learnt Mathematics?  Does today’s classroom look the same as the one I walked into 30 years ago?  For my students, I hope not for their sake.

I as worked with my grade 9 and 10 applied students, it was obvious that they had a different mathematical background to the one I had. Imagine, set theory was part of my grade 7 and 8 curriculum.

As I changed to a problem based/inquiry style class so did the appreciation of my students.  Instead of “they know very little”, it is “what is it that they know?”  What are the gaps that each one has and how do I help fill in the gap. (Individual student program – novel). I now see students doing more than just enough and bored with another lesson but an engaged group of students.

So now with SSI, I was able to leverage what I started to be the evidence based strategy (EBS) and track what I was accomplishing.  Did I have to change because of this program? No but change has been part of my educational evolution.

Future posts will document the changes with the successes and failures I encountered.

Is the old way the best way, let your classroom tell you, mine did.

When is a test not a true measure of a student’s abilities?

Final exams, mid-term exams and planned unit tests have something missing when you use them for evaluation.  No I am not throwing out the bath water with the baby but looking for deeper evaluation.

Today in my 12U Advanced Functions class and I posted 5 trigonometry questions on the board, handed out 2 sheets of paper and said this is a test.  I placed the answers to 3 of the 5 questions in the last 10 minutes of the period and informed them I was not collecting to mark. The students also noted that in 5 comprehensive questions, I covered the entire unit.

My walk around the class allowed me to observe the progress of their work and those who still are in the throes of mastering the content.  They are going home this weekend with clues on where they need to address their weaknesses.

A final or announced test allows the memorizers or the guessers (I know what question the teacher will ask) to sometimes hit it right on but have they mastered the content to do a surprise test a week from now or use that skill in the next course?  Will they be memorizing for the final like they did the unit test?

In the last five minutes of the class there was a buzz and it was centered on students discussing the questions on what they did or discovering their misstep.  More learning without me – amazing.