Friday, 17 July 2015

Why are we still obsessing with pen-n-paper calculations?

 I wonder.........

° If a primary maths curriculum mirrored the sorts of maths used in real life for an average adult, what would it look like? 

° How close to reality are current maths curriculums?

° How have maths curriculums adapted to 21st Century learning needs?


Image: http://sethwinterhalter.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Apple-Mirror.jpg

We know that a key ingredient for effective learning to take place is children being able to connect the concepts/skills being explored to their lives.  When children see their parents whipping out their calculators on their mobiles instead of a pen-n-paper to calculate more complex sums, how can they see the relevance of knowing how to do a long division sum or multiplying 3 by 3 digit numbers when it can get done so much faster with technology they will have in their pockets?  Are we creating a mathematical disconnect within children with our current maths curriculums by obsessing with pen-n-paper calculation skills?


I've been wondering about the amount of time we spend in our classrooms with learning number calculations. Are we spending too much time in learning pen-n-paper maths skills?  If so, how should the ratio of learning time for number look?


What I think I do with with numbers in my daily life:


- I figured that I mostly do mental calculations in my daily life (and mostly it is     estimating rather than needing an accurate answer). 


- If I need to add, subtract etc some larger numbers I whip out my mobile and     use the calculator on it. (Why would I trust my feeble brain to add 3 digit           numbers when a calculator is always in my pocket?!?) 

- Seldom do I search for a bit of pen and paper to calculate numbers. In fact,       unless I'm keeping a score when playing cards with friends, I can't really           remember the last time I used pen-n-paper to add, subtract etc.


It makes me wonder, what if number learning in our classrooms reflected this? Would it be such a bad thing?



Why are we still obsessing with pen-n-paper calculations in our classrooms when they aren't skills today's generation of kids will be using as much in their lives? 



Whilst I can appreciate the importance of learning how to do pen-n-paper calculations and I can see how it helps kids to deepen their understandings of what we are actually doing with the numbers, I wonder if we should though, be dedicating much more time to helping kids become more proficient at mental maths skills such as estimating when using calculators.





Pre-mobile era, I can understand why schools gave so much importance to learning pen-n-paper calculations.   When I was at primary school in the 1970s (gasp!), teachers wouldn't have thought my generation would all be living with calculators easily accessible in our pockets all day long everywhere we go. 

We needed to be able to calculate daily life maths using pen-n-paper.  I remember as a child watching the local butcher or the local fish-n-chips take away shopkeepers scribbling their addition sums on paper behind the counter because that was how life was back then. 



But, we live in the mobile-era now. As unlikely as the technology mobiles have today would have seemed back in the 70s, today's kids will probably have even better technology in their lives as adults that will make our mobiles seem archaic- like records and cassettes. 

I wonder why aren't our maths curriculums reflecting this fundamental change in our lives? 

Who is really going to ever do a long division sum on pen-n-paper as an adult?  

Why are we holding on to those skills as if they are still so important for today's kids?


When we use our calculators on our mobiles, the skill we do need is to estimate whether the answer we got on the calculator is plausible or not.  Had we accidentally punched in the wrong numbers?   

So, it seems that that should be the greater skill we help children to acquire in our classrooms today if we want to keep maths relevant to their lives and to help them to further connect with the maths learning we do.  



I'm planning my class' maths scope and sequence next year to try to reflect real life use of number. To do so, I'm planning for us to focus upon:


° 90% mental maths strategies

° 8% calculator strategies 

° 2% pen-n-paper strategies


Hopefully this will increase my students' ability to connect with the maths learning we do and also meet 21st Century skills we, as educators keep discussing and thinking about......




3 comments:

  1. Hi Graeme,

    Have you seen videos of kids practicing the abacus. Google it, if interested. Funny thing is they are doing huge sums in their head but look like zombies ! Thank s for the very interesting pie chart. I use the calculator to teach certain topics like the inverse relationship between addition and subtraction, etc and patterns as well...fun! But yes, I agree. We should be focusing more on mental maths.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Graeme,

    Have you seen videos of kids practicing the abacus. Google it, if interested. Funny thing is they are doing huge sums in their head but look like zombies ! Thank s for the very interesting pie chart. I use the calculator to teach certain topics like the inverse relationship between addition and subtraction, etc and patterns as well...fun! But yes, I agree. We should be focusing more on mental maths.

    ReplyDelete
  3. And your pie chart is only part of a bigger one that includes estimation, measure, shape, networks, probability, statistics, pie charts...

    I too find it amazing, the obsession with calculation.

    ReplyDelete

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