Doing maths

There is a sense of the world having changed without me being aware of it. The teaching of religious education was always something of an educational backwater. There was no groundbreaking research going on, no new discoveries about which to talk, nothing that could have counted as innovation or invention. There were many variations on a theme, but the theme did not change. The teaching of religious education looks essentially as it did in the early 1980s, bookish and propositional with little to differentiate it from that of generations past. Look at the content of any catechetical course and it is unchanging.

Encountering the world of secondary school mathematics teaching was like entering a different world: interactive technology in the classroom and an abundance of complex material online. Sophisticated websites like Wolfram Alpha offer considerable resources even to those who do not subscribe; Khan Academy is my favourite.

Sal Khan is a Bangladeshi-American who lives in Mountain View in California. Sal himself presents many among the six thousand videos that the Academy have online. He teaches maths with a self-effacing good humour. There is a sense in listening to him that he is someone who is a friend, someone who is used to dealing with a dull student who sometimes struggles to get his head around the concepts. There is always a feeling of accomplishment at the end of each presentation. As well as the videos, the Academy includes interactive exercises and structured tests. It is all available free at the point of delivery, to anyone in the world who is able access it. There is no pressure for subscriptions, or even for a donation.

There is an infectious enthusiasm among those responsible for the online maths material. Perhaps enthusiasm and a mood of excitement with the material are to be expected among those who take their subject onto a website, and perhaps their work will increasingly be the way of the future.

Already both teachers and students make regular use of materials from online tutors like Mr Barton. Visiting a school recently, I was asked by Year 10 students if I was Mr Hegarty. Having read the Hegarty Maths website, I smiled and said that I wished I was. To be Mr Hegarty would be someone whose work has benefited countless thousands of students.

Clicking through a succession of school maths websites, I wondered how much longer it would be before the Internet became the classroom – even for those in school. It’s all a world away from the catechism.

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4 Responses to Doing maths

  1. Vince says:

    I’ve thought that the internet would be a great way for people that needed a boost or a retrain after a degree without going the intra mural route. A sorta Open Uni on speed. And to that end I’ve been having a running discussion with Ferdinand von P pretty much for the last 10 years. His take, which I now agree, is that while there is an educational case there is no business case. Indeed from that debate I’ve come to the conclusion the funding model for the University is flawed for the very same conditions exist. I now think the only model is the Harvard one. Where the economic price of the degree is the price. If you can afford it, you pay it. If you can’t then the fees paid by those that can cover. And if the State wants to cover fees in uni then it pays the bill the uni decides. At the moment the uni is a price taker. Meaning the exchequer/government, but really the civil service, dictates. And it’s a political diktat, not a social nor educational one. Leading to profound distortions in the operation of the academy.

  2. Good luck retraining to be a maths teacher Ian – best job ever. Thanks for the kind mention in your lovely post. Colin Hegarty

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