4 Pages

Real maths and classroom maths

I’ve always been in a quandary about maths needing to be both classroom based and in the ‘real’ world. First I find I’m irritated by terminology that implies that the classroom isn’t real. It was real enough for me, both as a child and as an adult! The attitudes of my two daughters express very different views and responses to maths. Hannah delighted in algebra, pattern, and what is often called pure maths. She took up Latin as soon as she could and later continued it in her own time as an extracurriculum subject after school, partly because she saw it as mathematical and logical. She enjoyed the demands of logical and analytical thinking in maths, Latin and the puzzle books she bought from the supermarket and pored over. This maths was real enough to her, though most of it had as much immediate applicability in her life outside school as a Latin phrase book would when speaking to Italians on holiday. She chose to study philosophy at A-level partly through a continuing interest in logic. Her sister Alice would only do school maths if the teacher could explain when and how it was going to be of some use ‘out there’. If the teacher’s reply wasn’t convincing, she didn’t do it-or did it with considerable reluctance-failing to see the ‘point of it’. Both views are prevalent in classrooms and are legitimate views to hold. Neither daughter chose to study maths at A-level. I’m not suggesting that school maths is simply about providing children with what pleases them. If the diet in the classroom is unvarying, it is unlikely to switch people on. A utilitarian curriculum of essential maths also represents an unacceptable narrowing of opportunities.