More on Rote Learning vs Mathematical Reasoning vs Problem Solving

June 9, 2016 — Leave a comment

The National Curriculum has three stated aims:

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 09.50.30

In plain English, this means we should:

  • teach the basics (typically through rote methods)
  • spot patterns and make generalisations (algebra is the tool of choice for more experienced mathematicians)
  • problem solve (using a variety of techniques)

In my experience as a teacher, in the UK a great deal of classroom time is spent on the first of these three aims, at the expense of the second two (particularly the third). There are a number of reasons behind this: rote methods are easy to teach; exams have traditionally focused more on these areas; progress is more-easily measured in this area; there are more resources aimed at teaching the fundamentals; some would argue that good classroom control is more easily achievable in focusing on the fundamentals; some would also argue that it’s difficult to progress to reasoning and problem solving without getting the fundamentals in place.

We get better at all three of these aims through practise, but an excessive weighting is and has historically been given to the first.

DoodleMaths was developed to focus on the teaching of the fundamentals through rote methods. As stated in previous blogs, rote is hugely effective, and tech can also make it engaging too – by giving immediate feedback and help on questions; through the ability to collect data and adapt content to individuals (children are more motivated when answering questions relevant to their personal strengths and weaknesses); by gamification; through the fact that it can be done almost anywhere. One could even make a case that tech can teach rote practice on an individual basis better than it can be done in a classroom.

One recent trip to a Shanghai school* provides evidence for this. I’m not stating anything new here (and many far-more experienced teachers than myself who went as part of the separate government initiative will concur this) in saying that Shanghai teachers assume in their students a great deal of fundamental knowledge. This allows lessons to move rapidly towards examining the general case, and to more complex problem solving. They are able to do this because children have 30-45 minutes of maths homework to do every night – often rote practice in the fundamentals which is more easily done without the guidance of the teacher.

Our philosophy with DoodleMaths is to take this rote learning out of the classroom and turn it into an engaging process adapted to each individual child. Giving children a better grounding in the fundamentals in turn creates an classroom environment which can focus on teaching the problem-solving skills that modern employers crave.

 

*We have an investment and distribution agreement with a Chinese company, Jaiyi, and we are currently preparing DoodleMaths for the Chinese market.

 

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