Learning to enjoy mathematics
Making it fun
No one needs to teach us Indians the importance of Math (‘after all, we invented the zero’, someone would tell you, beaming with pride). Our collective pride- love-hate relationship with Math has ensured that we have accorded it the status of ‘necessary evil’. This attitude is at the centre of how Math has been taught and learned (or tolerated) by each generation of students.
But then, they say that change is the only constant. Slowly, there is a realisation that there needs to be a difference in approach as to the what /how/why of learning and teaching maths. There is a general feeling that math has to be ‘enjoyed and understood’ rather than ‘feared and studied’. Much of this is due to the increased awareness that Math learning is more than about just numbers and formulae, that ‘the mathematical way of thinking’, almost a religion in itself, develops logical analysis and helps in problem solving.
From the start
So, how can Maths be learned so as to be enjoyed and understood? Here are some ways that can be inculcated to make it more fun and memorable:
Maths cannot be effectively learnt in a ‘one – size- fits- all’ system. It has to be a personal experience of the learner, starting from where he/she stands, moving each step forward at the learner’s own pace. Rushing ahead to catch up with the rest or waiting for the majority to catch up has only made math class a struggle or a bore to many students.
If Math is to be befriended, a superficial introduction will not suffice. You need to get up close and personal. So it’s not enough to know that the area of a triangle is half the product of base and height. One needs to know why and how this is so. After all, buddies understand each other well, don’t they.
To remove fear, that which is feared has to become familiar. When it ceases to be ‘alien’, the fear naturally fades. To be familiar, students would need ample practice in each concept they learn. Practice work has to be structured, from basic to challenging, taking the learner to higher rungs after having got his/her feet firmly on the lower rungs.
Broken bridges would create an obstacle to any journey. On analysis of children struggling in math, more often than not the reason turns out to be a kind of ‘broken bridge’ – learning gaps. These may have developed due to classes missed or fundamentals not understood or any such reason. But the damage caused is long term.
Thus, to improve the experience of learning maths for children and to make it more effective, learning has to be personalised. Begin by understanding where the child stands and identify the gaps that they have in their learning. From there, one can begin to rectify the gaps and move forward at the child’s pace through a structured learning path. However, it is easier said than done, especially in a country that faces a serious resource crunch for well-trained teachers. When there are classes that have to contend with 1 teacher for every 90 students, where do we find the resources for personalised teaching – learning? This is where technology can step in to save the day.
We can harness the power of technology to let any number of students benefit from a limited resource pool. An expert group of highly trained educators could design tests to identify the learning gaps and find out where a child stands. With the help of technology, these tests can be delivered to children wherever they may be located. Furthermore, it can also help prepare reports to enable teachers customise an appropriate learning path for each child.
The limited pool of experienced teachers could prepare structured practice work after intense research. And technology can administer these at the pace of each individual learner based on a preprogrammed adaptive logic. Thus, from diagnosis to learning, practice, remediation and assessment, technology can help take the work of the limited expert group to the large student communities spread across geographies, rural or urban.
It is now clear that online learning, as illustrated above, can be the game changer that would transform the education scenario in our country. In fact, a silent revolution already taking place all over the world. These can be seen through many people undertaking various online courses, known as Massively Open Online Courses or MOOCs. Students can enrol in these courses, learn and take certifications from universities like Harvard University.
At the centre of learning
While these courses have become immensely popular, it underlines the need for online learning as well as gives an idea of its huge potential. The basis of this revolution is that the learner is now going to be the centre of the teaching-learning universe. Any system, online or otherwise can survive the test of time only if it is learner centric, where the teachers ‘facilitate’ self-learning.
The success of the system depends on how well this facilitation happens and that ultimately depends on how effectively technology has been utilised. With the help of technology, we can enable our children to use effectively help them out in their studies and overcome their fear of any subject, including mathematics.
(The author is academic innovation and research lead, CarveNiche Technologies)