Math, Outreach

Revelations of a teacher-in-training


Since I was in the Concurrent Teacher Education Program (CTEP) the second semester of my fourth year was a professional semester. We had various courses related to pedagogy in January and then a 7 week teaching practicum at a local school. The Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment course was designed to prepare us for teaching mathematics. We learned many valuable teaching strategies and were exposed to cutting edge pedagogical research on teaching math. For instance, a guest speaker taught us to deal with students suffering from dyscalculia – a learning disability characterized by difficulties of learning and comprehending arithmetic. Some people even refer to it as ‘dyslexia but in terms of numbers’. One of the useful tips to fight both problems was to implement a buddy system in the classroom. Students of similar academic levels can be paired up (or put into groups of three) and asked to solve a problem. Students with a low level of confidence in their mathematical abilities would benefit from such a practice because they will see that their classmates struggle as well, but it is quite possible to find a solution if everyone thinks together. Psychological Foundations of Learning was an interesting course as well. We learned about various theories of human psychological and intellectual development. The professor always used examples from his own teaching practice to illustrate the concepts we covered in class. For instance, he told us about a student who was sent to a special education class and mistakenly diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, when in fact she was just a kinaesthetic learner (a student who retains the information best when a physical activity is involved).

In my practicum I got to teach math in a grade 9 gifted and in a grade 10 applied class. Certain advice that the pedagogy professor gave us were extremely useful but some advice turned out to be inapplicable to the specific school or a specific classroom. After the first two weeks of teaching I realized that no matter how much time we spend discussing pedagogy in a university classroom, the main part of learning will come from practice. Every group of students is unique and it is not possible to describe the perfect ‘recipe’ for classroom management. I also realized that teaching and acting can mix at times. In order to explain the transformations of parabolas to my applied math class I needed to choreograph a Parabola Dance for them (students were asked to imitate the transformations of a parabola using their hands). We also had to sing a Quadratic Formula Song at times. Working with gifted students was also very pleasant. I especially liked when some of them came up to me before class and told me about their math, computer science and physics related ideas.

The main thing I understood during my practicum is the fact that the students do not understand where the mathematical concepts are coming from and why there was a need to develop them. For instance, many students asked “Solving a cubic equation is complicated. Why can’t we just have a formula like for a quadratic?” or “Why would someone even think of creating something like a parabola?” The students lack the knowledge of the historical background of mathematics and there is not enough age-appropriate historical literature for them. Even if such literature was present, the curriculum obliges the teachers to go through the concepts very fast and to omit some useful historical information. Shortly after completing my practicum I decided to join the graduate program for History of Mathematics and I hope that in the future I will be able to create some supplementary materials that would help teachers to integrate the historical background of mathematics in the fast paced curriculum effectively.

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