Kyoto International School (KIS) parent Sarah Son contrasts her own experience learning mathematics with the way her kids are now encouraged to claim ownership of their learning in the Primary Years Programme (PYP).
by Sarah Son
Little by little I can see differences happening to my kids. One of them even told me she likes math. What is happening?
Approximately 37 years ago, I started learning math in a very traditional way. Like other subjects at the time, math had a lot of repetition and drills. It wasn’t about thinking about strategies to solve problems. It was mostly about memorizing certain ways to figure out math equations.
In Korea, math plays such a crucial role in deciding whether students can go to a highly recognized university. Name value is so important that students often study at a private academy until one o’clock in the morning. I once watched a BBC documentary about how high school students study for the SAT test, and how it would look from an outsider’s point of view. Nowadays, many students just give up on math. Many math teachers rally against the administrative bureaucracy, arguing that math has gone over the line and beyond common sense, as a result students hate math.
As a parent, I just wish my children would not hate math, especially when I myself did not enjoy learning it. However, little by little I can see differences happening to my kids. One of them even told me she likes math. What is happening? I wondered, how can anybody like math? All those drills and repetitions and memorizing all the rules drove me away from it, but now my children say they like it. What is different from the math back then and the math today?
They can claim ownership over their learning, which is so important so that their learning can last for life.
After two workshops run by Kyoto International School’s PYP Coordinator, I realized math can be fun, and it can be about thinking. Students can actually come up with their own strategies and take control of their learning. There are reasons why we have gotten stuck with this traditional way of math. There might even be some positives to the old way. But, I really prefer this new way of learning math, because it enables students to think about what they learn. They can claim ownership over their learning, which is so important so that their learning can last for life. Learning should not just happen during the school years. It should be part of life, and by acquiring strategies to solve problems, our children can empower themselves and have more confidence in their lives.
As a parent—and once an educator—it feels almost thrilling to see kids love math.
When I was invited to observe a math class, the lesson plan was designed to get students interested in what they were about to learn. They did this by playing dice, which is not only enjoyable, but also a non-threatening math tool. Students were given only one question and asked to come up with as many ways as possible to provide a solution. When students were working individually, I witnessed students solving questions in very interesting ways. Teachers gave feedback—which is the key to learning—and later all students talked about their strategies, which gave them a chance to reinforce their learning.
As a parent—and once an educator—it feels almost thrilling to see kids love math. But we shouldn’t overlook cultural differences. Many countries have very competitive education systems and some kids might have access to opportunities that others do not. There can be many different levels in one class. Teachers should be careful and knowledgeable about how to teach different levels, and ensure all students understand and own their learning in mathematics.
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