Mathematics – why?

Many children have difficulties in math, often it becomes a "problem specialist". But why is that and what can parents do??

Mathematics counts because you need it in almost all areas of life. | © scoyo

Stephanie Schiemann heads the school-university network office of the German Mathematicians’ Association and is involved in volunteering in math talent development. We have asked them about the problem of mathematics.

scoyo: According to the arithmetic foundation, 20% of the children ended the school year 07/08 with sufficient or worse. However, according to the 2009 PISA study, Germany’s mathematics subject is significantly above the OECD average. How is it really with the mathematical skills of German students?

Schiemann: The mathematical skills of the students are very different – depending on the type of school and the catchment area of ​​a school, but also on the training and motivation of the teachers teaching there. Even if there are very good counterexamples, it can generally be seen that in classes that have been taught for several years by other subjects, the level drops. With the introduction of the G8 (high school in eight years, from grades 5 to 12) and the associated reduction in learning time for high school children, as well as the abolition of advanced courses and the reduction of math lessons in the upper grades in some federal states, that will be Levels will drop even further in the following years. There are already reports from countries that have already completed the double school year.

But there are also very high-performing students in Germany who confirm their skills annually in national and international competitions. These often benefit from the form of a special high school, special cross-school talented projects that are supported by clubs or universities, or the intensive personal commitment of individual teachers.

Basically, the mathematics school subject in Germany is among the top 3 subjects that are responsible for non-transfer or a change of school to a lower school type. The widespread weak mathematics achievements mean that mathematics is the school subject that is most in demand for extra-curricular support. Many parents are no longer able to help their children with mathematics from grade 5, so tutoring is advised and very often taken. Unfortunately, not all parents can afford this. Free support systems are unfortunately only available to around a third of the students.

scoyo: Why do maths cause great difficulties at school for many children??

Schiemann: This is partly due to the learning content in the framework plans. It is sometimes not taken into account that the necessary level of abstraction has not yet been developed for the relevant age group for certain topics. In these moments, the feeling arises that math is too difficult! In addition, the mathematics is hierarchical, i.e. It is designed in such a way that gaps in the first years of school mean that the content of subsequent years can no longer be properly classified and understood. There are gaps in the understanding of the objects as well as in the mastery of the calculation methods, quasi the tools of mathematics, which continuously increase. In this point, in my opinion, exercise programs with built-in progress analysis and diagnostic tools, such as those are already available online at scoyo or bettermarks or also at school book publishers. With the help of the programs, gaps can be closed in a targeted manner and make room for the current advanced content, logical thinking and problem orientation in regular lessons.

The feeling that math is too difficult for normal students is particularly confirmed by adult society, because it is still en vogue that role models in public, but also in private, brag about never having been able to do math and still good through Life get. Efforts in perseverance and concentration or also memorizing, e.g. of square numbers, generally no longer considered necessary and positive, but all too often dismissed as superfluous or overwhelmed. Without this willingness to work hard, mathematics – even at school – cannot be practiced.

It is clear to everyone that society will not work without language, but without mathematics there would be no car, no cell phone and no house. The fundamental importance of mathematics must be given much greater priority. To do this, it must be made clearer in math lessons where math is found in everyday life. This would help students recognize the need to learn math. In order to make the application of mathematics clearer in everyday life, current topics should be taken up, e.g. on the subject health "How big is the nuclear power risk or the likelihood of developing EHEC?" "How does an infectious disease spread?" Or in everyday school life "How much money do we have to take so that we don’t make a minus at school carnival?", "How do you calculate one School trip? "Or" How do I design a fair election procedure for the head boy? "Or" How do I present an election result reasonably? ", Etc.

scoyo: From your point of view, what is wrong with school teaching maths??

Schiemann: The abundance of materials and shortage of time leaves the teachers little leeway. The standardized tests further restrict the content of the lessons. The 45-minute cycle does not allow longer, concentrated and intensive work on a topic (e.g. for a project or a more complex problem) and thus makes learning more difficult. However, discovering and understanding something yourself is extremely important for understanding. This is also a lot of fun and enables the students to build up positive emotions with mathematics. Pure reproduction, that is to say, to imitate any calculation method, hardly strengthens the understanding of the matter and only helps in solving the simplest tasks in class work (no-5 strategy).

In many cases, teachers work “only” with the textbook that has been introduced and do not take the time to prepare individual lessons. This is often due to the crowded weekly schedule. Furthermore, there are only limited further training offers for teachers and these are not used enough during the lesson. In addition, teachers are only partially exempted from further training during class time. It is a failure of the education policy / school administration that sufficient teacher supply is not planned to enable further training, illness representation and the very fruitful team teaching or internships as well as qualified afternoon care. In classes with more than 30 students, individual support is practically not possible.

The range of support, especially in the afternoons, especially for the disadvantaged, must also be expanded. Many parents lack the time, the will or the professional understanding to help their children. With the expansion of all-day schools and the educational package, at least steps in the right direction can be identified.

scoyo: How can you motivate your child as a parent and teach math to be fun??


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Christina Cherry
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