Making maths tangible and answering the question “Where would I ever use this?”

Making maths tangible and answering the question “Where would I ever use this?”

Today is International Day of Mathematics and this year’s theme is “mathematics is for everyone”. But if mathematics is for everyone, why then do so few students enjoy the subject? Studies show that one of the biggest gripes students having about mathematics is that it is hard to understand when and where they will use the concepts they learn about in the classroom later in life. This means that to break through students’ resistance to the subject, teachers need to teach mathematics in a way that makes it tangible. And one of the best ways to do that, is using a unique approach to teaching and learning known as “project-based learning”.

South Africa’s mathematics outcomes are amongst the worst in the world. While there are many studies detailing that the poor quality of teaching in this area bears much of the blame, the truth is that if students cannot connect what they are learning to what interests them, it is harder to engage them and create a positive attitude towards a subject too.

“Mathematics is a rich and complex subject filled with many real-life applications. However, due to the large volume of work mathematics teachers are expected to impart during the school year, it often means that teachers race through the content quickly in a lecturing style and then rely on students to practice these concepts in order for students to grasp them. When this happens, the result is that students may be able to apply formulas, go through the steps and algorithms and even score high in tests, but when it comes to solving a real-life problem using mathematical concepts outside of the maths classroom they really struggle. But with project-based learning (or PBL), all that changes,” explains educationist and founder of Future Nation Schools, Sizwe Nxasana.

In PBL, students are tasked with answering or solving a real-world problem in an authentic, inter-disciplinary and meaningful way over an extended period of time and in a multi- and inter-disciplinary way.

“Studies show that when students are personally invested, they understand content more deeply and retain what they learn longer. One of the biggest advantages to teaching mathematics through PBL is that it the authenticity of a project can help shift a students’ relationship with math because it ensures that students remain interested in the topic. When it comes to improving our country’s mathematics outcomes, personal investment and a positive attitude is vital. By solving mathematics projects situated in the real world, students discover connections to their own lives and develop a sense of ownership and accomplishment. These activities create memorable learning experiences and, by extension, not only improve their relationship with mathematics but proves that mathematics is not just for everyone, it is also for me” adds Nxasana.