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Teaching High School Mathematics in the 21st Century

The last years of the 20th century saw the development, in many countries, of universal secondary education. This meant that all students, regardless of ability or interest in mathematics, were obligated to continue learning mathematics until they graduated from high school.

In the past, graduating students in high school math classes were, for the most part, “math-logical” thinkers. This meant that the ‘Chalk and talk’ approach and the pedagogue’s multiple practical exercises worked for these students. But, with all the students attending high school, their learning styles didn’t work with this traditional pedagogue. This meant that the pedagogues of mathematics education had to change. Also, there was a need for massive changes to the curricula to bring them into line with modern developments in mathematics, especially with the advent of computer technology. To further complicate the issue, if a teacher uses a variety of pedagogues, the teacher must use an assessment process that reflects that pedagogue.

This meant that my teacher pedagogue had to expand to meet all of my students as well as the demands of modern math curricula.

Here’s how I tried to make math more engaging for my students at the start of the 21st century. I used fourteen strategies to help students want to be fully involved in their math development.

My student-centered strategies were:

1. Mathematics had to be fun, relevant and connected to life.

I used strategies such as a fun quiz, real life questions, easy to hard challenges, questions in unfamiliar contexts, and quick quizzes to name a few strategies.

2. I try to teach math the way I would like to be taught, not the way I was taught.

Remember how you often got bored in “Maths” class and couldn’t see the relevance of Mathematics in your life. Don’t let your students feel that way.

3. I used a variety of teaching strategies appropriate to the topics I was teaching.

Don’t let math just “spit and talk” and practice multiple exercises. Use technology, cooperative learning techniques, hands-on materials, hands-on lessons, quizzes, and any strategies that accommodate your students’ different learning styles. Then, rate each topic in a way that reflects your teaching approach.

4. I often used my students as assistant teachers.

I have often used my most capable students as mentors in their areas of expertise. I may need to give them some tutoring training, but I have found that other students respond well to their help and progress faster. What is important in the words of the mentor is that they are in the language of the student. This allows the least able student to understand more quickly.

5. I set out to develop all possible skills in all my students, regardless of their mathematical talent.

The greater the range of skills I could teach my students, the greater their chances of long-term success. These skills can include estimating, planning, how to check effectively as well as how best to define the solution to a problem.

6. I worked hard to help students develop their own understanding of math, not just adopt my understanding.

In other words, I introduced the ideal of “constructivism” into my teaching.

My teacher-centered strategies were:

7. I taught math through Stealth.

The quiz is an example of one way to create stealth learning. This seems to be more fun than learning math for many students.

8. Teaching mathematics should be challenging, exciting and fun for you, the teacher. It was for me.

I looked for concrete examples to use in my teaching and assessment. I have included short problem solving/critical thinking exercises in each lesson. These don’t have to be difficult every time. For difficult examples, I would slowly give clues to the students.

9. I experimented with new teaching approaches, then evaluated their success, revised the approach, planned a new version and tried again.

I introduce new teaching strategies into my program and refine them with a review process. These different strategies responded to the different learning styles of the students. Plus, they added some interesting new teaching challenges for me, as a teacher.

10. Working with junior and middle school classes gave me the flexibility to experiment with new teaching and assessment approaches that I could use.

This is because the assessment results from these years are used to assess students internally rather than externally. If a new type of assessment task didn’t work the first time, I modified it and tried the assessment task again. The original task may well have produced a great learning experience instead of a valuable assessment task for your students.

11. I have shared my successes and my disasters with your colleagues.

This process has become informal professional development for me and my colleagues. Sometimes a more experienced colleague would show me where I was wrong and how I could overcome the disaster in the future.

12. I reproduced aloud to my classes what I really thought about a problem while I produced a solution to the problem on the whiteboard.

Sometimes I pursued an approach that I knew would fail. I didn’t call it a failure but a learning experience for my students. Being a “perfect” problem solver often puts off students who think they can’t match what you do. More often than not, I included in my modeling all the ideas that came to mind and that I rejected. I explained why I had rejected these ideas. I would model as many different solutions or approaches as time allowed. If a student came up with a different but mathematically correct solution, I asked them to pass it on to the class.

13. I challenged myself to help students come to math class.

I tried to create a personal mindset that helps me develop lessons that I love to teach my students. It meant I wanted to be there too.

14. I incorporated the use of graphing calculators and software as often as possible.

Students today are computer users. They relate well to technology. The beauty of technology is that the teacher can visually demonstrate many examples of what is being discussed using computer software or graphing calculator applications projected onto a screen. Understanding comes faster than the pen-on-paper strategies of the past.

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