Rethinking the Maths Curriculum

Dan Meyer’s TED Talk on the failing maths curriculum, is without a doubt my favourite. He may not be the most confident or charismatic speaker but he is so obviously, in-your-face-passionate about teaching that you can’t help but believe everything he says (and if you don’t agree with that reasoning I’d still hazard a guess that you nodded along with him because what he says is so true). He wants to completely strip maths back; lose the unnecessary words and explanation – it’s maths after all, not literature – just give pupils a problem to solve using the knowledge you have (hopefully) been successful in providing them with. His recommendations for teaching and learning hit the epitome of problem finding and for that reason alone I think they are genius.

I’ve read a lot of articles and posts comparing Dan’s recommendation for maths against that of Salman Khan, and more often than not Dan wins. I can fully understand why Dan wins, he’s a teacher and he is passionate about being a teacher; Salman Khan has created an interactive website to teach rather than going out into the classroom to do so himself. But here’s the point that almost everyone is missing or choosing to ignore… Salman Khan has a potential classroom of 6 billion people; Dan Meyer has a classroom of around 30 pupils. This is not Dan Meyer’s fault, and at the end of the day his face to face methods probably do trump those of a PC, but neither method is wrong. In fact, I think that if you combine the two methods you are pretty much winning. OK so pupils might not watch Khan Academy videos at home… but they might! Give your class the option, tell them about Khan Academy, set videos and exercises for them to complete at home; adopt Dan Meyer’s approach in the classroom, having faith that your pupils are learning the math facts at home at a pace which suits them, and see where you are in a week, month, year’s time. Some pupils won’t watch Khan Academy at home, but, to be blunt, some pupils just don’t like maths! Those kids who want to do better, who enjoy being in the maths classroom, they are likely to not only try Khan Academy, but to love it!

Dan Meyer’s approach depends on pupils knowing the basics; Khan Academy can help free class time by allowing pupils to be tutored for free at home. Give pupils the basics, give them the resources to revisit the basics, allow yourself to use software which tells you where your pupils are struggling and run with Dan Meyer’s new approach to the maths curriculum.