Jo Boaler – The Fear of Maths

My last post gave you the opportunity to listen to Sir Ken Robinson talk about curriculum design for students with different interests, backgrounds, capabilities and dreams.

This post gives you an opportunity to listen to an awesome interactive interview with Jo Boaler on the Fear of Maths. You can listen to this here. 

If you prefer visuals you may prefer to watch her Ted Talk which is an abbreviated version of this. Click here to view

‘The thesis behind it is based on that you have probably heard people say they are just bad at math, or perhaps you yourself feel like you are not “a math person.” Not so, says Stanford mathematics education professor Jo Boaler, who shares the brain research showing that with the right teaching and messages, we can all be good at math. Not only that, our brains operate differently when we believe in ourselves. Boaler gives hope to the the mathematically fearful or challenged, shows a pathway to success, and brings into question the very basics of how our teachers approach what should be a rewarding experience for all children and adults.

Jo Boaler is a professor of mathematics education at Stanford University. Her book Experiencing School Mathematics won the Outstanding Book of the Year award for education in Britain. A recipient of a National Science Foundation “early career award”‘ she was recently named by BBC as one of the eight educators changing the face of education.’


Sir Ken Robinson

I remember when Sir Ken Robinson first gave his Ted talk in 2004 and I remember working with the Board of the school at the time about the importance of a wide curriculum with emphasis on creativity, the arts and the spread of the opportunities for the children. It made a real impact and over time that schools evolution reflected Sir Ken’s thesis.

Recently he spoke to Wallace Chapman on Radio New Zealand Sunday programme and once again he explains the importance or providing a curriculum that advocates variety and difference and one that caters for the wide diversity of children at each school.

You can read about the talk by clicking here 

You can go straight to the interview here. (It is 33 minutes long so get comfortable and make a cup of tea)

Learning Spaces v Quality Teaching

The way that we are teaching children in todays world has changed because we now understand our learners better.

This simple fact endorses the need to modify the spaces that our children learn in. Often the discussion about the new learning spaces comes down to what people think is better – the ‘Traditional Classroom’ or a ‘Modern Learning Environment’. You have to look at the why of this discussion!

What is crucial is about this discussion is having what works best for each individual child at the heart of the topic. The simple facts are that having highly effective teachers trumps everything for children’s learning! The quality of the education provided by a school largely comes down to the quality of its teachers. There are more effective and less effective teachers in traditional classrooms, just as there are in modern learning environments.

What is often missing from the classroom v learning environment discussion is the premise that in all classrooms there is the same style of teaching. The fact is that teaching styles adapt to the children in a group and so it is all different within schools and across schools. Teachers have their own personalities, ways and nuances, just as a class has its own personality. Hattie (2009) cites that there is more teaching difference within schools than across schools.

As we go into the new learning spaces we don’t expect there to be too much change from what we are doing now as our teaching practice has modified already to include ways to cater for a variety of learning styes and ways of working at the same time so that children have become much more advanced at being independent learners . The Key Competencies of the new curriculum have put the onus on children to understand their connection to learning and to be active, independent learners. The children apply many principles of active learning now – they work in a big team as a class, in small groups, in pairs and by themselves. They are flexible in class. They can carry out tasks that are different to others at the same time as it matches their learning needs. They know where their teacher is and what they are doing. They can ask others for help and they can ask their teacher for clarification. What impresses me at Kelburn, and we see this every day, is how natural and comfortable they are in their own learning environments. This augurs well for next year.

Teachers have to have the skillset to enable this to happen.

In fact, as a school, we are able to leverage the more open, flexible nature of our new learning spaces to implement a broader range of approaches and tools for each team at different times, to meet the needs of students. Given that students’ needs are always changing, how learning “looks” needs to be responsive and change to meet the needs of students. The architecture and design enables this flexibility.

This flexibility our students understand – but it doesn’t look the same as when we were at school. Although the process of learning is similar, the look is different. What is similar however is that the teacher is crucial to the success of our school.

Dr Wesley Imms – researcher

Early this week Kathryn Ryan from the Radio NZ National – Nine to Noon show interviewed Dr Wesley Imms from the University of Melbourne. Dr Imms is researching Modern Learning Environments and their impact on learning.

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The research is indicating a positive shift in children’s deep learning. 

“In these sort of really open learning environments, or the flexible learning spaces, there’s a much much higher level of teachers teaching in a way that the research shows is probably most favourable to learning outcomes,” Dr Imms told RNZ’s Nine to Noon programme.

He said the survey also found the rooms had a higher incidence of “deep learning”, where children retained knowledge and could use it, as opposed to rote learning.

“In other words, we’ve found a very strong correlation between innovative learning environments, high levels of deep learning and high-quality teaching.”

It was a very interesting conversation.  If you would like to listen to the 13 minutes interview then click here.