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NCETM 'Mathematics Matters' Project Forum

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What is the NCETM Mathematics Matters Project?

ncetm_administrator 21 June 2007 09:51 - Last edited by ncetm_administrator on 05 September 2007 14:03
Portal Administrator

What constitutes the effective learning of mathematics?
The NCETM Mathematics Matters Project is about finding possible answers to this question.

 Read the introduction and background to the project
Please post your comments on this project as we value your contribution to this ongoing work.

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Maulfry 21 June 2007 15:16 - Last edited by Maulfry on 21 June 2007 23:18

I'm sad to find that there is no mention whatsover of the beginnings of mathematics in either the document 'Mathematics Matters' or your 'Evidence Bulletin'.

The ways in which very young children think about, make meaning and understand mathematics - and the sort of pedagogy that can support these significant beginnings needs to be addressed. If NCETM acknowledge only what children in the Primary school (it often feels in education as though 'primary' = Key Stage 2) and Secondary phases, you do a huge injustice to all the young children learning and often struggling to learn mathematics. We really do need to get the beginnings right!

I note some quotes in your 'Mathematics Matters' Project document  that caught my eye: the first is from the Nuffield project  'Mathematics Begins': 'Running through all the work is the central notion that the children must be set free to make their own discoveries and think for themselves, and so achieve understanding, instead of learning off mysterious drills.' (1967)

 The second is Ausubel's well known observation: 'If I had to reduce all of educational psychology to just one principle, I would say this: The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach him accordingly.' (1968)

For young learners the very most challenging aspect of learning mathematics is understanding the 'written' langauge of maths, including its symbols and calculations: the two quotes above are pertinent to this. Van Oers argues that mathematics as a subject is really 'a matter of problem solving with symbolic tools' (van Oers, 2001) (1). This aspect of learning centres on 'meaning-making', something Vygotsky was researching almost eighty years ago. Teachers and practitioners working with children in the birth to 8 year age range need help in teaching this aspect of mathematics, as the findings of the recent Ofted report on the Foundation Stage revealed (weaknesses in calculations) The findings of our research (2 & 3) have shown that central to children's understanding of written mathematics is their mathematical thinking, the meanings they make and their understanding - out of which learning processes such as creative thinking, reasoning, meanings, understanding, problem solving, negotiation and co-construction of understanding develop. Our evidence is that this can lead to deeper levels of thinking and understanding about written mathematics.

But there are many others researching the breadth of mathematics teaching and learning in this phase, and an existing large body of research into young chidlren's mathematics. I hope that NCETM will take this on board in this project and its related conferences and reports - and in presenting research evidence!

I do think that the NCETM is one of the organisations that has real potential to make a difference... This is a plea that you genuinely acknowledge the foundations of children's mathematics - so that others can build on them as children move through school.

1. Van Oers, B. (2001) Educational forms of initiation in mathematical culture’, in Educational Studies in Mathematics, 46: 59-85.

2. Carruthers, E. and Worthington, M, 'Making sense of mathematical graphics: the development of understanding abstract symbolism', European Early Childhood Education Research Association (EECERA) Journal, Vol 13, No 1 (pp 57 - 79)

3. Carruthers, E. and Worthington, M, (2006) (2nd ed.) Children's Mathematics, Making Marks, Making Meanings, London: Sage Publications

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HeatherNorth 21 June 2007 22:30
I agree and thank you for this.  I think it is important for teachers of all ages and stages to understands how mathematics understanding grows.  With this understanding we can all improve the way we teach - by acknowledging where the learners come from on their journey and where they may go next.  Obviously each young person is different, but understanding some possible routes and progressions is an essential part of teaching.  Thank you for the references.  Heather
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Maulfry 21 June 2007 23:14 - Last edited by Maulfry on 21 June 2007 23:20

Thanks for your reply Heather - and apologies if what I wrote sounded like a gripe (maybe it was all the rain...).  I hope others will recognise the importance of this phase.


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