Name: Dave Hewitt
About you: I was born in London. After a flirtation with music (I used to write songs and play in a band), I did a life-changing PGCE course under Dennis Crawforth, and taught for 11 years in and around Bristol. In 1990 I moved to the University of Birmingham where I am currently working on initial teacher education – with experienced teachers on Masters courses, and with PhD students. I have been heavily involved with the Association of Teachers of Mathematics (ATM) over many years, have been secretary of the British Society for Research into Learning Mathematics (BSRLM), an editor of Educational Review, and on the international editorial panel of For the learning of mathematics. As well as working with teachers and mathematics departments, I have given talks and presented papers at many universities and conferences throughout the world.
What got you interested in mathematics?
In 1969 I was just 13 years old when I broke my leg and ended up in hospital for two months, lying in bed with my leg in traction stuck up in the air. It was a significant time for me as up until then I had been involved in as many sports as I could. Suddenly I was physically immobile, and became bored. It was then that I started to explore my mental world more, and spent my time working on mathematical problems and puzzles, and also writing computer programmes (remember this was 1969 and access to a computer at all was rare – but I was fortunate that my school had a terminal which was connected to a computer at the University of London). It was a shift not only in my interest in mathematics but also in my sense of feeling creative – that I could make up problems of my own and that mathematics was a creative subject.
When did you start thinking about teaching?
I was fortunate to go to Warwick University for my undergraduate degree. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and met exceptional lecturers, some of whom later became my colleagues in the mathematics education world. However, at that time I did not find every lecturer engaging. One day in my second year of undergraduate study I was sitting in a lecture room with about 200 other students. The lecturer had filled nine blackboards with lemmas, theorems and corollaries. I was approximately four blackboards behind, and writing furiously to try to keep up, when I put down my pen and asked myself what was the point of all of this? The lecturer was not interested in whether anyone understood, and I was not even trying to understand – I was just copying a collection of symbols. I had a strong sense of this being a waste of everyone’s time. This was the beginning of my downfall in terms of getting a good degree as I stopped attending certain lectures. But it was also the beginning of my own thinking about what teaching might look like if I it was not like this!
Who has influenced your teaching?
Unquestionably my strongest influence has been Caleb Gattegno, who created the ATM, and made major contributions in mathematics education, the learning of languages and the teaching of reading and writing. I was lucky enough to have Dennis Crawforth, who had been a tutee of Gattegno’s, as my tutor during my PGCE. This was a life-transforming year for me during which I began to re-think my whole image of what teaching might be about. Since then I have continued to learn from many people in the mathematics education world, particularly from the students I have taught, the young children of friends I have encountered, and most importantly, from my own children. Observing young children has confirmed my belief that everyone has what Gattegno calls powers of the mind, which children use to achieve so much without any formal teaching before they enter a school. These powers can be accessed again in the mathematics classroom to help them achieve much more in less time than is currently the norm.
What are you interested in?
I have always been interested in the idea of economic use of personal time and effort, both for a learner of mathematics and for a teacher of mathematics; the idea of trying to get a lot from a little. This interest has manifested itself in many areas. As a teacher I worked hard on finding approaches to topics and ways of working with students to try to make relatively “difficult” mathematics content accessible for students – so that it felt natural and straightforward for them. I have developed computer programmes that are strongly influenced by my beliefs about teaching and learning, most notably Developing Number and Grid Algebra, which are both available from ATM. Although I feel technology can offer much for the mathematics classroom, at the end of the day it is always about people. What really matters is the way in which a teacher works with students.
I have developed a framework for looking at the mathematics curriculum in terms of those things that are names and social conventions (which I have called the arbitrary), and those things that are about properties and relationships (which I call the necessary). This framework has informed my own teaching and has seemed useful for some other people as well. It can help clarify what needs to be told in one form or another (the arbitrary) – with that being about assisting memory, and those things which can be noticed by students through a well designed activity (the necessary) – with this being about educating awareness. Recently my interest has been on teaching and learning algebra where I feel there are ways in which students can be more successful, and at an earlier age, than is often the case.
What about outside mathematics education?
I have a number of interests including playing cricket and golf when I find time. However, presently my time is primarily given to my two daughters, currently eight and 11. Fatherhood has by far been the most challenging, fascinating, difficult and rewarding thing I have ever done in my life. I am sure it will continue to be all of those in the future too.
For me – I continue loving mathematics and finding the task of teaching mathematics endlessly fascinating and challenging. There is so much to learn and I am excited about trying to learn more, seeing whether I can continue to try to become a little more effective in my own teaching each year, and to become more informed with my research activities as well.
I hope that the future might hold a climate where teachers are trusted more, and are allowed the freedom to be accountable professionals who are able to make their own educated decisions about how to work with students effectively. I am excited by the idea of more locally based communities of teachers sharing, discussing and developing ideas about teaching and learning mathematics – for example through the local branches of the ATM and the Mathematical Association. I feel this will become increasingly important following the end of the National Strategy.