Specialist mathematics schools: Polish experience

In Poland there are no ‘specialized mathematics schools’. There are,
however, a few schools with good mathematical traditions, in particular,
with many laureates of various mathematical olympiads. I can only say a
few words about one such school in Wroclaw, in which I have had classes
for one and a half year.

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Symposium on Mathematical Practice and Cognition II

Extended deadline: submissions due Friday 2nd March, 2012

This is a sequel to the Symposium on Mathematical Practice and Cognition held at the AISB 2010 convention at de Montfort University, Leicester, UK. The Symposium on Mathematical Practice and Cognition II (http://homepages.inf.ed.ac.uk/apease/aisb12/home.html) will be one of several forming the AISB/IACAP World Congress 2012 (http://events.cs.bham.ac.uk/turing12/), in honour of Alan Turing.

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The RS: Vision for science and mathematics education 5–19

The Royal Society launched a new project Vision for science and mathematics education 5–19 which will be aiming to produce a vision for the future of science and mathematics education 5-19.

There is a Call for Views with the 16 March 2012 deadline. The RS is also commissioning studies. All enquiries should go in the first instance to vision@royalsociety.org.

Reform of 14-16 Performance Tables from 2014

Formal announcement from the Department for Education.

Meanwhile,  Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, is quoted by The Telegraph as saying:

It should not be up to the Government to decide which exams are of more merit than others. This is something which should be assessed by major stakeholders such as the teaching profession and awarding bodies.

Alison Wolf: An end to qualifications that have no real value

Alison Wolf in The Guardian.

Employers could not care less about “points” and “equivalences”. They look at whether young people have got qualifications that they recognise and value.’

Alison Wolf is the Sir Roy Griffiths professor of public sector management at King’s College London. In 2011, she carried out the Wolf Review of Vocational Education.

Fazekas, a specialist mathematics school in Budapest

A comment on the specialist mathematics schools proposal: some facts Fazekas, a specialist mathematics school in Hungary:

  1. Fazekas is not a boarding school,
  2. Specialised mathematical classes from grade 7 to 12 (age 12-18)
  3. number of math lessons/week in the 6 years 5+5+8+8+7+7 (each lesson is 45 minutes

Some important aspects:

  1. You need good students who are willing to learn math.
  2. You need teachers who are good both in maths and teaching.
  3. You need good curricula, teaching material, problem sets.

Some important principles:

  1. We do not teach formulas, methods directly. We try to discover as many things with the students as we can.
  2. We do not teach university math material earlier. Our curricula is wider and deeper then the normal secondary one.
  3. Focus is on how to prove statements, theorems and how to solve problems.

This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the specialised math classes at Fazekas. I can imagine a nice cooperation with the UK math schools, we might share our experience and give help.

Most GCSE equivalents axed from school league tables

From BBC, by Hannah Richardson:

Ministers have cut the value of more than 3,100 vocational qualifications, ending their recognition in England’s school league tables.

Courses such as a diploma in horse care can be worth the same as four GCSEs.

But from 2014 only 70 “equivalents” will count in the tables’ headline GCSE measure and on a like-for-like basis with GCSEs. […]

The move is a clear disincentive for schools to continue offer such qualifications, and the government had instructed them to wait for its final list before changing their timetables for September 2012.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said the changes would extend opportunity because only qualifications which had demonstrated rigour, and had track records of taking young people into good jobs or university would count in the future. […]

As well as the 70 equivalents that will count towards the school’s five good GCSE grades including English and maths, a further 55 will be valid for other league table measures.

Blame the teacher?

In my opinion, JMC‘s report Digital technologies and mathematics education deserves a careful analysis but not  perhaps for reasons envisaged by its authors. In particular, I feel that the report exhibits a patronising attitude to school teachers.

From the begining of JMC’s work on the Report,  one of its principal aims was defined as

Identify the reasons why ICT is not being exploited by the majority of teachers of mathematics

And the reason was found: teachers. This is what the Report says:

The recent report from the National Centre for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics (NCETM) [22] concluded that mathematics teachers‘ concerns about the use of digital technologies related to:a lack of confidence with digital technologies;

  • fears about resolving problems with the technology;
  • fears about knowing less than their learners;
  • access to digital technologies;
  • inappropriate training;
  • lack of time for preparation;
  • a lack of awareness of how technology might support learning;
  • not having technology use clearly embedded into schemes of work.
It appears that the recommendations of the Report could be compressed in one  line: give teachers a good pep talk, and the problem is solved. In my assessment, the Report does not attempt even  to analyse  difficulties arising at the level of basics of mathematics cognition in a new sensory environment, does not show signs of awareness of challenges facing the didactics of mathematics, does not address  issues in economics of education.
Disclaimer. The views expressed in htis post do not necessary represent position of the London Mathematical Society or any other organisation or institution.


“The word proof is an elitist term”

From a colleague:

It was in School of Education of one of the universities that I heard a lecturer say “To prove something you use this calculator [he clearly meant that you verify the result with lots of numerical examples]. The word proof is an elitist term which for far too long has been used by professional mathematicians when they speak to one another”.

Great stuff, eh!