MAINTENANCE. Mathematics: how to reconcile students with this unloved subject

What is math for? How do you find meaning in this reasoning subject? The testimony of a teacher in a high school in Toulouse sheds light on the method to adopt to learn to appreciate his discipline.

This Monday, November 14, 2022 opens the Assises des Mathématiques organized by the CNRS. The opportunity to make an inventory of the means to be implemented for the assessment of needs in education, but also in the fields of industry or science.

To deal with this worrying national observation: 25% of pupils at the end of 3rd year do not have the sufficient level in mathematics, the Ministry of National Education is trying to reconcile pupils with maths by adjusting the numbers in the classes of 6th or even by making this option compulsory from the first.

Beyond future government guidelines, a mathematics teacher in a Toulouse high school gives us some keys so that his discipline is no longer the unloved of general education subjects.

Maths in France is like Latin before, it’s a subject that operated a selection, and when you weren’t good in Latin, you didn’t do what you wanted. Today, it is mathematics that has become selective. The problem is that we wrongly associate mathematics and intelligence. Now logico-mathematical intelligence takes on a form of intelligencewhich alone does not sum up all of the learning capacities. It’s dangerous to associate math with intelligence, admits Alexander*.

The problem is Franco-French, because we are the only country to have two paths, that of the preparatory classes for the elitist grandes écoles where mathematics is the only key to access it and the university path. VSis terrible.

Either you’re good at math or you’re not good at it. It’s not true, mathematics is like in other subjects, you have to learn your lesson, do the exercises and work to get there. There is a certain technicality that we wanted to sweep away to popularize maths by making learning fun, but reasoning remains the basis and is accessible to all. As a musician needs to do his scales to play a beautiful piece, we work every day, we progress and we improve.

No mystery then, for a good learning of this material a bit austere, you need technique, rigor and cultivate effort.

The notion of effort is important and it is not only linked to learning mathematics. I see in my high school, for most of my students, the loss of this notion. In wanting to protect our children from the harshness of life, we put them in a cocoon. But life requires effort.

Some students see math as a way to access engineering school, this utilitarian way of approaching is enough to motivate them. Others can’t solve a problem and tend to give up. “I can’t do it, so I suck, so it’s not worth the effort”. The most difficult thing to live with remains for the students, whose fear of not succeeding despite all their efforts. Daily training is therefore essential, as for a musician who works on his scales.

Mathematics serves as a tool for other subjects, not just science subjects. They are everywhere but we do not see them. Yet the question “what is it for?” comes up frequently with students. This question is not asked in the teaching of English, for example, because the pupils immediately know the usefulness of a new contribution of vocabulary which will be useful to them in their exchanges on social networks or in their daily life. The question is rather “what use is it to me as individuals?”

The applications of mathematics in everyday life are enormous. A camera, a mobile phone, so many objects where mathematical algorithms come to hide. Advances in medicine will be dazzling in the years to come thanks to mathematics. They will invest in artificial intelligence, boosted by the power of calculating computers.

To form reasoning

In addition, it is a trainer for reasoning, says Alexander. A dissertation requires mathematical reasoning, a lawyer’s argument is also a demonstration, you have to bring the arguments to the right moment, what hypotheses you expose, what arguments you develop and move towards a goal.

The pleasure of solving problems is also very important, it is a beautiful aspect of mathematics. Whatever the problem, and there we don’t care if there is a use for the problem, we will try to solve it by searching, sometimes failing, but when we find the solution it is exhilarating. Asking the right question in order to be able to solve it requires a lot of difficult effort. We are far from the satisfaction that immediacy can offer.

Someone who reasons well will reason well in all areas, concludes the teacher.

* The first name has been changed at the request of the person concerned

We wish to thank the writer of this article for this incredible content

MAINTENANCE. Mathematics: how to reconcile students with this unloved subject

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