Standing the test of TIME at Tyger Valley College

| June 12, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Kim Masson

Fear first presents as that glazed look in the eye.

It then progresses to the crease of the brow. Soon a cold, damp sweat develops across the skin and then it happens… a shutter closes over the mind and heart of the infected and they feel lost to mathematics forever. Students’ fear of maths, like a disease, is bred and spread throughout a school through various means. The titanic demand we teachers experience on our time, impacts on the curriculum and the presentation thereof in various forms.

Establishing and building from prior learning

Due to the extensive curriculum and the need to deliver it efficiently before assessments take place, we don’t always start where we should: with the checking of existing knowledge and comprehension of concepts. Instead, we start with where pupils ‘should’ be. After a token amount of time, regardless of whether everyone has grasped or mastered the concept, we need to move onto the next section.

Limited opportunity for differentiation

Often when teachers touch on the extension of certain topics, it causes the underachieving members of the class to feel overwhelmed. However, if we only keep to the average level of difficulty, the top achievers call out all the answers compulsively or tend to ‘zone out’ and find maths laboriously painful.

The fun factor

There is a limited amount of time available for discovery learning or for wrangling with a concept in discussion groups. Many teachers resort to the dissemination of a set of rules – which, when followed, will ‘spit’ the answer out. Discussing the history of each concept and how it is applicable to daily life is a luxury few teachers venture to afford. I still remember that the first time the history of 2 was explained to me was at university. I was mesmerised by how the ancient Greeks sought to manipulate various shapes and noted mind-bending patterns and relationships. I even stayed after class and asked the lecturer to explain it one more time!

Ensuring synergy

Teaching is largely influenced by personal preferences. Ensuring that the same grade uses the same methodology is a mammoth task; ensuring that there is synergy throughout each grade in a school is almost impossible. Teachers seldom have the time to debate the best method applicable to each concept; they teach it the way they were taught, or according to their own learning style. Pupils are, therefore, expected to change the way their work is structured and reasoned out each year, should they be taught by a different teacher.

Catering for a variety of learning styles

If the teacher is an auditory learner, they discuss concepts at length in class and very few notes are made – the auditory learners thrive. The visual teacher makes copious notes and diagrams, which need to be copied and memorised – the visual learners thrive. The kinaesthetic teacher is all over the place with actions, games, quizzes and charades. Notes and guided discussions are not always clear, but – the kinaesthetic learner thrives. Very few teachers have the time, balance and inclination to cater for all the learning styles, which always leaves some pupils feeling lost.

Try TIME in the morning

Teachers have an insurmountable number of tasks to juggle. There is no manageable way to cater for everybody and find the time for everything.

At Tyger Valley College, we recognised the above challenges and came up with a solution named TIME. The acronym stands for The Tyger Valley Institute for Mathematical Excellence. What it essentially affords our staff and pupils is the opportunity to make ‘TIME’ for excellence.

Each grade at the preparatory school attends TIME once a week. The institute is filled with exciting resources and fresh ideas. This is also a creative solution to budget constraints – filling one class with every desirable mathematical resource that all teaching staff have the opportunity to share.

The class maths teacher team-teaches with the TIME teacher. This ensures smaller groups and more individual attention. The purpose of visiting the institute is for the weekly lesson to be dynamic. Each of the small groups focus either on problem solving, the specific concept being covered in class or fundamental computational skills. The activities are then rotated in the next session. EduBoard programmes1 and various other interactive games and activities are also used in these sessions. Due to team-teaching and the fact that all the maths teachers rotate through the institute, new and creative ideas are shared among the staff and throughout the school.

… And in the afternoons

In the afternoons, the institute runs extra maths classes for pupils. They may choose to join a small intensive group (up to four pupils) or a bigger workshop-style group (up to ten pupils). The intensive group starts their session with mental computational skills and then reinforces the curriculum, as covered in class. Every fourth or fifth session we provide a computer-based session.

In the larger groups, the pupils do not require intensive assistance, but the focus is to stay ‘maths-fit’. The session begins with an EduBoard problem-solving game or interactive introduction to a concept. The pupils then use iPads to complete their online practice and the tutor assists them, when needed, with conceptual topics as well as speed-test computational skills. Some could argue that the pupils could just as easily complete any online maths programme at home by themselves – but, as the multimillion rand physical fitness industry proves, it is easier to do the hard work required to stay fit with an instructor and alongside your peers.

Whole-school happiness

The TIME institute is also there to generate a whole-school ethos of being a thinking school that enjoys mathematical challenges. We have started by introducing a monthly per-grade maths quiz. The pupils deposit their quiz solutions into a box and the first correct entry drawn from each grade is called up in assembly to be awarded a ‘Quizmaster of the month’ badge. The whole-school ethos can be reinforced in multiple ways: maths evenings, camps and outings. A mind free from fear can generate a variety of possibilities.

The next time you are alone in front of your computer, staring at your extensive year plan and that cold sweat begins to form, remember Frank Herbert’s words:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the littledeath that brings total obliteration, I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.2

Yes, you will remain. You and your God-given love for children, and your continual desire to act in their best interest. A fresh perspective generates creative energy and that is far more powerful than fear.

References:
1. See: http://www.edu-board.co.za/.
2. Herbert, F. (1990 Reprint.). Dune. New York: Mass Market Paperback.

Category: Winter 2015

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