Sunday, 21 June 2015

Why Do Children Learn to Dislike Mathematics?

     40 X 30 = 70. 35 X 4 = 200. 420 + 80 = 130. The illogical results of these calculations performed by teenagers in a study (Nunes, Schliemann, and Carraher 24-25) are by no means a puzzle to be solved. Instead, they clearly hint at the inefficacy of mathematical education in schools. In the referred study, participants were often unable to solve written math problems using the procedures they had been learning at school, which contrasted with their success in solving equally difficult problems by using strategies of their own. If children are only underperforming when trying to apply skills taught in school, then it follows that they are not learning these skills successfully. Moreover, instead of having their deficits diagnosed and tackled in due course, these students manage to meet minimum requirements and graduate from high school with little more than elementary mathematical skills. This scenario must be reversed.
     One of the causes of this problem is that most children are taught that being bad at math is not an issue. Their parents, their relatives, their older friends, many of the people they come in contact with will often say that they are bad at math. To them, it seems like their math teacher is the only one who is not. Jonathan Wai, a research scientist, states that being bad at math is socially acceptable — as opposed to being bad at reading, for instance. Admitting to being bad at math in a conversation is more likely to generate feelings of compassion, whereas saying that one has trouble reading will instantly put their intellect into question. This position is sustained by the way many people think of math skills as something you have to be born with rather than something you can acquire. 
     University professors Miles Kimball and Noah Smith argue that this way of thinking prevents students from improving their performance. If learning difficulties arise, students often assume they are just not good enough and fail to make the effort needed in order to move to the next level. Lack of intelligence, they believe, is what hinders their performance in math. However, studies (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, and Dweck) have shown that intelligence is not a fixed asset and can be developed through hard work. Students who learn that they are able to improve their intelligence feel motivated to work harder and, in accordance with that mindset, are actually able to improve their performance.
     It is therefore clear that motivation plays a major role in the learning process. Sadly, motivating children is exactly where many teachers fail. All too often, a typical math lesson will include a teacher incessantly writing numbers and symbols on the blackboard, a handful of confused students trying their best to follow and the others mechanically copying it all down whilst thinking about anything other than mathematics. Our world is full of mathematics and there can be many ways to make its learning meaningful, yet so many teachers choose to teach something as mundane as, say, geometry using the dullest possible methods. 
     In fact, dull has become standard. Children grow up hearing that everyone is bad at math, they are not reminded that they can improve by working harder and many teachers are satisfied with rote learning, unable to engender and keep children’s interest in math. However, a fair degree of mathematical thinking is of utmost importance to understanding much of our world and it only gets more important with the current trends in technology and globalisation. It is high time we started encouraging our children to acquire mathematical skills. Only with a general change of attitude towards learning math will improvements be made possible.

Works Cited

Blackwell, Lisa S., Kali H. Trzesniewski, and Carol S. Dweck. “Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention.” Child Development, 78.1 (2007): 246–263. Web. 22 May 2015.
Kimball, Miles, and Noah Smith. “The Myth of ‘I’m Bad at Math.’” The Atlantic. 28 Oct 2013. Web. 22 May 2015.
Nunes, Terezinha, Analucia D. Schliemann, and David W. Carraher W. Street Mathematics and School Mathematics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Print.
Skemp, Richard. The Psychology of Learning Mathematics. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1987. Print.

Wai, Jonathan. “Why Is It Socially Acceptable To Be Bad At Math?” Psychology Today. 25 Mar 2012. Web. 22 May 2015.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Further studies at the German university Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Feeling extremely proud of having made it into the Uni Goethe. Preparing for quite a demanding German proficiency test in only a few weeks' time was not an easy task, nor was it easy to get over the hurdles of the German application system for foreigners and actually qualify for the programme I chose. After months of frantic nail biting over the whole process I finally got positive results, having not only been accepted but also passed my tests with flying colours. And so my sleepless nights finally come to an end and the dream begins!
Ich möchte mich bei meinen deutschen Freunden herzlich bedanken, die sich an dem Prozess beteiligt haben; entweder durch viel Motivation oder dadurch, dass sie den einen oder anderen Text gelesen und verbessert haben. Ihr seid spitze!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Peter Singer on practical altruism.

If you've ever wanted to give charitably but never knew to whom you should give, for what cause or whether you should trust this or that institution, you'll be provided with straightforward guidance in this video.

If you think you are a single giver and it won't make a difference, you're absolutely wrong! If you think you can't do it now, what with your limited resources and all, that's fine - same here, buddy. However, people who have first worked their way up in their professions and then started doing charity (which isn't limited to donating amounts of money, but also taking up voluntary work) are also mentioned here.

Singer's lecture is stirring and he has shown me ways to effectively help people who are faced with daily suffering and even death somewhere out there. I'd always asked myself the very (practical) questions he brings up here and I'm now very satisfied to have found the answers to them. Really worth watching.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Jane Eyre - An understated girl who could go places

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë, is one of my favourite British novels. It’s a coming-of-age tale of an orphan girl who, as often portrayed in novels of the same period, is raised in an unloving, hostile environment. But even if Jane’s aunt takes pleasure on disgracing her, even if she’s often mistreated by her cousins, her iron will and witty self seem to give her strength enough to pull through the tough years at her aunt’s and make something out of herself. Her passion for learning is the one thing she isn’t deprived of and is also the one tool she builds up her character with. 
She really stands out at school, showing herself to be a very hard-working, responsible and eager pupil. The school years pave the way for a short-lived teaching career, which culminates in her getting a job as a governess at wealthy Edward Rochester’s home. The book tells us of strange events that occur in the house, of the beginning of a romantic relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester and of the latter’s dark past, which takes its toll on their romance. It’s a story about gender roles, overcoming social barriers and, of course, love.
What led me to write this post was the wonderful 1983 BBC adaptation I watched a few weeks ago, namely a television serial, featuring Zelah Clarke as Jane Eyre and Timothy Dalton as Edward Rochester. Zelah’s angelical features and sad but hopeful eyes make a fine portrait of the naive Jane Eyre, while Timothy’s stern manner and elegant speech fool the viewer into believing Edward Rochester to be a polite, calm and tender gentleman - which he is not. Also his craziness and the savageness of Edward’s spirit are amazingly well represented by Timothy’s throughout the serial. Unforgettable is the scene in which Jane decides to leave him. He collapses, weeping and screeching, ‘You will give me your love! You will!’ 
By the way, the overture song is beautiful!

If you’re not familiar with the novel, I suggest you take the time to read the book or watch the serial. Alternative to the 1983 adaptation there are plenty of others, though, for instance the 2006 production, also by BBC, featuring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens in the main roles. Here is a fan-made trailer of it:

There’s also a somewhat recent American-British film production, released in 2011, starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. It might be a good way to get to know the story in a short time, and it might inspire you to read the book afterwards. Here’s the official trailer:

Hope you enjoy this material and do not miss out on Jane Eyre. Brontë send you greetings!