Do you know what an angle really is?

Most recently I have began the studies of my elective module Discovering Maths at University. Although we are only breaking into the second week of this module, I have immediately found it abundantly clear that this module will serve more than just knowledge of the Primary School mathematics curriculum; it will indefinitely open my eyes to the cracks of this subject.

On our very first input the class was asked how well we believe we know mathematical topics. Quickly I began to think that, like all others in the room, we would at least have a National 5 qualification in mathematics, therefore our knowledge of maths would be quite solid. Yet, is it actually? This was quickly answered when my lecturer was discussing angles he asked ‘What is an angle? It is the measurement of a rotation.’

In this single moment I realised that my knowledge of angles was molded into a way that I could only answer textbook questions. In my thirteen years of schooling I had never once understood what an angle was. My head was filled with knowledge about seeing right angles in every stair, corner and cupboard at my home, knowing how to measure them with a protractor and being able to name the different types of angles at the drop of a hat. Looking back on my experiences at school now, I know that I do have valuable knowledge about angles but none of it made sense until that moment. This is because I understood what an angle is.

It is moments like this that every child must have within their learning. As a student teacher there is an expectation that we must equip children with the knowledge to meet curriculum requirements. In many lessons this is the case, however knowledge should never be put in front of understanding. We can teach children a million different facts about the world around us, but if they do not understand these facts how will they be of any value to them? As a future teacher I now find that it is crucial that this should be a part of all learning because it will equip children with the ability to see and make links within their learning. This matters seems controversial throughout schools across the world as many have differing opinions about what the purpose of mathematics is.

Understanding mathematics is key aspect of specialist knowledge of fundamental mathematics. My early understanding of this phrase so far is that it is understanding the thing itself and all of its properties. Enthusiasts of maths in education such as Liping Ma highlight that understanding of mathematics in crucial in making sure that students have the greatest success (2010). Therefore, if children can understand the roots of mathematical topics, not just what they look like, this will allow them to have a profound understanding needed to progress learning. Similarly Haylock et. all (2007) found that mathematics promotes profound learning that allows children to understand the world around them. Thus, mathematics in school should not just require children to solve problems; they must create links with how these issues relate to everyday life. Looking forward I am excited to find out how my experience in this module will allow my conception of understand in maths to flourish and develop.

References:

Haylock, D. and Thangata, F. (2007)  Key concepts i teaching primary mathematics. London: SAGE.

Ma, L. (2010) Knowing and teaching mathematics: teachers’ understanding of fundamental mathematics in China and the United States. New York: Routledge.