Srividhya Balachandar -Subject Matter Expert for Mathematics -Velammal Group of Schools, Chennai.
Srividhya Balachandar is a Subject Matter Expert in Mathematics. Her teaching career spans over two decades with formal training and experience in multiple curricula including IB and IGCSE. As the Senior Learning Officer in Velammal Group of Schools, Chennai, a chain of 21 schools in Chennai area offering CBSE and IGCSE curricula, her current focus is to enrich the Teaching-Learning aspects related to Mathematics.
The Lure of Mathematics
I was first fascinated by my Mother’s mental calculation skills. She used to do calculations with quarters, halves and one-eighths very quickly while doing household chores. There I was, trying to match up to her speed by solving the problems in my notebook, but I always either ended up with incorrect answers or inability to match her dexterousness. This slowly prompted me to challenge her with numbers and this friendly duel helped me not only evaluate and challenge my own skills, but also lured me towards enjoying numbers and inculcated within me an ability to manipulate them at will. Though it was a fascinating start to my love with numbers, I never imagined the field of Mathematics to be a prospective and practicable career choice for me.
In the course of my career, I handled different curricula and recognised that there was no standard way of teaching Mathematics to cater to the needs of different student profiles. Mathematics is a subject which can be enjoyed only if it is looked upon fearlessly,with no inhibition or barrier in mind. A teacher’s basic duties are threefold: to keep every student focused, engaged and motivated, but it is easier said than done. The methodology I adopt has evolved over the years – it is not something like “one size fits all” but needs to be tailored to the unique blend of student requirements in a classroom which tend to vary based on their attitude, aptitude and ability to learn the concepts quickly.
My approach is focused on the need to challenge the fast learners with tasks and problems involving high level of thinking. Else they would soon enter the zone of boredom with expectations not matching their skill levels. For slow learners, the concepts can be taught through a variety of real-life examples. Even in such cases, the teaching through real-life scenarios needs to be tailored through related interests – science, games, arts etc just to make it appropriate or relatable for every student. It is essential to remember the mistakes committed by such students from time to time and find opportunities to reinforce the concepts by asking appropriate or related questions. The hyperactive bright students also need to be kept engaged through the Buddy system by getting them to assist weak students, and in the process also make them revise the topics for their own benefit.
I am a strong proponent of concept-based learning and would never allow students to memorise topics blindly. The intent should always be to promote independent thinking to solve problems, than helping them with direct solutions. This will ensure active participation by the students in the class and also relieve them of any stress or apprehension while trying to learn new or difficult concepts. It is important to connect with the students well and all my classes are interactive and fun-filled.
Modern Age students are so inquisitive that unless they see a merit in acquiring new knowledge, there will be constant push-backs in their mind.This can potentially impact their learning process or instill a sense of doing something they feel is irrelevant.
Practical application of Mathematics helps reverse their perspective towards the subject or inhibition against any topic. For example, Calculus can be taught in a practical way by taking the students to an amusement park. While the students are in a roller-coaster ride, we can introduce fun-filled learning.Probing them with questions will help them understand and relate concepts like curves, slopes, turns, tangents and related acceleration, velocity, increasing / decreasing functions, derivatives, etc.Similarly the students can be taken ona field-trip to the beach and assigned to model the sine or cosine curve based on observation of tides. Such application oriented learning, will not only help them comprehend the concepts well but would also enthuse them to learn further about related aspects like amplitude of the curve, period, etc.
The fear of Mathematics
Fear of Mathematics typically sets in during the formative years, if the learning process is not appropriate or effective, usually with topics like fractions. Some students may not be able to do the calculations, even though they know the topic well. Hence their inability to solve questions. Another example is that of Trigonometry which is covered before Calculus. By the time the new topic is started, students tend to forget the inter-related topic taught and they appear blank. Memory retention is a problem with current age students.
Mathematics is something that cannot be mastered through one reading, which students often do, leading to performing poorly in exams..This could be the result of their low confidence level due to non-clarity of concepts or lack of practice. It is necessary to constantly motivate such students, take them through special classes and reinforce the concepts,to eventually help them conquer fear towards any topic.
Some category of students assume they know it all and are difficult to handle, hence are prone to commit mistakes. It is essential that they are taken through the process of unlearning and relearning the concepts meticulously.There could be a possible resistance to change which needs to be managed very delicately and carefully. This has to be achieved through good relationship and trust building.
Another category of students panic when they are tested with huge numbers. To test concepts, huge numbers need not be given since the students get rattled and more prone to commit errors.Students should be trained to work with big numbers through repeated practice.
Also the inability of students to comprehend and convert English to Mathematics is noticed, especially while dealing with word problems. Working in groups could possibly help address this. Synergies within the group will help them learn the conversion aspects and facilitate in their ability to convert English sentences and fit them into Mathematical context.
Tabs or Textbooks?
Many schools are already providing or transitioning towards blended learning involving traditional and technology-based instruction. Visual impacts through power point lectures or digital content go a long way in enforcing new concepts through differentiated instruction, thereby helping them to remember easily and also eliminate any monotony while learning.
Inherent advantages of learning through textbooks cannot be underrated or overlooked. It is essential that students are made aware of the pros and cons of using both text books and technology options to help them get the best of both and make blended learning effective.
Velammal Group of Schools
‘Velammal New-Gen Park’,
Surapet, Chennai – 600 066