Preparing Students for High School Mathematics – A High School Maths Teacher’s Wish List

Over many years of my teaching career in high school Mathematics, I heard many older teachers complain about primary school teachers not preparing their students well to study Mathematics in high school. They complained about the differing standards of Mathematics that students from different primary schools feeding their high school had. So, in my role of head of a high school Mathematics department, I decide to present a workshop for primary teacher to explain what my teachers and I would like to see in our new students. You might call it a “High School Maths Teacher’s Wish List”.

Below is that wish list:

• Develop a work ethic as part of the normal classroom culture I. e. students get on with the job immediately.(Time is a big issue in high school where, particularly in the senior school, the required work to be covered for the school’s accreditation purposes is mandated and checked annually)

• Develop a homework ethic where homework is set nightly and checked daily. (In most primary school, homework is set on a weekly basis. In the core subjects in high school, it is most often daily or set several times a week).

• Develop a study ethic. Homework doesn’t = study. (Study should consolidate the basics of the subject that the student must know to succeed and those areas that the student finds difficult).

• Develop a belief that all students can do some maths. Debug the myth that maths is hard. (It is important to teach your students to regard all Maths problems as easy. This will encourage them at least to attempt the problem).

• Develop an understanding that maths is an essential part of life and that we make mathematical decisions every day without realising we are doing it.

• Instil a belief in students that asking questions is a “cool” thing to do.

• Instil a belief in students that maths is not a boy thing but is unisexual.

• Give students a taste of high school type lesson.

o Chalk and talk lessons;

o Formal exams

o Textbook exercises.

As well as teaching the content of their syllabus, I would like primary teachers to introduce their students to these ideas below if it is not part and parcel of their teaching regime. Most of these ideas are designed to improve the outcomes in Mathematics for all students. They reduce errors, decrease time spent on individual exercises, increase work output, and result in better examination results. Thus they create happier students who will see Mathematics as a discipline in which they can have more success.

These ideas (with some explanations) include:

• Order convention; (The student’s understanding of this is often poor on arrival at high school. They often use BOMDAS or BODMAS method).

• Exam technique; (This leads to less exam fear; more questions being attempted and better results).

• A checking procedure; (This will reduce careless errors and build confidence).

• How to solve problems; to tackle exercises in unfamiliar and practical situations/contexts; (Problem solving strategies will reduce the fear of these problems. Teachers should model these strategies for their students often).

• Estimation as a form of checking; (This should be done at the start of the solution and be used to check the answer is what was expected).

• A setting out procedure; (This allows the student to communicate his/her solution in a Mathematical way while allowing easy of checking as the student works through the problem).

• That giving an answer is not enough. They must explain in written mathematical language how they arrived at the answer.

• That there is often more than one way to solve a problem.

• Estimation is “part and parcel” of real problem solving.

• Teach them to work down the page rather than across the page. (This allows the eye to check easily as the eye flicks downward rather than across the page over lots of symbols that could confuse the eye).

This “Wish List” might be a “Pie in the Sky” wish. But it is worth expressing the ideas contained in it.

Natasha M. McKnight

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