Challenge of teaching mathematics
I remember even in the 8th decade of the last century students studying at the undergraduate course in engineering had to use slide rules as their calculating tools for highly involved calculations. Students of our present age will get surprised to know and see such a slide rule today, Now they are using calculators from simple to scientific as their helping tools in mathematics. The use of geometrical tools are also very often found to be insufficient in quality and quantity. The resulting intellectual growth in our classes could have been boosted up further had we undertaken the trouble of revising our systems. The present article is an attempt to throw light upon some aspects of what we are achieving with our learners at schools. The article also suggests some innovative changes in our testing and evaluation systems for the purpose of accommodating the performances of the creative advanced young learners. Not that all points have been covered here, but the author believes that the attempt may help bring fresher thoughts to the profession of teaching and testing.
Looking back to the old days
When electronic calculators did not reach the children of schools, they got used to swift mental calculation. They committed to memory some multiplication tables which helped them much. They could easily add figures correctly and promptly. For other basic mathematical operations such as subtraction, multiplication, division they could easily use their mental faculty at varying speeds depending on their skills. We have heard of Shakuntala Devi, the human computer, who could work with numbers with amazing speed and accuracy. Almost every learner then had to earn the skill to work with figures promptly and it would determine his success in mathematics. Foe algebra and geometry they had to learn and practice a lot.
The scenes in our classes
The sixth and seventh graders can be taken as examples for our article here. As they sit to work in their math classes or sit for exam, they are found busy with their electronic calculators for all types of calculations . They do no more enjoy to work a little mentally with their numerical problems. If a student does not have a calculator with him , he feels embarrassed to perform any calculation mentally. A calculator has come to help him, but unfortunately 'he has surrendered a part of his ability to the device' and this is making him a little lazy.
Here we have missed one thing. As electronic devices have taken their place in the classrooms, we could have done it better had we guarded our curriculum against drawbacks that may happen. We should have taken some steps to include mental figure working in our math curriculum. Also we could include problems that need skill use of calculators. Modern low cost scientific calculators have a wide variety of functions and students should not be left to remain satisfied with using the basic arithmetical functions.
In geometry classes of schools we see another thing .Fresh geometry learners are often taught to focus their attention on things different from what it should have been. In their instrument box they find some simple devices to learn geometry. No one will differ with me that the persons who first made the set ready for the learners thought of the proper uses of all the components of the set. But we find in schools that this is not always done.
Sometimes overemphasis is given on the use of pencil compass. For drawing perpendiculars, parallel lines the learners are primarily trained to use compasses. The set squares in their instrument boxes remain almost unused in such drawings. Anyone can understand that the use of set squares here saves both labor and time. If learners are asked to use set squares, they will become prompt in doing their jobs and in doing so they will enjoy the elegance of geometry. This, however, does not presupposes the exclusion of compass use, compass drawing can also be kept side by side.
Tests, exams, and evaluation reforms
It is high time we redesigned the methods of tests in our schools . There are a lot of points to ponder over but a very few of them has been taken here within our focus. Scoring for the speed of performance is one problem. Another problem is scoring for unsuccessful attempts. This can be a matter of the school and the policymakers may chalk out rules for making such scores effective.
In a test all MCQ's are given equal weight by allotting equal score for each. Here, since the difficulty level differs, we can also think a differentiation by allotting more marks for the more involved items.
Sometimes advanced learners are left behind when they are not given extra credit for their advanced performance. As teachers and test makers we give some options to the students in their questions, In the allotted time of the test they finish taking their exam. Some students finish long before time ends and for this they get no extra credit. But they deserve some extra credit for their fast and prompt performance. How to do it? Students may end up at different times, how to monitor it for scoring extra points? There are many possible solutions for this and test administrators may determine it well for themselves. Inclusion of some extra questions of increasing difficulty levels may be one fine solution of this problem. Students after finishing the general questions will attempt to answer these extra questions according to their ability and here they will get an opportunity to use all the time they have saved . Only those students who succeed in answering all the general questions correctly will enjoy the opportunity of doing the extra works. The marks obtained in the extra part will have to be added to the grand total. Alternatively, the administrators may decide on the way of the use of this extra score. Whatever is done, it will always be a positive feedback for the learners and once they get extra credit for their extra performance they will continue to promote themselves in a race of learning.
Technological advancement for test and evaluation
Majority of our schools are far away from enjoying the full advantage of making the use of technology in the procedures of test making and evaluation. Scientists and technologists around the world are yet to go, perhaps, a long way to enable manufacturers to provide all institutions with affordable technology for test making and evaluation. Before success is achieved in this respect, schools in a region may come forward to form clusters and every single cluster here may arrange to set up its technological center to work for the development of test management. Teachers at all levels, as educators, should come forward to motivate themselves, at all adversities, to have and enjoy a fine command over the technology-influenced management systems.
Challenges for the teachers
For the young learners , teachers are friends,philosophers, and guides. They are the illuminators . They teach, they make them familiar with facts and things unknown to them. They are test makers, they are evaluators. Since our time is changing rapidly with its contents and features, they should also always be ready to equip themselves with the intellectual and factual necessities to meet the demand of time. From observations and experiences they should enjoy a highly accommodating attitude for teaching, evaluating, and accelerating their learners. As situations in classrooms are always on a scene of rapid change, no training program can be expected to make them fit for all changes and hence the responsibility is with them to be aware of what is going on among the learners and in the age. A more insightful observation and rethinking of the situations will enable them to work confidently in all realities.