AWRIGHT DEN! School of algebra
I had just returned to Barbados from six months in Australia and one week in Kansas as a missionary when I took up my first mathematics teaching job in a secondary school. It was an exciting time for me since I was being placed in an environment which supported my three main strengths: leadership, speaking and teaching.
One of the first things I recognised in my first term teaching was that children were quite motivated and excited about mathematics in first form but as they progressed through the year levels, their interest declined swiftly along with their grades.
By Term 2, I was very concerned about this and started my own investigations as to what the causes could have been. I spoke to other teachers at other secondary schools about my concerns and asked them if they were seeing similar trends, to which they responded in the affirmative.
My investigations led me to conclude that there were three main contributing factors to this decline in interest and grades: (1) students believed that maths was hard; (2) they believed they had bad teachers; and (3) a lack of practice and revision.
I knew I couldn’t do anything about No. 2 and since No. 3 was as a by-product of No. 1, I had to focus my efforts on changing my students’ perceptions about mathematics.
Let me go back a bit.
When I was at the University of the West Indies, I found many of the mathematics topics to be difficult and uninteresting with the exception of algebra.
It was based on this interest and a revelation I received during my last semester that I realised that the concepts of algebra are found in almost, if not all, areas of maths. I also realised that once I understood algebraic patterns, I could apply them across any topic, which I did and saw drastic improvements in my grades, receiving all As and Bs.
Interestingly, after asking which topic in mathematics they hated the most, all of the students said algebra.
It was on this information that I decided to test my theory. That term I focused primarily on algebra and used those patterns and applied them to the other topics we were doing.
The results were amazing. During mathematics planning meetings, I shared my success with other colleagues and sought to see if we could get a greater focus of algebra in the second form since I believed it would be a great foundation on which to build third form and the senior years.
My efforts were unsuccessful so I started my own private lessons called the School of Algebra where I could continue to develop my theory, give my students a strong foundation and reap the successes I desired.
The school started with about six students and quickly grew in a few weeks to about 30. To my surprise, the students who attended not only placed in the top two in maths in their forms but also in class. Many of these students continued to do well right through school. Attending the school wasn’t just enough. Students who did well were the ones who did the homework as well as applied themselves.
During my time as a mathematics teacher at Codrington, I also realised that those students who mastered algebra performed the best in maths.
I was unable to continue my programme due to many reasons, with location being one of them. However, it will be restarting from next month.
In 2012, only 33 per cent of the entire Caribbean passed CXC mathematics. I can’t help all but I am going to make sure I help some of our students become better in mathematics. I encourage other mathematics teachers to join me in doing the same.
Corey Worrell is a former Commonwealth Youth Ambassador. Email [email protected]