My favourite maths teaching moment wasn’t in maths!

By Tierney Kennedy

 What is your favourite maths teaching moment? 

One where you know that you made a life-changing difference?

 My all-time favourite maths teaching moment was with a boy named “Rick”, and wasn’t actually in a maths class at all, but in a year 8 science lesson.  It was in fourth term and we needed to find the average of the results from an experiment…

I started off by assuming that the kids would not have remembered that we had previously covered mean, median and mode in term 1 of maths…  “So guys, what do we know about averages?”

I still vividly remember Rick stopping me in the middle of my lesson and saying, “Mrs Kennedy, we already know about averages.”  Surprised that he had remembered, I replied, “Oh do you?”

Rick looked at me like I was an absolute idiot, replying, “Don’t you remember?  You taught it to us!” He then proceeded to get up in front of the entire class and teach us how to calculate the mean.

Now this might not sound very extraordinary, but Rick was a support student who had never previously passed maths…

Rick had come into my year 8 support maths class at the beginning of the year.  He was probably at about year 3 standard.  He could add some numbers, and had the beginnings of place value, but he couldn’t remember his times tables and fractions were pretty much a write-off.

The Principal had actually warned me about the class saying, “Do whatever you want with them because they are never going to pass standard maths anyway”.

I was horrified by his pessimism but decided on the spot that I was going take him at his word and teach them however I wanted to.  I was going to try to see if I could get the kids to really think and see what happened.

At the end of a year about 80% of that class actually passed year 8 maths – fractions, negative numbers, algebra, trigonometry – the whole lot…  But that wasn’t nearly as exciting to me as Rick in that science lesson…

More than six months after I had taught him about mean, median and mode he not only remembered what I had previously taught him, but he applied it to an entirely new context! 

He wasn’t just regurgitating an algorithm.  He now had a lasting understanding of what he had learned.

Imagine what would happen if we could create light-bulb moments for our kids every week?  If we could actually know that our kids really got it – and I don’t mean just remembered it for the test, but it actually stuck?

It is actually possible.  We can create this kind of “forever-learning” for kids.

Simple changes to standard teaching practice can make huge differences to how well our students learn.  Experiences with students like Rick helped me to realise the importance of using what I already knew about teaching in a revolutionary way.  It has been my pleasure to help thousands of other teachers do the same with the “Rick” in their own classes.

Interested? click here to get started.


By Tierney Kennedy

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