Saturday, December 15, 2007

Mathematics and science—different from other subjects?

Below is a copy of a letter I have written to the editor of The Independent Voice, a newspaper for QIEU members. I responded to an article written by Chris Seymour; you can read the full document on which his article was based (my letter is in response to section 3.4 starting on page 5).

Dear IV Editor,

Chris Seymour writes in part (IV Nov 2007, p.6) that ‘demonstrationg “knowledge, [sic] and understanding of concepts, facts and procedures, and applications of processes” [is] a narrow skill set … valuable for mathematics and science but prejudicial to English’ (and presumably other humanities subjects). Without denying the value of these criteria for mathematics and science, I would argue that in both mathematics and science, as in English, ‘visual literacy, affective and attitudinal domains and values’ are equally important.

Indeed, as a high school mathematics and science teacher, I have seen many students fail to gain knowledge and understanding of ‘concepts, facts, procedures and processes’ directly because of affective and attitudinal factors. Some cannot learn these concepts because, for example, they lack confidence in their own ability. Others do not learn the concepts because they choose not to (attitude). Yet others fail entirely to engage with the subject (particularly in mathematics) because they simply do not value such knowledge.

Certainly mathematics and science involve ‘aspects of visual literacy’, in the form of symbols and technical terms which need to be recognised and used appropriately. “Positive dispositions towards mathematics learning and active engagement with mathematical tasks are integral to thinking, reasoning and working mathematically.” (Mathematics: Years 1 to 10 Syllabus, QSA, 2004, p.1)

Please do not single out mathematics and science as different from other subjects because they supposedly lack any affective, attitudinal or value-related factors. We need to remember that we are actually teaching students, not subjects.

Yours faithfully,
Ian Bailey-Mortimer
(Teacher, Mackay Christian College)

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