How to Teach Classroom Mathematics

Some years ago, I got appointment as a Head of Pre-Entry Science Course Department at the Technical University in Balgravia. The Department enrolled the best students from different high school of the country. The objective of the Department was to find students’ gaps in their knowledge of science subjects and upgrade them to university standards. It was pleasure to work in an exotic country on such challenging issues and for a such noble goal.

Once, when I passed by a classroom where mathematics was being taught by a colleague, I heard the voice of the students counting: 4 597, 4 598, 4 599…At that time, I did not pay much attention to it. But after three days, from behind the doors of the same classroom, I heard: 13 127, 13 128, 13 129…

“My friend”, I asked Mr. S. soon afterwards on the corridor, “what is happening in the classroom during your math lessons?”

“Well, my students are counting up to a million, he answered.”

“Hmm,” I muttered and went away.

Then, at the staircase, I realized the meaning of his words. I went to my office. Looking at my wristwatch, I counted up to one hundred. I picked up a calculator. I computed that in 50 minutes, they would count up to 5 000, in a week (5 lessons) to 25 000 and at the end of the school year, they would not even reach 800 000 because of holidays and the fact that numbers were getting longer!

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I summoned Mr. S. “Do you realize what you are doing with your counting?”

“This is a modern way of introducing a certain concept. First of all, I make my pupils aware of how huge the number million is. Then, secondly, we have great satisfaction in being the first. I believe, so far, nobody has counted up to a million! Today’s world rewards those who are first in anything!

I expect the class to be in the “Guinness Book of Records” and thirdly, I am testing whether pupils can count up to a million! The statement: “I can count up to a million” is worthless until it is proven experimentally, i.e. by the process of actually counting”.

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I got upset. “Enough is enough!” I shouted. “I order you to teach according to the syllabus!”

Next day, stealthily, I approached his classroom. The pupils were reciting: 17 999, 18 000, 18 001… I decided to fire Mr. S. Discreetly, I let my superiors know that Mr. S. was probably lunatic. The message was spread. The university community decided that I was against the introduction of modern teaching methods, that I do not understand the outcome based education and that I felt personal animosity towards our colleague. My two-year contract expired and was not renewed… I left the university.

After a month’s time, I came back to the Department to visit my friend, the English tutor.

From all the classrooms where mathematics lessons were conducted (not only from

the classroom of Mr. S.), I heard the voices of the students counting:

277 238, 277 239, 277 240…


by Wacek Kijewski