Pure Science and Maths

#1 Fixing Science – The STEM bubble

Today we are starting a new series of articles under ‘Fixing Science‘. I believe there is a lot to be fixed when it comes to teaching science. Our articles would include current trends in science education as we focus primarily on three major areas:

  • 1. Content (What are we trying to teach?)
  • 2. Methodology (How are we trying to teach?)
  • 3. Assessment (What are we trying to assess?)

Fixing Science ppt front page

Before picking any one of the above we shall talk about the new buzz word called STEM. You may have noticed the term STEM has been used often in education circles and conferences. The acronym is even making headlines. Be it the Chief Scientist, Prime Minister of Australia or the President of the United States, all over the world STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is being publicized as one of the most essential elements for any society moving forward.

What is STEM?

  • STEM education is an interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise enabling the development of STEM literacy and with it the ability to compete in the new economy.(Tsupros, 2009)


Indeed a precise definition, isn’t it? But let me simplify it further by giving an example, a scissor is a form of technology, and for industrial purposes, they really are. They were engineered to solve a problem: how to cut something more precisely. Science will help me decide which element or alloy to use by telling the material properties. Mathematics, on the other hand will help me in the process of making it from size to shape.

Unfortunately, most of the time the new terms are first picked up by the commercial entities. Yes! I mean, the startup companies, the publishers, and the salesman in the world of education. They come up with a product (a kit, software or even a book) and keep associating it with fancy labels. Beware of the robotic companies selling themselves in the name of STEM. Remember using an electronic whiteboard during a lesson or allowing devices in the classroom has nothing to do with STEM unless they are used conceptually.

It would be great if our educators would teach things encompassing all these elements, interconnecting subjects, performing hands-on activities or working on real models and projects. But are we ready to do the extra work? Do we have the expertise? Or we are waiting for our governing boards to force upon us? are some of the questions one has to answer before moving ahead. If you still wish to walk the extra mile start reading about ‘Genius Hours’ or wait for the next post.

About the author:

Sahil Sayed is an Educator, Teacher, and Learner. An engineer who understood science and mathematics little better after teaching primary grades for almost 4 years now. Currently heading Science, Mathematics and ICT department at Red Camel International School, India.

How to overcome Maths Anxiety?

Analysing and discussing a problem is so much easier than chalking out a solution for it. A solution may not be the only right answer but solutions do get us close to 1.

Here are 5 ways to overcome Maths Anxiety:

  1. Do EASIEST problem first: Simple problems helps in clarifying basic operations and concepts in mathematics. Doing easy problems first gives a lot of confidence. Initial success can help you tackle “harder” problems later. Keep winning!
  2. Look at the answer: Practically, looking at the right answer reduces the anxiety to almost zero. It also gives a clear message that understanding a maths problem and thinking how to solve it is more important than just getting the right answer. Maybe that is the reason why – Most of the textbooks give answers at the back or at the end of an exercise.
  3. Make it a challenge: Does referring word problem as puzzle or riddle really help? Yes, it does. From my personal teaching experience, I have found it helpful. To make students understand time in the 24hours format I created an investigation scene. I was working with 3rd graders, a curious and inquisitive bunch. Our job as a class was to find a thief who stole a Queen’s necklace from a museum. We had 3 suspects and one concrete information – The theft took place at 14:30. We also had other data like the train timings and bus timings of the nearby station. Most of the students were so engaged in identifying the thief that they completely forgot that they are actually doing maths. It was fun! some took it in the true sense and were asking me to get the CCTV footage of the area 🙂
  4. Take care of yourself: There is a psychological aspect here as well. Combat negative thinking. Imagine yourself being relaxed and confident while solving a maths problem just like what an athlete does before a big game (Visualisation). Reward yourself for attempting a difficult problem or for practicing maths daily. If you feel you are good at concepts but lack in calculating answers quickly, use a calculator. Make yourself feel easy because maths is indeed easy.
  5. Go online: Literally, there is an ample amount of resources available online. Why restrict yourself to textbooks and some 30-minute session inside your school. Take your own time to understand any concept and revisit the videos THOUSAND times. Most of them are free, for example, the Khan Academy is a great resource.

Time to reflect on the quote by a great scientist Albert Einstein. By the way, Maths and science are related. Our next post would be on Fixing Science, so stay tuned. Oh! here is the quote: “It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s just that I stay with problems longer”

About the author:

Sahil Sayed is an Educator, Teacher, and Learner. An engineer who understood science and mathematics little better after teaching primary grades for almost 4 years now. Currently heading Science, Mathematics and ICT department at Red Camel International School, India.

Check your level of Maths Anxiety

“Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics; I assure you that mine are greater.” -Albert Einstein

As we have seen earlier in our post, 360-degree view at Maths Anxiety some major causes of Maths Anxiety. In this post, we would like to check our or our children’s level of Maths Anxiety. So here is a simple questionnaire:

Put a number from 1 to 5 next to each of these statements according to whether it is…

Never true (Disagree) 1
Sometimes true 2
Usually true 3
Almost always true 4
Always true (Strongly Agree) 5
1. I am afraid to ask questions in maths class.
2. When maths starts I get a physical reaction in my body, like a headache.
3. I’m not sure I can trust my answers, even on simple problems.
4. I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep up with the rest of the class.
5. It’s clear to me in maths class, but when I go home it’s like I was never there.
6. Being asked to “go to the board” to explain a maths idea in a class – even for maths I am able to do at desk – scares me.
7. When I meet students who love maths or do it well, I either think they are little weird or I envy them.
8. Maths never seems to stick, and after I learn it or even get a good grade on it, I still don’t think I know it.
9. I don’t know how to study for a maths test.
10. I understand maths now, but I worry that it’s going to get really difficult soon.

Now add up all of the numbers : _________

Here are your math anxiety estimates:

Less than 20: Wow! possibly you can get a major in mathematics.

20 – 25: You are not too far to be called a mathematician.

26 – 30 Some maths discomfort.

31 – 40 Quite a bit of fear, anxiety, and discomfort with maths.

41 – 50 Very anxious about maths. Talking about and working on this with your teacher, and may be with another adult you trust will help you a lot.

Above 50:  Death by numbers. The Einstein’s quote mentioned above doesn’t apply to you. You are just about paralyzed by maths, yet still alive!

Stay tuned, solutions ‘How to overcome Maths Anxiety’ coming soon!


Image courtesy – Brainy Quote

It is no surprise that maths anxiety is common among children and adults too. Individuals suffering from it report tension, apprehension, and fear when faced with the need to perform mathematical tasks. They seek to sneak out when encountered with numbers. It is believed that more women than men are affected by it. But research in the cognitive development of human infants and children has failed to support these claims. However, stereotypes that girls and women lack mathematical ability persist and are still widely held by the society. Some credit to the more than 90% female maths teachers in our schools.

Overcoming Math Anxiety

How does it start?

In kindergarten, children play and have fun with numbers. Slowly the fun element goes down the slope and here they get stuck doing mathematics with letters (algebra) some finds it difficult to remember the multiplication or times table while other fail to apply mathematics in real life situations. The discomfort is clearly seen as the palms sweat and mind goes blank when they start solving the word problems. This syndrome often starts in primary grades and usually only gets worse, unless an understanding teacher and good learning experiences intervene.

This means that your child in primary grades will probably have a fair share of maths anxiety that needs to be addressed.  Here are some of the several seeds that could have grown into a case of maths anxiety:

  1. Feeling left out – A fundamental concept or basic operation missed by a child at primary grades can have a snowballing effect throughout the grades, and most likely the child struggles big time to catch up later.
  2. Inheritance – Not genetically but verbally, children mark their parent’s word; especially when parents proudly talk about their own mathematical wounds adding salt to their child’s wound. Speaking of solutions and the will to overcome it can help heal the wounds.
  3. Insensitive teacher – Amoung us there are individuals who are good in mathematics and a large percentage of them give credit to their teacher. And yes, the other once who were not so good in the subject too give credit to their teachers. Some teachers themselves have the anxiety towards mathematics and here we go with another case of inheritance.
  4. Too much change – Frequent change of schools makes a difficult classroom situation for the child to deal with, new friends, new teachers and new methods of teaching. Also think twice before enrolling your child to Abacus or Vedic or Japanese maths classes.
  5. Pressure to perform – When scores mean a big deal and understanding or love for learning becomes secondary. The bond between the subject and the child grows weaker. As a result, fear grips in.

The main point here is that children must see a bigger picture and know that maths fears are not a sign of low intelligence. The child needs to trust that he/she can learn and enjoy mathematics.

How to overcome Maths Anxiety? We will discuss it in our next post. Till then stay curious, not anxious!

Why learn Maths?

Humans are meant to ask questions and I think children are more human.

While reading this amazing book on Mathematics, a subject which interest people like me and you. Hold on!….If you have Maths anxiety then hold give me a chance to write about it, I have something for you in my next post.

51nd6ww5eml-_sx368_bo1204203200_The book by Mark Wahl describes how Mathematics is seen by people with different intelligence. Some of you may be more inclined to see the image of the book (picture smart), some may Google the name and would love to read it (word smart).One may pause for a second and start reflecting on the title (intrapersonal). While many like me would also search for audio book (rhythm smart).  I didn’t find the audio book so if you do then do share the link in comments. And yes people like one of my friend would straight away order a copy, that’s amazon smart! I call him ‘impulsive’ buyer.

Coming back to the big question; And yes questions starting with ‘Why’ are fascinating but most of the time they are difficult to answer. So I would like to attempt one here!

A simple answer to the big question is we learn Mathematics because we use it. It’s part and parcel of our daily life. It is a fundamental part of life. It is a language to understand science!

As a head of Science and Mathematics Department, I get special privilege to review variety of Maths books from different publishers and boards. And we see an interesting pattern there. The focus is more on the ‘quantity’ as in the rush to teach numbers 1 to 50 for the kindergarten. How many children in kindergarten deals with numbers beyond 10 or 20? and yes the less emphasis on concepts. In my belief children in kindergarten knows about fractions. I am sure you have seen two children sharing one chocolate almost equally. They very well understand equality which is sometimes taught formally in value education. Yes! mathematics is not too academic as one may perceive it to be. It deals with some core values of human life.


Interesting posts every wednesday

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