April 9th, 2008
John Mason, Professor of Mathematics Education at the Open University, was the closing speaker at this year’s MA-ATM combined mathematics education conference.
The central theme of the talk was the importance of reflecting upon experiences in order to unify them. We don’t often seem to learn from experience alone Prof. Mason exhorted; we learn incrementally, unifying experiences with one another, gradually gaining awareness of a greater whole.
Unifying experiences does not happen by chance; or rather, it should not. As teachers we must act as faciliators of this reflective process. One way to achieve this is to offer students familiar patterns of problems which are then developed and extended, and the richness drawn out of them through reflection.
The associated prensentation to the talk, with examples of such activities can be downloaded from Prof. Mason’s website, or by clicking on the link below:
Of course, this presentation does not do justice to an impassioned talk from such an experienced educator!
There was a great deal of truth in Prof. Mason’s talk. One of the main things that I will take away from the talk was my reflection during the talk that as a teacher I found myself too often concentrating on the activity in quantity, searching to find new activities and new ways of approaching a topic. I would find them on the internet, or in books, or by asking others. By contrast, the activities considered in Prof. Mason’s talk could be found only by taking the mathematics seriously and doing the mathematics for yourself. He searched for activities in quality, searching for ways of reusing the familiar but provoking new thought within that structure. From this, students are in a position to draw upon previous experiences, become familiar with areas of mathematics, and begin to unify their experiences. That is a lesson worth (re)learning!