When is a maths lesson not a maths lesson?

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Let’s face it, we’re not all on a par with Einstein, nor do we profess to be. However, we are being labelled and ‘put into boxes’ on our ability to sit through endless hours of maths, absorb information, then perform recall skills in the false atmosphere that is an exam. It’s then either the dreaded, or the golden Grade ‘C’ from which our lives are expected to be directed!

Don’t get me wrong, some of us flourish in this environment, and there is the key – some of us is not all of us, ultimately, those of us who are not at our best in the exam environment will fail, which brings us back to the ‘labelling’, the perceived stigma and the opportunities (or lack of) made available thereafter. 

So, what do we do about this? How can we ensure equal opportunity? Is that the burning question to any educator who is working to a particular system, a system which is being constantly scrutinised, with specific aims and outcomes expected? Well…. To answer this, you need look no further than the partnership between Keighley College (where one of the Fab Labs in based) and our ULF/GMB learning project.

Keighley College, our ULF/GMB learning project and the Fab Lab are making maths relevant. Sat at a desk in a classroom trying to work out what ‘X’ is equal to is all well and good if that is how you learn, if you learn by doing (Kinaesthetic) then it may be fair to say your mind would be elsewhere.  

The Fab Lab is the perfect environment, and actually encourages your mind to be elsewhere as creativity takes over. Students are proven to achieve above and beyond what they would have achieved in this environment. The use of ‘Pi’ for example is taken out of the typical maths classroom and used in real life scenarios, as is algebra, subtraction, multiplication, division and addition.

We all use maths every day of our lives without even thinking about it, and this is exactly how such lessons are designed within the Fab Lab. Emerging technology such as 3D printing is used. Before this piece of equipment is used, first a computer design has to be created. Before a computer design is created, first a ‘problem’ has to be solved (often in the form of a business idea/brief). Before a problem can be solved, first research has to be carried out. Before research is carried out, first a basic understanding of using research tools has to be achieved……all of these have maths embedded, from basic level up to GSCE standard and beyond.

As somebody watching, not only would you witness creativity, with maths embedded into learning, you would also witness students realising that they can achieve, and that despite learned behaviour often suggesting we must fit into certain categories, being ‘different’ is actually being individual and this is helping enable people to take ownership of their own future.

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Michelle Graham

Michelle Graham currently works on the GMB Learning Project in the Yorkshire Region. 

She's been part of the team for six years, and prior to this was working as a TUC Tutor (part-time), and a 'Roving Rep'.