Tue. Jun 25th, 2024

Mathematics teaching is a very difficult task, it requires a lot of conceptual understanding, pattern-seeking, logical thinking, problem-solving but our teachers have made it look so easy. They simply solve a mathematical problem on the board and ask students to copy. Therefore, being an expert in mathematics in our context means solving mathematical problems. Throughout my professional career, I have observed teachers follow almost the same patron. They open the Math textbook, go to the exercise pages and start solving the exercise. Students are asked to follow the teachers. Students memorize all the steps while practising math problems by copying step by step what the teachers do. In this way, the syllabus is covered and students get ready for tests. After a while, both the student and the teacher forget everything. To solve those questions again they have to look at the old solved questions again to follow the pattern or get help from someone else. Have you ever thought, that is what is the process of teaching math?

If you look at any good sixth-grade textbook, you will see that a chapter usually consists of ten to twenty pages with three to four pages of practice questions. We focus on only three to four pages out of those twenty pages and ignore other pages. It creates a gap between the concepts presented in the chapter being study and the conceptual understanding of the students. It affects their ability to understand math through their educational and professional career. Let’s see, “Why do we do that?”

Why does this happen? Why do we do this? To understand the answers to these questions, we need to re-understand the term mathematics. Skemp (1989) defined two types the learning of mathematics. The first type is Procedural Learning in which students can solve problems by memorizing the principles of mathematics. The second type is Relational Learning in which students understand the principles of math, understand the relationship between different concepts, apply these concepts/principles to solve their daily life problems, and know why and how these principles work. Thus, if we look at the work of Skemp, we can see that our teaching is creating a superficial understanding of math, that allows the student to use only the mathematical principle to solve problems printed in the textbook. In contrast, in the 21st century, students need to have an in-depth understanding of mathematical concepts/principles so that they can apply the learned concepts to new tasks, unfamiliar situations, and have in their long-term memory to be successful in their educational and professional career.

That’s why it’s important to start math lessons with a task that invites students to solve problems on their own. This approach provides solutions to the problems in several ways. In this way, each student uses their prior knowledge to solve the problem. In doing so, he connects the various concepts of mathematics and strengthens the foundation of his mathematical knowledge and skills. While teaching mathematics, it is necessary to ensure that students practice thinking skills, the ability to link ideas, and reasoning.

Through teaching mathematics, students’ technical abilities, creative thinking, research, and exploration skills must be developed. It will be possible only, when we complete the chapter/lesson with its full spirit, instead of just solving the practice questions. The process of learning math becomes a more positive and meaningful experience for the students.


Skemp, R. R. (1989). Mathematics in the primary school. London: Routledge.

By Muhamamd Yusuf

The writer is Pedagogy Expert at SIPD. He can be reached at m.yusuf.edu@gmail.com

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