Is it important to learn math

scoyo in conversation with Stephanie Schiemann: Mathematics as a problem subject - why actually?

Stephanie Schiemann heads the school-university network office of the German Mathematicians Association and volunteers to promote math talent. We asked her about the subject of mathematics as a problem.

scoyo: According to the Rechnen Foundation, 20% of the children graduated from the 07/08 school year with sufficient or worse. According to the 2009 PISA study, however, Germany is well above the OECD average in mathematics. How is it really going with the mathematical skills of German students?

Schiemann: The mathematical abilities of the pupils are very different - depending on the type of school and the catchment area of ​​a school, but also on the training and motivation of the teachers teaching there. Even if there are very good counterexamples, it can generally be said that the level drops in classes that are taught in a different subject for several years. With the introduction of the G8 (grammar school in eight years, from grades 5 to 12) and the associated reduction in learning time for grammar school children, as well as the abolition of advanced courses and the reduction in math lessons in upper school in some federal states, this will be Level will drop even further in the following years. There are already reports from countries that have already passed the double Abitur classes.

But there are also very high-performing students in Germany who annually confirm their skills in national and international competitions. These often benefit from the form of the special high school, special cross-school gifted development projects supported by associations or universities, or the intensive personal commitment of individual teachers.

In principle, however, the school subject of mathematics in Germany is one of the top 3 subjects that are responsible for a non-promotion or a change of school to a lower type of school. The widespread poor math performance means that math is the school subject where extracurricular support is most in demand. Many parents can no longer help their children professionally in mathematics from the 5th grade, so that tutoring is advised and very often taken. Unfortunately, not all parents can afford this. Unfortunately, free support systems are only available for about a third of the students.

scoyo: Why is math so difficult for many children in school?

Schiemann: This is due, among other things, to the learning content in the framework plans. In some cases, it is not taken into account that the necessary abstraction ability for certain topics is not yet developed in the corresponding age group. In these moments you get the feeling that math is too difficult! In addition, the mathematics material is structured hierarchically, i.e. it is composed in such a way that gaps in the first school years mean that the contents of the following years can no longer be properly classified and understood. Both in the understanding of the objects and in the mastery of the calculation methods, quasi the tools of mathematics, then there are gaps that continuously increase. In my opinion, exercise programs with built-in progress analysis and diagnostic tools, such as are already available online at scoyo or bettermarks or at school book publishers, make perfect sense in this regard. With the help of the programs, gaps can be closed in a targeted manner and space can be made in regular lessons for current, advanced content, logical thinking and problem orientation.

The feeling that math is too difficult for normal students is confirmed in a special way by adult society, because it is still en vogue that role models in public, but also in private, boast that they never knew mathematics and to get through life well anyway. Also, efforts in perseverance and concentration or learning by heart, e.g. of square numbers, are generally no longer regarded as necessary and positive, but all too often dismissed as superfluous or excessive. Without this willingness to make an effort, mathematics - even in school - cannot be done.

It is clear to everyone that a society would not function without language, but without mathematics there would be no drive, no cell phone would work and no house would be built. The fundamental importance of mathematics must be placed much more in the foreground. To this end, it must be made clearer in mathematics lessons where mathematics can be found in everyday life. This would help students identify the need to learn math. In order to make the application references of mathematics in everyday life clearer, current topics should be taken up, for example in the area of ​​health "How great is the nuclear power risk or the probability of getting EHEC?" "How does an infectious disease spread?" Or in everyday school life "How much We have to earn money so that we don't make a minus at the school carnival? ”,“ How do you calculate a class trip? ”Or“ How do I design a fair voting process for the head boy? ”Or“ How do I present an election result sensibly? ”Etc.

scoyo: In your opinion, what is the school doing wrong in teaching mathematics?

Schiemann: The abundance of material and the shortage of time leave the teachers little leeway. The standardized tests further restrict the content of the lessons. The 45-minute cycle does not allow longer, concentrated and intensive work on a topic (e.g. on a project or a more complex problem) and thus makes discovery learning more difficult. However, it is extremely important to discover and understand something yourself. This is also a lot of fun and enables the students to build positive emotions with mathematics. Pure reproduction, i.e. demonstrating and imitating any calculation method, hardly strengthens the understanding of the matter and only helps in solving the simplest tasks in class work (no-5 strategy).

Teachers often “only” work with the textbook they have introduced and do not take the time to prepare up-to-date individual lessons. This is often due to the crowded weekly schedule. Furthermore, there are only limited further training offers for teachers and these are not used enough outside but also during the lesson time. In addition, teachers are only given limited time off for further training during the classroom. It is a failure of the education policy / school administration that insufficient provision for teachers is planned in order to enable further training, illness representation and the very fruitful team teaching or observation as well as qualified afternoon care. In classes with more than 30 students, individual supervision is practically impossible.

The offer of support, especially in the afternoons, must be expanded further, especially for the disadvantaged. Many parents lack the time, the will or the professional understanding to help their children. With the expansion of all-day schools and the education package, steps in the right direction can at least be seen.

scoyo: As a parent, how can you motivate your child and make math fun?

Schiemann: Mainly you have to support the children in a positive way. Parents shouldn't resort to simple and popular sayings such as “It doesn't matter, I could never do that”, but rather reinforce them positively: “You can do it!” It is then also helpful to learn with the children and be amazed, and so on to maintain and maybe even strengthen childlike interest. Mathematical games that can be played in the family are also well suited for this: Connect Four, Master Mind, Settlers, Labyrinth, Tangram, Sudoku, arithmetic games, but also well-known strategy games such as chess, Go, Checkers, Mill or Skat. Every year there are many new games on the market that often encourage logical and strategic thinking. Here you can orientate yourself on the awards "Game of the Year" or search for reviews on the Internet, e.g. also on the website www.mathematik.de.

If you yourself are not able to mathematically challenge and support your child, you can look for suitable people in your environment (grandparents, siblings, neighbors, etc.) or institutions that can do this. We also recommend visiting a mathematical exhibition (the search for "math exhibition" on Google provides more than 1,300 results) through to mathematical school groups, competitions (e.g. www.mathe-kaenguru.de or www.mathekalender.de) or talent promotion.

There are also a lot of nice math teaching and learning films on school television, e.g. on SWR-WDR, which can be found at www.planet-schule.de. They distribute beautiful and interesting films with mathematical backgrounds, topics and biographies.

Last but not least, you can do the many calculations that you make in everyday life together with the children from an early age. In the supermarket: which pack is cheaper? Is the discount really a worthwhile offer? On the way to school: which is the shortest way to school? How long do I need? In the car: How far can I get on the full tank or which route is probably the best, fastest, shortest? For contracts: which mobile phone contract is the cheapest for me? When renovating an apartment: How much wallpaper, paste, paint, packages of laminate, parquet, tiles or carpet do I need in order not to have to shop too much or twice? How can I determine the length of the route or the angles that I cannot measure behind the heater? Can I put the cabinet there or is it too high? Reflections, projections, images, ... - mathematics is everywhere. You just have to see them.

The most important thing is not to stifle thinking and asking, further thinking and further questioning and to encourage the effort, even if that costs energy for yourself.

Stephanie Schiemann

High school teacher Stephanie Schiemann | © Stephanie Schiemann Stephanie Schiemann was a grammar school teacher in Lower Saxony for 16 years, was a textbook author at the Westermann textbook publisher of MatheNetz and now heads the school-university network office of the German Mathematicians Association at the Free University of Berlin.

For over 25 years you have been committed to mathematically gifted students. In spring 2008 her 300-page conference volume about the anniversary conference "25 Years of Talent Promotion Mathematics" was published by LIT-Verlag.

The German Center for Teacher Training in Mathematics (DZLM) is particularly important to Ms. Schiemann. An extensive, Germany-wide training program is being set up there. In addition, training courses for multipliers are offered in order to achieve an even broader impact. Most of the universities in North Rhine-Westphalia and Berlin are involved. You can find all information on this in the extensive web portal.