Articles| Mathematics: Scary Subject Made Entertai...

Mathematics: Scary Subject Made Entertainment

17. August 2012 - Právo International comparative tests have been indicating for almost ten years that Czech children are increasingly less able to master mathematics. However, for much longer than that experts have been pointing out the need to reform teaching methods and introduce new techniques, in order to make mathematics appear to be a pleasant and even entertaining subject. But so far, only businessmen supporting experts’ efforts from their own pockets have heeded these calls for innovation.

Billionaire Petr Kellner set himself a goal: at selected schools, observe teaching methods and identify the flaws, which a team of experts, including a prominent professor of educational theory, Milan Hejný, would subsequently seek to analyze, and then find a solution. Professor Hejný has made it his mission to persuade teachers to accept the new methods. It is currently reported that fewer than 7 percent follow these methods.

Oldřich Botlík of Kalibro, a company specializing in across-the-board testing, is also trying to thrust the new techniques into practice. His company was approached by Zbyněk Frolík, the boss of Linet, a successful company that develops and manufactures hospital beds with a complicated design. Mr. Frolík also wants to help raise the bar for mathematics.

Children should tackle their own problems

Those teachers who have joined the Kalibra Mathematics program -- and they have done so with great enthusiasm -- are to test children against various real-life problems that the children would actually tackle themselves. One puzzler, for example, invites the kids to figure out how much their families could save on water bills. The students will therefore compare the amounts of water spent flushing toilets, brushing their teeth, and showering. They will take different tactics, such as making charts and comparing their results with those of their schoolmates to look for opportunities for savings.

“It doesn’t matter if the children go off at a new tangent; the fundamental thing is that they tackle their own problems and have fun doing so,” says Mr. Botlík.

Politicians have recently also taken a shine to this topic. Last week Marcel Chládek, ČSSD’s shadow Minister of Education, presented, alongside Professor Hejný, a joint project under which an expert group is to be set up and test Professor Hejný’s teaching methods on a selected sample of schools. Mr. Chládek emphasized that the professor’s methods have sparked interest in Poland and Slovakia. The Czech ministry is working with Professor Hejný under the Individual National Project.

Nevertheless, privately-held entities so far deserve the greatest credit for the popularization of mathematics.

(Author: Jiří Mach, excerpt from the text)

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