THE country’s leading authority on mathematics education has indicated that one of the major gaps in the teaching and learning of the subject in local classrooms is the lack of focus on problem solving.

National Mathematics Coordinator Dr Tamika Benjamin, who is part of the team implementing the iLead educational leadership programme in schools — an initiative created and implemented by the Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS) Foundation and the Ministry of Education — told maths teachers from Happy Grove and St Thomas Technical high schools at a recent workshop that very often the tasks set by teachers are focused on finding answers to questions that already dictate the algorithm to be used to find the solution. However, she explained, problem solving requires students to find solutions without knowing what method to use.

“You have to allow students to use their own strategies; do not restrict them,” she stressed, noting that while questions may have one answer, problems may have multiple solutions.

“We stifle their development when we eliminate problem-solving. [That] approach adopted by most teachers encourages passive learning and consequently, students become dependent on instructions, rather than grasping concepts and confidently take on challenges,” she argued.

Using examples, Dr Benjamin challenged the teachers by demonstrating how problem solving tasks were different from questions teachers in general currently set.

“Thirty-five pupils attended a Children’s Day party. At the party, each girl was given five sweets and each boy was given three sweets. If a total of 155 sweets were given out the party, how many more girls than boys were there?” the Mathematics Coordinator asked, in an effort to demonstrate her point.

Dr Benjamin posited that the tasks set must deal with situations that are natural to the students and should centre on core mathematical concepts which they should learn. That approach, she said, shoulld lend itself to students justifying and explaining their answers.

The mathematic coordinator countered claims that students will resist problem solving tasks, insisting that dialogue must be an important part of the teaching and learning environment, in order to engage the students.

“Teachers have to ask purposeful questions that allow students to explain and reflect. Questions that help them to know what the students know. They must lead to meaningful discussions and ideas,” she emphasised.

In addition, she urged teachers to use a variety of strategies to engage students, including drawing or dramatising to “bring mathematics to life in the classroom.”

Happy Grove and St Thomas Technical are two of the new participants in the iLead programme, which targets ten schools in Portland, St Mary and St Thomas, given the National Education Inspectorate’s assessment of their needs.—Benjamin_45354