Mon | Jul 15, 2019

Steps in solving Jamaica's math problem

Published:Sunday | July 13, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Don Mullings
Dr Randolph Watson
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There is a popular saying that "If you can read this, you should thank a teacher". The sentiment is similar for those of us who are able to do math and get it right. If you can add, subtract, multiply and divide, you should thank a teacher.

Don Mullings, civil engineer and conceptualiser of the M&M Jamaica Mathematics Competition, said, "Mathematics is a subject that has to be practised until you get it perfect."

As we continue to struggle with numeracy in Jamaica, we have to ask ourselves: 'What are we not doing right?' More important: How are we going to change students poor performance and improve our numeracy rates?

Olusegun Ismail, acting head, School of Mathematics and Statistics, Faculty of Science and Sport at the University of Technology (UTech), said, "There is a negative perception because of lack of appreciation of mathematics; poor understanding of mathematical concepts; poor teaching methods that make students memorise concepts without support for reasoning." We, therefore, must move towards teaching children critical thinking skills from basic and primary stages which is the first step toward math mastery.

Fear of Math

"Many adults still maintain a fear of math which they developed from school days. The fear is often transmitted from one to another. The fear is also developed when an unsuitable teaching method is used, or when students are trying to solve problems that they do not really understand," stated Dr Andel Bailey, chairman, Mathematics and Engineering Department at the Northern Caribbean University (NCU).

The next step should be to engage children at an early age to appreciate and understand the subject's value and importance. "With the establishment of the competition, we sought to encourage students to work hard and practise (as well as) reinforce and reward them when they have done their best. Children have competitive natures, so when you engage them in healthy competition, they thrive, continue to excel, and even surprise themselves at how well they perform in math," said Dr Randolph Watson, coordinator, M&M Jamaica Mathematics Competition. Watson testified to the fact that the participation in the annual event helps to change negative attitudes toward mathematics among students.

Next, teaching methods need to evolve as the
world is evolving. "Yesterday's methods cannot effectively prepare
today's children for tomorrow's world," said Dr Andel Bailey. Tertiary
institutions such as NCU and UTech have taken up the challenge to change
their teaching methods to better engage
students.

Bailey shared that "the formation of the NCU
Mathematics Institute is an excellent example of the University's
effort to improve the level of performance in mathematics. The primary
objective of this institute is to assist mathematics teachers to improve
their performance for this will have a positive impact on the
students". To this end, NCU Math Institute will be hosting a Math
Workshop for teachers July 15-17, with emphasis on helping teachers to
use modern technology and techniques to teach their
children.

Another step involves the use of technology.
There are many websites that have tutorials at all levels. YouTube can
also assist in learning how to apply a formula or explain an answer. It
is also necessary to link math with everyday issues and explain how
principles can help to solve these issues. Parents also have a
fundamental role to play in developing an appreciation - how about
reading bedtime stories that have quizzes and have fun math concepts
played out in the plot?

UTech
initiatives

"Some of the initiatives to support high
school mathematics that UTech has established include: an annual
workshop on CXC mathematics for high school teachers, a two-year BSc
course for post-diploma students from teachers' colleges and a four-year
course in mathematics and education for high school graduates and a
mathematics enrichment programme for everyone," Ismail said. "The
mastery of mathematics is a key requirement for economic transformation.
Some of the highly productive economies in the world excel at
mathematics."

If we are preparing our children for the
global world, we need to understand where education is going. With the
new Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) thrust and the need
to pursue careers in the those fields, STEM education must be a national
priority. The future of our economic prosperity is closely linked with
student success in the STEM fields.

Dr Sharmella
Martin, lecturer in Physical Therapy, University of the West Indies
(UWI), and her team of physical therapy students have begun a Fitness
& Fun Summer Camp that integrates academics at the School of
Physical Therapy, UWI, Mona. "I have two young boys and I was not
completely happy with what I saw in terms of the way they were learning
math in school. I felt that there must be other parents out there like
me, and so the idea was born to host this summer camp," said Martin. The
summer camp utilises different methods to reinforce lessons taught in
school by integrating math reasoning and logic and allowing the children
to express themselves using proper English. "We integrate distance,
time and weight measurements into the programme, so kids will have an
obstacle race they must complete and there will be one child assigned to
be the time keeper. At the end, the children must tally all the times,
compare (them)," she continued. The model allows the children to create
their own activities from which they learn.

Established in 1993, M&M Jamaica Ltd is one of the premier
engineering and project management companies in the island. The
organisation, which prides itself on professional and personalised
customer care, specialises in building and civil engineering, project
management and a range of construction services. As part of its mandate
to give back to the wider society, M&M, through its Chance Fund,
offers several scholarships and awards to primary and secondary school
students, promotes and finances entrepreneurial programmes and assists
underprivileged citizens in select communities. For more information
about M&M Jamaica Ltd, please call 906-6760-1 or visit
www.mmjamaica.com.