Ever heard this one?
If you have 4 pencils and I have 7 apples, how many pancakes will fit on the roof? Purple, because aliens don’t wear hats!
Let us explain.
Experts have long argued that I’m-not-a-math-person people should let go of that limiting belief because maths is for everyone and there’s no such thing as being bad at maths. It just takes perseverance and preparation, they say. But the point they’re missing is this: what if… maths is boring?
That meme math problem doesn’t point to unintelligent brains. It points to brains that aren’t motivated to focus on dry numbers and would rather come up with a nonsensical plot twist. Rather creative, in our opinion.
Making maths mandatory
Many students feel content with basic maths knowledge, and are frustrated with the irrelevance of stuff like geometry equations.
But in 2019, Australia’s most populous state announced it would make maths compulsory for year 11 and 12 students so that they’re better at home budgeting and ‘prepared for jobs of the future’ namely STEM.
This can have consequences because passion and purpose are vital for learning, our After The ATAR III report found.
When we surveyed school students about what happens when they’re passionate about their subjects, 77% said they spend more time on their work, 76% put more effort in, 71% pay more attention in class, and 70% get better marks.
Thankfully, at the time, Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell said that forcing students to do maths in the HSC or count it towards their ATAR wasn’t on the agenda.
What students need
But taking up mathematics in their critical senior years can still be a nightmare and seen as a waste of time for many students. So how can we get more students genuinely interested and effectively learning?
One: practical application.
“More could be done to inform students of real world applications of our schooling and of career paths that each subject could lead to,” a 17-year-old male from Victoria told us.
Two: passionate teachers.
“There were the few teachers who actually cared and were passionate about the stuff they were teaching, this energy exuded from them and convinced us that it was worth listening and learning about,” a 17-year-old female from Victoria added.
The NSW government does show signs of this vision. This year they’ve been campaigning to increase maths enrollments and are offering a new course that applies maths skills to everyday life like buying your first car. While it’s currently optional, this may be compulsory by 2024.
The media announcement included positive testimonials from students who took up the pilot course and inspiring talks by the University of Sydney’s first female Professor of Mathematics, Professor Nalini Joshi, and astrophysicist and engineer Dr Matt Agnew.
It’s not certain yet whether this new course is the ‘mandatory maths’ announced back in 2019 or if the standard year 11 and 12 maths classes will be mandatory.
For point number one – practical application, half of the problem is solved.
And for point number two – passionate teachers, still, the real challenge is finding enough trained, quality, passionate maths teachers.
We think it’d just be best if young people simply did the subjects they were passionate about without any interference from above. And for many young people, that doesn’t include maths.
And that’s okay.