Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mathematician's Lament

My husband knows I'm a maths geek.  It was he who told me about this article a few years ago, after hearing about it at work (what else would you talk about whilst building a train?)  It was the perfect gift and I eagerly wrote a blog post to share it ... then forgot to publish it.  Oops.  

I still think the Mathematician's Lament is very clever:

Lockhart's Lament was published in a book in 2009, then in 2012 a second book by Lockhart, Measurement, was released ... perhaps an answer to the question of how to change the status quo.

What is it?  According to Wikipedia, "A Mathematician's Lament is a short book on the pedagogics and philosophy of mathematics by Paul Lockhart, originally a research mathematician but for many years a math teacher at a private school. Characterised as a strongly-worded opinion piece arguing for an intuitive and heuristic approach to teaching and the importance of mathematics teaching reforms, the book frames learning mathematics as an artistic and imaginative pursuit which is not reflected at all in the way the subject is taught in the American educational system."

Here's an enticing quote from page 3 of "Measurement":  

"I am going to assume that you love beautiful things and are curious to learn about them.  The only things you will need on this journey are common sense and simple human curiosity.  So relax.  Art is to be enjoyed, and this is an art book.  Math is not a race or a contest;  it's just you playing with your own imagination.  Have a wonderful time!"

I think mathematics is tremendous fun.  I thought when I aced tests in Year 7, and when I happily battled through 4 unit maths in Year 12 with six classmates who would come over to do problems that took several pages to solve.  At that stage it was mostly about 'the test', but our goofy teacher still made it seem fun.  I felt quite disillusioned a month after our final exam when I realised I had already forgotten most of those abstract concepts, but I am still glad I had that opportunity to stretch my brain.

I am revisiting the marvels of maths, thanks to my children ... with their iPads, Vi Hart videos, Escher posters and a stack of brain-tickling maths books, the sky is the limit.  I'll share a list of our favourite resources and book lists soon.

This link is worth a look ... it presents Lockhart's Lament with a cool video, 'metamorphosis of a cube'.

I will leave you with a quote from an article written by Keith Devlin (whose column featured Lockhart's Lament) ...

"In fact, in the context of this country, bedeviled by the incessant math wars and the intense politicization of mathematics education that drives them, my view is that debate about the curriculum and the educational theory that drives it is a distraction best avoided (at least for now). To me the real issue facing us is a starkly simple one: Teacher education. No matter what the curriculum, and regardless of the psychological and educational theory it is built upon, teaching comes down to one human being interacting with a number of (usually) younger, other human beings. If that teacher does not love what he or she is teaching, and does not understand it, deeply and profoundly, then the results are simply not going to come. The solution? Attract the best and the brightest to become mathematics teachers, teach them well, pay them at a level commensurate with their training, skills, and responsibilities, and provide them with opportunities for continuous professional development. Just what we do in (for example) the medical or engineering professions. It's that simple."


  1. I love that quote from Measurement! I wish I could have had a math teacher like him. In all of my 12 years in school, I did have one good math teacher but it was too late to change my fear by then. Then along came the kid...I enjoy math now through him.

    I wanted to thank you also for your very encouraging comment earlier on my blog. I am very grateful for your loyal readership as well. Hugs!

    1. Thanks, Suji! For reading this and (whether you know it or not) helping shape MY approach to teaching mathematics in a lively, rich way.

  2. I love maths too. Senior maths was great fun! I wish I hadn't forgotten as much as I did but I get to do it again with 4 boys. Funnily enough the two of mine who are in public school for this year scored above average for their grade for their Naplan tests. Not hugely but definitely enough to make me proud. Ok, spelling was another matter, but maths was good. I use Singapore Maths and I have always loved maths anyway so it was good to see them score well.

    Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting. Looking forward to reading more of your posts.

    Best wishes
    Jen in NSW


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