Picture this. 20 athletes walk into a math class, excited and bursting with enthusiasm asking the teacher, “Sir, what are we going to learn today?” Discussions are going on in the background about last night’s homework that involved watching a professional sporting event. You’re probably thinking this scenario belongs in a fairy tale, yet I pose the question, why does it have to be? I’m sure many of you have heard the term “differentiated instruction” being tossed around the education world in the past decade. This theme is becoming more and more important as our student’s needs are changing and we are realizing that the old model of teaching just isn’t cutting it. We as educators are constantly trying to find new ways to engage our student’s interest and bring life to our lessons in a fun and interactive environment. Web sites, blogs, and articles are filling up with research on the effects of differentiated instruction and how we should be implementing it into our classrooms on a regular basis. This topic is especially turning heads in mathematics courses where there has been a huge push to linking abstract concepts to real world application. It’s never been a secret that the students in math classes are consistently asking themselves, “when are we ever going to use this in the real world?” Educators nowadays are realizing more and more that success in the math class relies heavily on the interest and motivation of the students. If there is none, the students do not pay attention and important concepts are missed creating progressively larger gaps in their knowledge in the subject. On the flip side, if students are genuinely interested or curious even, their attentiveness increases causing a ripple affect resulting in a positive and successful learning experience.
I’m not sure about other schools, but in the one I am currently teaching at, over the past 5 years we have introduced focus classes in the physical education stream. A focus class as it pertains to physed is an entire course tailored specifically to one sport discipline. This was done in an effort to cater to our students who were passionate about the pursuit of excellence in their specific sporting interest as well as bolster the level of development in our athletic programs. The concept of the focus class spread like wild fire and students loved it. This form of differentiated instruction that tailored to the specific interest of the individual created a positive atmosphere for the student athletes to thrive in without the distraction of being disengaged in activities they had to participate in that they weren’t particularly thrilled about. As a math/physed qualified teacher the notion of the focus class and its success had me thinking. What would it be like to have this concept applied to a mathematics setting? How awesome would it be to offer math courses that carried a theme over the entire semester and integrated it into various lessons to engage and bring life to those teachings? Why can’t math have focus classes too? Imagine signing up for classes in grade 9 and seeing in addition to the regular math class the option of, mathematics in sports, and mathematics in media. This would definitely create a stir in the school. Students would be asking one in other what stream they were going into, what they think they would learn, curious as to what this is all about. You would have students taking that specific focus class because they were interested in the subject (ie, sports and media). This would also make the life of the teacher easier in the sense that they would not have to worry about bridging multiple real world topics into the math that some pockets of students would disconnect with because they didn’t care about how many comic books Sammy bought at the store. Now I realize that in theory this sounds like it could be a great idea, but in reality many hurdles would need to be overcame before it could reach the schools. Hurdles that would include; how to adapt all the content of that topic to the curriculum in a logical progressive manner. Which focus topics do you introduce? What grades do you offer it in?
With all this in mind idea of implementing math focus class’s sounds like it could offer something to the students that they haven’t had before. Choice. The choice to take control of their education and adapt it in a way that fits their lifestyle and personality. If we can offer a differentiated approach to teaching a subject that has carried a stigma with it for generations, it might be a way for society to embrace it in a new light, and reconstructing its image starting with our children.