A Perplexing Stigma
It is a well-known phenomenon that there is a stigma around math. Whether this is the result of a lack of appreciation of the problem-solving nature of math or this is another chapter in the nature vs. nurture debate, most students are not particularly enthusiastic about the subject. Of course, adequate numeracy and good problem solving skills are essential to not just an individual's growth, but also the social-economic development of society. The stigma, as a result, prevents many students with incredible potential in the subject from realizing their potential, which is quite unfortunate.
While there are other organizations that target math enthusiasts in order to provide them with resources to develop their skills in the subject matter, few attempts to help mainstream students cross the chasm to overcome the stigma and realize their potential in math. CSSMA was founded on this latter principle, that we reach out to every student in Canada and encourage them to think about math in a different way, to encourage them to appreciate math as not just an academic subject, but also an art, a sport, and everything in between. To achieve this goal, we collaborate with educators to help them enrich their classes with creative activities, we organize events that aim to make math fun for students, and we engage parents by offering great competitive and enrichment opportunities for their children. We aim to develop students' thought processes and problem solving skills, which are skills that can be applied to various disciplines, and in turn, help them achieve greater academic success.
At the same time, we also see the need to challenge strong math students. The strongest math students should not sit bored in class, but rather, be provided with a stimulating environment to explore advanced concepts or engage in extension activities/problems with other strong math students. This idea of exploration and teamwork is among the fundamental educational philosophies of the CSSMA. We want to make math fun, exciting, and interesting for all! To do this, we need to change the way that students think about math, ie. mathematical thinking.
Our Approach to Education
What is mathematical thinking? We have come up with a list of possible answers. The list below is in no ways exhaustive:
- Using something already known to do something new both in and out of mathematics
- Using a variety of structured approaches
- Able to deal with frustration
- Able to come up with interesting questions and extensions/ideas that might not work
- Stating hypotheses and checking it
- Thinking outside box/trying different ways to a problem
- Understanding reasoning behind formulas
- Ability to communicate mathematical ideas with others
- Open to ideas and confidence in one's own ability
- Appreciation of mathematical beauty and simplicity
- Openness to ideas and motivation in general
- Ability to apply ideas in different contexts (approach novel ideas with previously mastered concepts)
Therefore, we believe that we can ameliorate the stigma surrounding math and math education by creating unforgettable, engaging classroom and extracurricular experiences for students. We believe that understanding is much more important than memorizing. For this reason, rather than spoiling the ideas to the students, we aim to give everyone the experience of the inquiry based learning, and the joy upon discovering something for themselves. In general, we encourage something like the following:
- The teacher asks a number of broad questions or problems. To make this process interesting, the teacher can accompany it with a creative and innovative classroom activity which encourages creative ideas to flow.
- Usually there exists significant sequences of sub-questions that lead to the big question's solution. The students are encouraged to explore these sub-problems by asking questions and trying things out to see how things work out.
- Optimally, the teacher only talks in times when the student(s) has thought about a problem for a while without any progress. The teacher should only provide some motivation or hints to guide the students' thinking processes.
- The students discuss among themselves and the teacher and remain open to all ideas.
So what's our overall goal? They are:
- To make the math learning experience in class engaging, so that students become more enthusiastic to learn math.
- To improve students’ understanding of math concepts through experiential learning.
- To allow deeper understanding of advanced concepts and why things work.