How many different languages do you know? English, sure. What about French? Spanish? Ever dabbled in a bit of Mandarin?
I’ll bet you didn’t consider the idea that mathematics is a language too, did you?
Galileo said that “Mathematics is the alphabet in which God has written the universe.” Here in the ICS Mathematics department, he was certainly speaking our language! We’re committed to teaching our students how to read and write in mathematical language from the first day of Year 7.
As students become more comfortable communicating their mathematical ideas in the various symbols and forms of notation available, they are better equipped to explain what they are thinking. And they’ll be better prepared for the myriad ways they’ll need to read and interpret mathematical ideas throughout their whole lives.
As maths nerds, we believe this notation is both beautiful and incredibly efficient.
Consider this equation:
To communicate this same idea in English, we’d have to write “In a right-angled triangle, the ratio of the side opposite angle to the hypotenuse is two-thirds.” That’s 18 words in English compared to four pieces of appropriate mathematical notation! Becoming fluent in mathematical notation is a no-brainer.
Encouraging students to develop fluency in the beautiful language of mathematics
Like any language teacher, here at ICS our Maths teachers model the use of our language every day in our classes—and trust that over time, by osmosis and immersion, our students will develop these skills.
Secondly, we show we value it by allocating 15 percent of our overall assessment grade in Years 7-10 to a portfolio of mathematical summaries called ‘Learning Logs’. At the end of every topic, our students submit a summary of the key concepts they have learnt that will probably be useful in the future but may be otherwise forgotten. These include procedures, key words, phrases, terminology, definitions, important theorems, facts, formulas, figures, diagrams and graphs.
Most importantly, our students write these summaries in mathematical language. This enables them to practise consolidating their learning in a concise manner, and to improve their fluency in the language at the same time. By the time they reach Year 11, our students will have a collection of really helpful one-page summaries of everything they have learnt from Years 7-10. Learning maths is like building a brick wall. Ensuring the foundations are strong will provide our children the best chance of success in senior mathematics and beyond.
The other major way we monitor our students’ fluency with mathematical language is via our new and exciting whiteboard walls. Most lessons, our students will spend some time on these vertical non-permanent surfaces—whether reviewing a concept from a previous lesson, or consolidating something new they’ve just learned for the first time. Whiteboard walls allow our staff to see how our students are communicating mathematically, and this learning environment lends itself to learning from peers since each student’s work is visible and accessible. By highlighting exemplars, our staff are already noticing an improvement in the uptake of language.
Additionally, when a Year 7 class enters a room that Year 12 were occupying the previous lesson, we can direct our students to the mathematical language caked all over the walls and paint a clear picture of where they’re headed with maths and how important it is to grasp this language.
So next time your child comes home from school, ask how many languages they speak. And remind them that everyone is, at the very least, bilingual!
Head Teacher – Mathematics
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