Variation for the nation

Variation theory – teaching by highlighting difference – is growing in popularity among maths teachers in this country. But is this method really new, and could it have wider applications in other subjects? Three academics, Lucy Rycroft-Smith, Geoff Wake and Anne Watson, believe it could, but they warn that it has been badly misunderstood in many schools

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It is easy for us to identify what is different against an invariant background. It could be a red flower against a deep blue sky, a single item moved on an otherwise untouched shelf, a new sound amid a symphony of common city noises.

Our mind focuses in on that difference. And the inverse is also true – we notice what stays the same when everything else around it is changing.

The Swedish educational psychologist Ference Marton recognised this and was the first to articulate that we learn what varies against a background of invariance – that’s the only way we can perceive things.

So if we ...

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