Maths - How my garden grows

Students, like plants, require the right environment to flourish

Jonny Griffiths

In the summer holidays I invariably spend time in our garden. In their long beds down each side, the 25 or so shrubs remind me of a classroom of 25 students, only with more rain.

And so I have reflected, occasionally, on the parallels between teaching and gardening. Plants are as different from each other as students are. Some survive whatever you do. Certainly I can think of many robust ex-students who would have achieved great things had I given them a textbook and nothing else. Others are more sensitive, requiring prolonged attention and tenderness. Can we find a more productive place for this plant in this garden? (Have you got your seating plan right?) Would full sun (sitting at the front table) or partial shade (towards the back of the class on the left) be beneficial?

Not every plant flowers at the same time of year. And that is also true of students' progress. Some underachieve at GCSE, then flourish at A level; others peak at GCSE and find A levels harder.

And just as a garden can be taken over by pests, a classroom can be invaded by ennui. Do you react in an organic way (pointing out the problem in a calm and restorative fashion) or do you give them a blast of chemicals (read the riot act)?

If I get the basics right, 95 per cent of plants will flourish. The remaining 5 per cent includes the saddest plants in my garden, the ones that leaf but never flower. It is our duty to try to prevent this happening to our students.

But a garden is likely to have a compost heap. And, as monk I once knew told me: "Our failures become the compost from which our successes grow."

Jonny Griffiths teaches maths at a sixth-form college

What else?

Get pupils to design their own garden and practise scale drawing with an activity from MathspadUK.

Shine some light on the topic of algebra with Ryan Smailes' gardening dilemma.

In the forums

Is raising achievement in maths all about getting your pupils to put away their phones and do some work? Or is there room for a more creative approach?

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Jonny Griffiths

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