Maths - Finding the best way in

23rd March 2012 at 00:00

What the lesson is about

Trying to find accessible routes in for pupils is perhaps a more pertinent problem for maths teachers, than for others. Second World War history is full of stories to spark their interest, but with maths, as the level of abstraction grows, so can the problem of finding a "hook" to draw pupils in, writes Kester Brewin.

I have been experimenting with introducing algebra as a language. By starting the lesson in my own rudimentary French or Italian, I encourage my pupils to think about the languages they already study and then to see algebra as another language they need to learn.

In algebra, once you have understood the syntax, everything means exactly what it means and nothing else. This leads the discussion to "false friends". In French it is logical to combine the word plein (meaning "full") with the conjugation of je suis to say "I am full". But I was greeted with laughter at the end of a meal on a French exchange. "Je suis plein" means "I am pregnant".

False friends are not possible in algebra, but this does not mean mistakes in "translation" cannot be made. Pupils need to understand that convention has decreed 2 x means two lots of x, while x2 means x times lots of x. The placement of the 2 is important and changes the meaning.

As with all languages, fluency and grammatical accuracy come with practice. To begin with, we may need to "translate" each group of terms into English and back, but after a while we can begin to think in the new language.

What else?

Turn numbers into words with Tristanjones' quick-fire algebra expressions starter.

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