Maths - Making maths sexy

28th October 2011 at 01:00
Get their undivided by turning personal dramas into digits

I'm writing something about functions on the board when I hear whispers on the table behind me.

"Are you still going out with Danny?"

"No, we split up; didn't you know?"

"Why?"

"He cheated on me!"

It is pointless to get uptight at this point. You have to work with the conversation. With a sigh, I say: "Let me tell you about Fred, who started going out with a function he thought was nice and even, until it turned out she was a bit odd, so now he's with a periodic function, and yes, they've had their ups and downs ."

The completely sex-free maths lesson does not exist. Every maths teacher will have lost count of the number of times they've said: "That is NOT a pair of nipples; they're turning points!" (I pick my quartics carefully these days.) The research literature quotes the example of a student struggling to get out the word "infinity", but instead says "infidelity" every time.

That said, I usually find the way students get distracted in their maths lessons by talking about their recent sexual conquests (or lack of them) a total bore. So the other day I was interested to observe a colleague teach an English lesson on `Tis Pity She's A Whore, John Ford's 17th century drama. Sex here, far from being an annoying diversion, was the essential subject matter.

"I would like you to come up with five different seduction strategies used in this passage ."

Why chat off the subject when the subject matter of the lesson itself is so chatworthy? "Are you still going out with Danny?" - exactly the discussion required for the analysis of this text. The students reported back: "His first strategy was to lie to her."

Can lying really be a seduction technique? Young people relate to the idea of lying. Unless they are really extraordinarily virtuous, they will be experimenting with telling untruths themselves. To be able to explore this in the context of their learning, within a classroom, is exciting - an invitation to forbidden fruit.

The lives of mathematicians often contained plenty of drama that can break up a lesson with human levity. Maybe then maths will not seem quite so chaste and pure and our students will not feel the need to ask about Danny quite so much.

Jonny Griffiths teaches at Paston College in Norfolk

What else?

Resources

Visit Jonny Griffiths' TES Resources profile to find out more about his teaching techniques

In the forums Teachers discuss different exam boards and their teaching strategies.

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number

Comments

The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now