Unfortunately at least for mathematics experience has proven this theory
wrong. With a few exceptions, students who register in an education program to learn how
to teach elementary school have very little knowledge of mathematics. Many who intend to
teach in the Primary, Junior and even Senior Divisions have not taken a single mathematics
course since Grade 10.
It is also a mistake to think that pre-service teacher education students have no ideas
about teaching. In fact, they can draw on a long past of school and university experiences
for ideas on how to teach.
For many of them, good teaching still consists of behaviourist lecture methods. Often,
these ideas about teaching, derived from school and university experiences, become
barriers to learning new teaching methods. These candidates have to be convinced to
discard their old ideas, which takes quite some time.
For example, in order to teach arithmetical concepts like borrowing and carrying over,
students must first be encouraged to recognize the advantages of working with tactile
LACK BASIC KNOWLEDGE
A lack of basic knowledge and the need to discard old ideas on teaching to arrive at a
new perception of pedagogy that reflects modern concepts of teaching and learning are not
the only problems teacher educators encounter. Closer examination reveals that the act of
teaching is also linked both to our perception of mathematics and to our emotional
relationship with mathematics.
Like our ideas about teaching, our perceptions and emotional responses are based on our
past experience. For many education students, mathematics is a set of tricks they must
learn to come up with the right answer, so they tend to limit themselves to a model based
on teaching little tricks and procedures that have nothing to do with understanding the
The fact that our students generally have a very limited perception of math and a
negative response to it leads to two other major difficulties.
A few years ago, on the first day of class, I overheard two students saying to one
another, "If I had known the program included a math course, I wouldnt have
signed up." A few minutes later, I encountered these two students in my Educational
Psychology of Mathematics course.
That year, I began the course by asking two questions: "Do you like math?"
and "Will you enjoy teaching math?" Once two or three students had spoken up
about their fear of math or lack of interest in it, almost all the students indicated that
they had had bad experiences at school or were unable to derive any enjoyment from
"Mathematics is about memorizing all kinds of tricks whats the
point?" Of course, these students reactions were not new for me. They have
emerged over the past few years in many studies on emotional responses to mathematics and
perceptions of mathematics. What was new was that the students realized it themselves, and
were even surprised by it.
What can we do to change education students perception of mathematics? This
question is especially important, because if we cannot help them to change their
perception, they will inevitably transmit it to their students and perpetuate the problem.
Laurentian Universitys École des sciences de léducation is starting a new
pre-service teacher education program in 19981999. It includes a new course,
Introduction to Mathematical Thought, which is sub-titled "The Pleasure of
The goal of the course is not to compensate for deficiencies in students basic
mathematical knowledge or to deal with problems associated with the teaching and learning
In this one-year program, we would rather give them an opportunity to build a good
emotional relationship with mathematics and help them broaden the often very limited
perception they have of this discipline. The goal is to give students an opportunity to
enjoy some experiences with mathematical thought and to encourage them to discover a
source of intellectual satisfaction similar to the satisfaction we experience in other
areas like painting, music, literature or poetry.
The objective is to discover or rediscover the pleasure of thinking and to become aware
of the special nature of mathematical rationality.
Using in-class learning situations and episodes from the history of mathematics, the
course will show how certain responses techniques of perspective-based
representation, methods of solving word problems, for example are considered better
than others. In short, the course will demonstrate that mathematical truths vary with the
culture and are not cast in stone.
The course goes beyond the utilitarian aspect of mathematics and is based on activities
in which the students handle objects and use symbolic systems of representation
tables, drawings, letters and other symbols. The methodology has been designed to provide
students with an opportunity to use mathematical research to enjoy an aesthetic experience
similar to the experience of playing games of strategy.
These activities will make students aware that, in mathematical research and
problem-solving, the idea of a problem-solving process includes this aesthetic dimension
combined with the pleasure of seeing an idea take shape. If they are to enjoy this
experience, they cannot simply seize on the problem. They must first learn to savour it
and take pleasure in the problem-solving process.
Introduction to Mathematical Thought includes one unit on the relationships between
painting, mathematics and music at different points in history. Another unit covers the
representation of space and the invention of perspective in the Renaissance. We look at
how perspective was examined scientifically, using the only mathematical theory that could
express the concept of beauty at that time in the Western world the theory of
proportion. We compare the Renaissance concept of beauty to ideas about beauty in
contemporary art and the beauty of fractal expressions in dynamic recurrent process.
Our goal is the satisfaction derived from the research process and the sense of wonder
at the result. In Francis Bacons words, "For all knowledge and wonder
which is the seed of knowledge is an impression of pleasure in itself."
Laurentian University professor Luis Radford obtained his PhD from Université Louis
Pasteur in France. He conducts research on the teaching, history and semiotics of
mathematics in partnership with the Sudbury school boards. A number of his research
findings have been published in the Revue des sciences de léducation, For the
Learning of Mathematics, the Gazette, Mathesis and Educación Matemática. He is
currently studying the learning of algebra with the aid of grant from the Social Sciences
and Humanities Research Council. He can be reached at lradford@NICKEL.LAURENTIAN.CA