2018/12/6 - 15:44

# What is Mathematics?

【文：WK @全民教育局 HKEd4All】

I asked my S6 students to make some reflections at the beginning of this school year. The concept is very simple. At every corner in the world, students have to study Mathematics. No matter which language they speak, they study Mathematics. No matter which people they belong to, they study Mathematics. No matter which country they come from, they study Mathematics. By simple logics, Mathematics must be very important to the humankind.

But, why? What is Mathematics?

Let me rephrase my question. It is important and they have to learn it. Then, what is Mathematics to them? Simple display of how we use logics to do elaboration in daily life. Right?

My students wrote me plenty of answers. Many expressed that Mathematics was more than numbers and was embedded in daily life. Some expressed that they liked challenges and the intrinsic rewards after solving the difficult problems. Some mentioned the logicality we used every day. Blah-blah-blah... They have their answers. There are no two identical answers. Each answer is unique.

I also asked my S3 students to do a book report. I have bought them a series of readers called “Murderous Maths”. This series of books are very popular in the UK. The writer is very clever. The books are targeted for teenagers and are fun to read. I know many students in UK cannot put down the books and therefore their interests in Mathematics are so aroused. I did not ask my students to do very serious book reports. I only asked them to have fun and feel free to read. After that, they only wrote me small pieces of reflections on learning Mathematics. Their feedbacks were surprisingly good.

My theory is simple. We may not be good at Mathematics. We still have to start making reflections and finding out our own meaning of learning Mathematics. Otherwise, we are doing something we have no ideas why we need to do. We will be no different from zombies then. I tell my students by answering what Mathematics is to them they are actually doing Mathematics. First, people who do Mathematics are always in search of the meaning of everything, especially the self. Second, people who do Mathematics make reflections at all times on what they are doing. If they are not on the right track, they will make correction and perhaps even start all over again. These are what we call critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills.

Similarly, being teachers, we should also ask ourselves what Mathematics education is. Learning Mathematics is not only about accuracy, presentation and time management. Arousing students’ interests in Mathematics should also be one of the objectives. We have to provide opportunity to our students to explore on the subject and lto have a more holistic view of what they are learning.

However, teachers in Hong Kong are loaded with different duties. I talked to teachers abroad many times only to find out that the workload of teachers in Hong Kong were ridiculously heavy. I am glad that my school gives my colleagues and me space and resources to explore Mathematics with the students. I wonder how the other schools cope with this aspect of Mathematics education.

I do not want to be too negative. We should think out of the box. What is Mathematics? What is Mathematics education? The questions are simple. But have we really tried our best to answer these questions?