Jeremy Côté

Outside the Curriculum

Do you feel like you’re not getting enough out of what you do in class? Does mathematics feel boring, just a bunch of rules that you follow without more or less knowing why?

I don’t blame you. This isn’t necessarily your teacher’s fault either. Instead, it’s a mentality that we’ve adopted with respect to your education. Take a bunch of mathematical concepts that are easy to test, and make students like you do lots of problems. If you can answer the problems correctly, you get good grades and move on. If not, we’ll likely still let you move on, even though you have no business studying more things when you haven’t mastered these concepts first.

It’s a bad situation on both sides. If you’re good in class, then you can get bored from the repetition of ideas. On the other hand, if you struggle, you’re spending most of the time in class scratching your head and wondering how in the world these symbols all work.

There needs to be a better way to do this.

I don’t have all the answers. I realize that I can’t start implementing radical ideas in the classroom (mainly because I’m only a tutor). But, I know that the world of mathematics is vast and wonderful, and in school you only get to see a tiny sliver of it. Perhaps I’m being too cynical, but I would argue that what you see isn’t even part of the “greatest hits”. There are some good parts in the curriculum, but there are parts that leave me wondering why someone would ever want to teach students this as a requirement.

My point is that you deserve better. I think it’s fine to say that you dislike (or even hate) a certain subject. However, you have to at least dive into the subject a little bit. In school, I don’t think you learn enough about mathematics in order to give it an honest rating. That’s not your fault. It’s the fault of an old educational system that needs to be updated.

Let’s be realistic here. Changing the way an institution functions within the next few years you’re in school isn’t going to happen. The change will occur over many years, as schools and governments get more pressure to change how we do things.

So what can you do now?

The number one thing you can do is to explore the wide space of mathematics. Instead of only thinking about mathematics inside the context of your classes, learn about more topics online. Dive into some articles on a subject that seems interesting. Watch a video online (which there are many great introductory ones). Ask your teacher for topics. Do something is my point. The only way to learn more is to go out and find more resources.

The most surprising thing you will find is that mathematics does not look like the kind of stuff you do at school! This will be a shock, I know. Right now, mathematics seems like its a mixture of formulas and finding the right numbers to plug into these formulas. But within the wider scope of mathematics, this is not the focus at all. The world of mathematics is filled with a lot more creativity than you would expect from the work you do in school.

I want to be clear here. The skills you develop in your mathematics classes are important. However, they are just that: skills. The wider world of mathematics is concerned with how you can use these tools to find out new truths about various objects. Sadly, this isn’t something you often get to see in your mathematics classes. This is why I’m telling you to explore the world of mathematics outside of your classroom. Only then will you get a flavour of what mathematics is all about.

If you do that, then you can form your opinions on mathematics. But I think that once you see how much more there is to mathematics than what you see in school, you will find that mathematics isn’t boring at all. Only certain topics aren’t as interesting. And that’s alright. Just don’t give up on mathematics because of a few topics that aren’t as engaging as the others.

The lesson I want you to draw from this is that mathematics has something for everyone. Schools don’t cater to this fact, but it’s true. Therefore, don’t give up on mathematics. Go out and explore! I guarantee you that there will be something you find interesting.