I had a Post-it note beside my laptop during the online lessons I taught during lockdown. It simply said ‘shut up’. I have spent 20 years teaching maths in urban comprehensives, reflecting and refining my methods and trying to train others. I thought I was doing a pretty decent job, but the pandemic and the necessity of teaching remotely has made me rethink the whole process.
Early on in May I realised I had to work out, from scratch, what I actually wanted my students to become and how, in the world of screen-mediated learning, I could help them achieve this.
What do I want my students to become? I want them to become autonomous problem-solvers, courageous in the face of the Unknown Problem. I want them to discriminate between good and bad use of statistics, and I want them to be able to meditate on the tiny pulsing infinity at the heart of maths. None of that has changed in kind, thanks to Covid, but it has changed in degree.
Statisticians are the new rock stars and the ubiquitousness of good stats, bad stats and up-close-and-personal stats has made that part of our subject much more real. Covid means there’s more reason than ever to be a maths teacher.
But what am I able to offer my students, if anything? It took only a few hours of staff meetings, residents meetings and school consultancy meetings online to realise that didactic screen time was a mistake. Hence, ‘shut up’ as the first axiom of remote teaching.
Let’s say I wanted to introduce some new mathematical content; I found there was always someone on YouTube doing it better than me, and in rhyme, so I became a curator of experience.