The next time you think to yourself that your school is doing a good job, ask this question: “I bet the kids are bored out of their minds?”
STOCKHOLM, (THE STOCKHOLM REPORTER) – The next time you think to yourself that your school is doing a good job—even by US standards—a thought as simple as, “I bet the kids are bored out of their minds,” may help to better shape that opinion.
It’s easy to assume that any school’s curriculum is the same, but that’s not the case, says Luca Consolo, a professor of mathematics at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. One parent recently asked him: “What would be the fastest way to find solutions to our multiplication problems?” He responded by telling the parent that the best way to answer that question would be to take a similar exercise, substituting one or more math operations.
And that is precisely what the to-do list’s parent did: without knowing exactly what to tackle, she eliminated those that didn’t affect their entire exam. By adding, subtracting and multiplying – or subtracting and multiplying again – they were able to take about two hours and use it to solve some of the problems they had lost during the allotted time. They were also able to uncover new problems during the exercise that might have taken them a while to solve.
When Consolo talks to people who approach him about tricky math problems they have faced, the problem is that even if they’ve done their due diligence by studying and work up a technique, it doesn’t work for everything. According to Consolo, “almost every new experiment in mathematics requires a new approach, a different context.” And, since these problems have to be judged for their overall performance, the common-sense approach doesn’t always help. The new way might actually work better.
Consolo’s work presents itself in a mathematical book called “Tilted Brain,” published by Cambridge University Press. It has already gone through two printings. If you feel inspired to take a different approach, the university offers some free workshops, at times held in person, sometimes on the internet. See the University of Rome Tor Vergata website for more information.