Once I happened to meet somebody with whom I was having a conversation on Mathematics. He was telling me his story as to how haunting the subject was for him during his school and college days. He would top in every other subject but Maths…would take his percentage down. Somehow, with the help of his friends (before and during the exams) he used to pass in Maths. When he was in his twelfth standard, he confessed to his father that he won’t be able to clear the exam without having tuition. So his father arranged a Tuition Master for him. This Sir had a stammering problem due to which he didn’t get a good job in schools and made his living by taking private tuitions. Before he started going for the tuition, he had scored 4/200. But after four months coaching, he scored 168/200 in his final exams. Of all the people in the world, he (the student) had received the greatest shock. After he thanked his Sir he asked, “Sir, how come I got so many marks in Maths? I never used to understand this subject no matter how hard my professors & I tried. How did I understand from you?” His Sir replied (stammering), “My boy…the pause taken due to my stammering, gave you time to Think!”
Today, what usually happens in schools & colleges is Teaching; and not Learning. The teachers teach, write something on the blackboard and the students copy them down and study. As a result, they just become photocopying machines, with no Actual Knowledge happening inside them. Maths is one subject, which just cannot be learnt like that. And if someone tries teaching this way, he may succeed in teaching a very few and creating nightmares for the remaining students. Maths cannot be taught. It has to be discovered within us. It’s like music. Every student who learns Classical music, has to discover the correct musical notes within him.
Look at the world around. Don’t we see Maths everywhere? Who taught the birds speed, time & distance? Who taught the honey bee to make every cell in a hive in the shape of a hexagon? Who taught the spider to create a web in a particular model? Innumerable are the examples in the case of animals and birds to prove this fact. In case of humans also, it’s not different. Let us take a common example that we have seen many a times. Imagine a fielder on a cricket pitch. When he runs towards the boundary line to catch a ball flying through the air, all he does is keeping his focus on the ball. But unknowingly, he calculates the speed of the wind, the way in which his palms should come together to catch the ball, how fast should he run, what is the shape of the arc that he has to take to catch the ball, at which spot is the ball going to land, etc. How does this happen?
Our brain has an inbuilt capacity to do Mathematical calculations even without our knowledge. Since it is done so fast, we don’t realize such a happening. Maths is in our blood. We just have to bring it out. And this can be done when we get time to think. Children can do a lot better if they are given time to think. This is what our Maths teacher, Sir P.P.Raman, taught us. He used to give us a particular problem in geometry and go out of the class for a break. By the time he comes back to the class, most of us would have got the solution to the problem, and that too not just one but different solutions. This was how he taught some great things in life – Any problem can be solved in different ways. The clue to the solution lies in the problem itself. Keep meditating and the solution will appear.
I tried experimenting this in my classes of Vedic Mathematics for secondary school students. I stopped teaching the usual way. I started writing down problems and the answer without showing how I derived it. Then all I had to do was, challenge the children to find out the method. Within no time, they started finding out the methods, without being taught. The joy that I saw in their eyes was something that cannot be explained. They started feeling as if they have become Scientists or Mathematicians doing their own discoveries. They never forget these methods of calculating because – it is ‘their discovery’. Not just that, after a few days, some children (who were just average in Maths) came up with new methods of doing some particular calculations which I didn’t know.
This was the beginning of a whole set of students crying out as Maths as their favourite subject. How much confidence they must have gained in themselves after deriving such methods? What a change will it bring in their lives? The effort taken was just a shift in the way of teaching.
Let’s try something different. Let’s give them time & opportunity to Think. And the children will come up with better ideas. Let LEARNING happen, the OTHER WAY!