Formula for success

Formula for success

No problem as students and teachers at La Salle work together in maths

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TV4 filming a maths class in progress
TV4 filming a maths class in progress
Photo: La Salle College

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Students discussing maths problem during lunch break
Students discussing maths problem during lunch break
Photo: La Salle College

Hong Kong's strong reputation in mathematics got another boost in recent years after students from La Salle College won medals at the Chinese Mathematical Olympiad and the International Mathematical Olympiad.

The school's maths department got a visit from special Swedish guests earlier this month. A crew from TV4, one of Sweden's leading television channels, visited La Salle to interview teachers and students, in a bid to find out why Hong Kong students are so good at maths.

They ranked third in mathematical literacy, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment 2012. Sweden, meanwhile, ranked 39th.

Sara Recabarren, a reporter for TV4, said students in Sweden don't have as much homework or pressure from their parents as Hong Kong students. But whether that's "bad or good", she isn't sure. She just knows it's a different culture.

"Everybody here is so conscious about the importance of studying and the importance of mathematics … it's something in everybody's DNA here," says Recabarren.

She also finds it interesting that Hong Kong teachers work more closely with their students than in Sweden, where students rely more on their textbooks.

Education reforms in Sweden in the 1990s focused on students working more individually in class. It was suggested that students take more responsibility for their own learning, without depending too much on their teachers which could harm their independent thinking.

John Mak, a maths teacher from La Salle College, disagrees with that method. He says a successful maths lesson should motivate students to use what they have learned to solve new problems. Each student can have his or her own method, and they can discuss the solutions with teachers and other students.

"I told my students from the first day, this is a mini family," says Mak. "We have to work together to construct knowledge."

La Salle offers many maths-related activities and projects. For example, there is a support class for students who are underperforming in the subject. It takes place after school, where students can work on more maths exercises with guidance from teachers.

There's also the Maths Society and Maths Team for students who have more confidence in their maths skills.

Maths Society is a student-run club and welcomes all, with teachers as advisers. Club chairman Damian Tang Dik-man, a Form Five student, says the society hopes to ignite students' interest with maths workshops and other kinds of fun activities. The Maths Team, meanwhile, features a selection process and is made up of students who excel at the subject. Team members receive in-depth training and represent the school in competitions.

Each student has his or her own learning method. Some believe that practice makes perfect.

Form Four student Nicholas Lui Cheng-heng, for example, says solving more problems will lead to better results.

Others, such as Form Four student Richard Tam, likes to improve by asking questions.

Gabriel Wong Chun-hei, a Form Four student who's a member of the Maths Team and the Maths Society, says: "If you want to practise solving different types of problems, you can take a problem you have, change it a bit, and then ask yourself, 'How would I solve it now?'."

La Salle's maths panel head, Luk Mee-lin, says teaching methods in Hong Kong ultimately revolve around exams because of the strong competition for university places.

But maths is not only about solving problems. It's also about logical, analytical and presentation training, important skills for the future studies and careers of students, Luk says.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Formula for success

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