The success of our children in their mathematics studies is not always satisfactory. It is also widely known that many obstacles prevent the recruitment of new students into mathematics courses and hinder them in getting started with their studies. (An international survey group is looking at this situation and will report at the next International Congress on Mathematical Education (ICME) to be held this year in Mexico.)

Encouraging results have been obtained with two initiatives implemented in Helsinki, and more or less similar results have also been obtained in, for instance, Oulu. Outside Finland, many others are also working on this problem.

Maths Clubs in Elementary School
In Helsinki in recent years, mathematics university students have organized mathematics clubs in elementary schools. The students work with the children on problems that are not (at least directly) connected to the schools' maths curriculum. The problems give the children experiences of success and introduce mathematical ideas in a concrete way. In these clubs mathematics is a collaborative subject.

Helping Students Get Started
We have recently introduced new ways of teaching certain first-year courses - without, of course, changing their mathematical content.

The students are encouraged to take an active role during lectures; for instance, they can make a choice between a theorem and an example, or specify what kind of an example they would like. The lectures concentrate on the principal (and most difficult) ideas and on revealing the way of thinking that lies behind the polished arguments of the course material.

Traditionally the students take many small exams. If an exam is allowed to act as a threshold that drops away a certain portion of students, then a series of thresholds will cut away an essential number of students. To change this, the students are encouraged to complement their exams with various forms of extra work.

In addition, new modes of peer support have been introduced. First-year students are divided into groups that are guided by second- and third-year students. The purpose of these groups is to help the beginners to become acquainted with one another and with the department, and to widen their views on studying and learning

Please contact:
Juha Oikkonen
University of Helsinki

Next issue: October 2024
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