This year I am teaching Year 10 Maths, the general kind, for those students going into the 'lower' level maths at Year 11, in our system this is called General Maths and then in Year 12 students can continue with their Mathematical studies by doing a subject called Further Maths. This is still a subject in which students can achieve quite highly and it is generally not looked upon as "veggie maths" or "dumb maths".
In this Year 10 class I have a student who wants to become a lawyer, now this is a great goal to have, however this student it also blind. Which in itself is not a problem for me, I have been teaching him pretty much each year since he started at our school, so my teaching practice has changed over the time to be less note on board like. Again not a problem.
Our VCE General/Further Maths course may include the topic of Geometry and Trigonometry and I am currently trying to teach this to this student. Things like area, total surface area and volume of both simple and composite shapes. Now I know that he is very likely to need a good understanding of this topic to score highly in his year 12 studies, but he is struggling to 'get' the more advanced composite shape things because of course he cannot 'see' the shapes. He has the shapes 'drawn' for him in a way that allows him to see them but he cannot decode those diagrams and break the composite shapes down into their parts so that he can work out the volume or total surface area.
So one of my issues is this, he is never going to need to do this in real life, as a lawyer, the only thing he needs this for is to 'pass the test' and get started on the journey to becoming said lawyer. So why bother teaching a concept that he is struggling to comprehend and that he is never going to use 'in real life'.
This was a discussion I had with his aide at school just yesterday, and this is where I think my 3D printer is going to help, at least somewhat. I have, using 123D Design, designed all the parts of the questions we have covered about composite shapes in the last few days and am currently printing them off on my printer. It took about 10-15 minutes to get the shapes designed (now that I know a bit about the program) and it is going to take approximately 30 minutes to print them off and about 14g of plastic, for a total material cost of about $1.40.
Now this is great for getting the concept home for this student about these questions, but he is not going to have this 'help' with the shapes he sees for his final exams at the end of Year 12. So am I doing him a service or disservice? I honestly do not know, now I do know that what I am doing is going to help him get the concept for these particular shapes, and is definitely going to clarify for him the discussions we have had and the explanations I have given him, so he is not going to be any worse off for me doing this and only time will tell if it helps him in the long term.
But my real question at the moment is, how much of the teaching we do is aimed at 'passing the test' and how much of what I do is aimed at real life useful 'stuff'? I have a syllabus and a course to get through designed by someone who got paid to make it and who decided (I have no idea how) that these topics are relevant and needed by people to be functioning members of society. So what do I do, continue teaching to the test, or try to teach students how to think? I know what I would prefer, but how do I go about it?
How can I effectively say I don't care if you learn this, what I care about is if you can learn this and how do I assess and report on it? But most importantly right now, how can I help this particular student now so that he can more easily achieve what he wants in the future? Your thoughts, feedback and comments would be greatly appreciated, as would sharing this post with other educators so that I can get a broader opinion on this issue. Thanks.