The 'Ryans'

numeracy leaders teachers Oct 05, 2023

On the holidays I took my 3 girls to see the ‘Barbie’ movie. To be honest, I was not really looking forward to seeing the movie, as I am still angry at Mattel for producing a Teen Talk Barbie in 1992 which said the phrase “Math class in tough” (see here for more information). However, the girls were very keen, so I decided to attend with an open mind!

I must say I was VERY surprised… the movie had a great script, was witty, funny and actually addressed some really important, deep messages that Miss 14 and Miss 11 definitely picked up on (almost sure Miss 7 didn’t notice any of these!). I would actually like to watch it again as I am sure I missed some of the super clever one-liners.

After the movie I went home and reported to my husband that Barbie: “made me think deeply, and Margot Robbie and Ryan Reynolds were great!”.

My husband started to laugh- I thought he was amused by the irony of a Barbie movie making me think deeply… but it turns out he was laughing because I had confused Ryan Reynolds (who was not in the Barbie movie) with another famous Ryan- Ryan Gosling (who played Ken in the Barbie movie).

The truth is I have a really hard time with the two ‘Ryans’- Reynolds and Gosling.

I get them mixed up all the time!

In my brain they are interchangeable- they are both blondish, good looking, charismatic, funny, Hollywood actors and so my brain files them in the same location. I put this ‘glitch’ down to the fact that when I first watched ‘The Notebook’ with Ryan…Gosling (yes I had to Google this!)… my sister incorrectly called him ‘Ryan Reynolds’!

Now, every time I go to retrieve the name of either Ryan, I cannot for the life of me work out which one is which.

Am I alone here??

This brings me to our maths classroom.

There are many things in maths that our students (and us) categorize and file together in the brain because they are similar. However, if we are a little fuzzy on the difference between the ideas/concepts it can be difficult to distinguish between them.

Some examples that come to mind are:

x/y axis- when working on Cartesian planes, students may be confused about which axis is x and which is y (FYI x is the horizontal axis)

Rhombus/ Parallelogram- Students confuse the labels of parallelogram and rhombus (FYI a rhombus has 4 equal, parallel sides, a parallelogram has 2 pairs of sides that are opposite and parallel, so a rhombus is actually a parallelogram, just like a square is a rectangle).

Before/After- Students often recall that before/after mean one less and one more, but they can’t remember which is which. (FYI ‘before’ is one less, I use the prompt ‘B’ in before, to help the students remember we count backwards).

a.m/p.m- students usually remember a.m is morning and p.m is night, but what about midnight- is it a.m. or p.m.? (FYI a.m stands for ante meridiem, it is the time from immediately after midnight until immediately before midday, so midnight is actaully12 a.m. and noon is 12p.m.)

Multiple/factor- students are often confused by these terms, their meaning and when to accurately use them in context. (FYI a factor is any whole number that can be divided with no remainder into another number, while a multiple of a number is any number into which it will divide exactly. For example, 6 is a factor of 36, 6 is also a multiple of 2 because 2 will divide exactly into 6)

Sometimes, as experts, we have what is known as the ‘curse of knowledge’. This occurs when we assume that everyone understands and has the same background knowledge as we do. The reality is, in our classroom many of our students are novice learners, so they are coming across many challenging concepts, ideas and terms for the first time.

When we are introducing new terms to students it is very important that we ensure the explanation is clear, accurate and concise.

It is much more difficult for the brain to ‘unlearn’ something rather than learn it- as I know all too well with my Ryan Reynolds and Gosling confusion!

So this week, rather than asking students to share what they know about a new word or idea (which may bring forward incorrect or imprecise responses), make sure you are the one who introduces the word/concept. Before the lesson, take a few extra minutes to think (and maybe talk with a colleague) about how you can best explain the idea. For example, is it better to introduce just ‘rhombus’ then ‘parallelogram’ in a later lesson, or introduce them together? The more thoughtful we can be in our teaching, the more we can refine our craft.

Meanwhile I am off to watch ‘The Gray Man’ which Google has told me includes both Ryan Gosling and Ryan Reynolds, so I can work on my discrimination between the two!

Have a great week!

Ange 🎲🎓

 Camerer, Loewenstein & Weber (1989). "The Curse of Knowledge in Economic Settings: An Experimental Analysis" . Journal of Political Economy. 97 (5): 1232–1254.


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