Sun, Aug 10, 2008
The New Paper
Aussie maths class taught at race track

BORED of learning about risk and return in mathematics class?

Then step out of it and head straight to the race track for real world exposure.

That's what one teacher in Brisbane, Australia, did, much to the ire of the Australian Family Association, amid concern that he may have introduced the children to the 'vices' of gambling reported the Brisbane Times.

Mount St Michael's College maths teacher Jim Dooley reportedly took his 16- and 17-year-old students to the Doomben race track. There, the teacher gave them an imaginary $50 to spend, claiming that it was a real-world assignment on risk and return.

However, Queensland Education and Training Minister Rob Welford backed the teacher's initiative, pledging his support for using real world examples to help teach students, said his spokesman.

'Teaching chance and probability to students shows them how much the odds are stacked against them when it comes to gambling.'

The move was also backed by the principal of the school, Ms Terrey, stressing that the students did not gamble at the race track.

Ms Terrey added parents gave their permission for the children to go on the excursion and the feedback from them was 'very positive'.

Premier Anna Bligh also said the school had acted responsibly in teaching its students that gambling rarely paid off.

But the Australian Family Association's Queensland president, Mr Mark Holzworth, said the exercise served only to introduce the children to the 'vices' of gambling.

'I do understand that it's important for teachers to be creative and engaging with kids, certainly with topics that can be potentially dry such as mathematics.

'I'm sure the teacher prevailed upon them to understand the financial metrics of the exercise, but I don't think that the kids would have really drawn from that...'

But maths teachers argued the exercise would have the opposite effect by illuminating the futility of gambling.

Mr Steve Thornton, a lecturer in maths education at the University of Canberra and a former president of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers, did not agree that the exercise encouraged children to gamble.

'Students see that by looking at the mathematics of gambling that ... you usually don't get your money back, you end up losing.'

He added that teachers have often used unorthodox examples to help students learn about maths. Examples included using maths to predict the outcome of Olympics events, and a game based on the stockmarket, an exercise that Mr Holzworth once supported.

This article was first published in The New Paper on Aug 8, 2008.


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