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One of the advantages of being a globalteacher columnist, is that you can occasionally vent pet peeves!  So here is one of mine, blogged and ready for comments by other teachers:

Suppose you wrote this sentence on the board: “The big black dog ran over the road and and caught the yellow ball.”  Next, you ask the students to copy this sentence down, and as you roam around the classroom, you notice the kids are writing some funny things in their books, ranging from: “The dog road the ball,”   to “dog caught ball” , “black ball”, “dog ball”, “black yellow” or even just “the the”.  Of course, none of the sentences the kids wrote, makes any sense.  As a teacher, would you be telling the kids to stop taking shortcuts and write down the full sentence so as to convey the true meaning of the sentence?  I would imagine so. 

But what happens in Mathematics?  Do we expect the same “full sentences” from the kids?  And if we don’t, what impact does it have on the understanding of the Mathematical concepts?  Here is an example:  The teacher put the following example of Pythagoras’ Theory, on the board: p1000293

In following “all the same steps” (as per instruction from the teacher), see below what the student wrote in his book.  Please note that the student did not write ‘full sentences’, as he wrote that ‘eighty five is equal to nine point two’, which is not true.  He also did not put the full steps in to ‘find the perimeter’, which means that if he made a simple calculation mistake in finding the perimeter by adding the three values, he would loose all the marks for this question: p1000295

My question is: Why do teachers allow students to get away with not writing ‘full sentences’ in Mathematics?  Referring back to the example of “The big black dog….” given at the start of this post, it is clear that, if we don’t write the full sentence, it makes a huge difference in the meaning.  Mathematics is a language, like English.  It conveys meaning.  Students are being made aware of the implications of not writing full sentences in English…and the same should apply to Mathematics.