Gabeba Agherdien

Gabeba Agherdien

Gabeba will be our teacher, the one who will open our eyes and minds to see the beauty of Mathematics  and show us in numerous ways how to help our children to understand Mathematics better.
In Gadeba’s own words  (an extract form her Masters of Education (Specializing in Mathematical Education)  thesis:
 ” School life was great – except for mathematics! I had good friends, and was an average pupil who always passed everything relatively well – except mathematics. I had great
  teachers who eventually became my friends except my mathematics teacher. Even years after matriculation when that very same teacher attended one of my presentations, I was still filled with trepidation. I had friends who tried to make me understand theorems, showed me easy ways of remembering formulas, but very little seemed to stick. The mathematics teacher emphasised rote learning, concentrated on making sure that his top students obtained first class passes, and neglected the rest of the class. Geometry tests mostly involved proving one or two theorems. Learners then would either get zero, fifty (if they got one of out two right) or hundred percent. Early in the year the teacher ‘ordered’ (not advised) me to switch from higher to standard grade, even though I had achieved adequate marks in my previous years on the higher grade. I duly complied, and passed relatively well. I often considered dropping the subject and taking an ‘easier’ subject, but all and sundry advised me against it. The good, mostly mathematics~free years of my life were spent at the University of the Western Cape, where I qualified in Physical Education and Arabic. I can now look back on my experiences as a learner. I felt that I had been recognised by my teachers as a centre of
  consciousness who created her own learning from the curriculum on offer and who could take responsibility for her own teaching and learning, and the learning of her learners. Teaching Physical Education was uncomplicated, despite being subjected to vigorous scrutiny, but this was mostly fun to all involved. Even the mathematics involved in biokinetics could be related to my subject, made sense in the real world and could be applied practically. The methodologies used in Physical Education were useful for my teaching. The standard theoretical methodologies were easily and essentially linked to practical applications. This was not the case with some of the auxiliary subjects I studied, such as Shakespeare in English literature courses, which until this day has no practical (note, I did not say aesthetic) value for me. I remember working hard at memorising for exams in the other courses I had taken through the years, which were reminiscent of my schooling. Due to my bad experiences in mathematics I resisted further formal studies in that subject. Who would benefit from such study and would I ever revisit it in any way? I believed  that  whatever I studied needed to impact on or have an influence on my work otherwise it would not be worth going through all the examination angst.
The Turning Point: 1989 – 1996.
In 1989 while teaching at Eros Cerebral Palsy School, I was required to teach mathematics to the Standard 6, 7 and 8 classes. This unnerved me as I was not qualified as a mathematics teacher nor did I have any pedagogical knowledge of teaching the subject. I was left with no choice – ‘teach maths’ or ‘no post’! Wilson (1994:33) notes that the relationship between teacher and pupil is necessarily asymmetric. The teacher is the ‘authority in his academic subject and the student is ignorant of it.’ My situation was completely different. I was ill equipped, scared, had only a rudimentary knowledge of mathematics, and possessed non-existent resources to teach the subject. However, I also had a class of learners who had the utmost faith in me, so I knew that I could not let them down. I decided to stay and take up the challenge by trying to make the best of a very scary and fearful situation! Through a series of fortuitous circumstances in a search to equip myself to become a mathematics teacher and obliterate my anxieties about mathematics, I decided to study some mathematics content through private tuition. I began to attend in-service courses run by the Mathematics Education Project] (MEP) under the directorship of Associate Professor Chris Breen at University of Cape Town (UCn. My first geometry workshop encounter was presented by Chris Breen and Wendy Colyn in 1989. This was a vastly different experience from that remembered at school, in that I could ‘do’ the mathematics and felt comfortable being squashed ‘like sardines’ in the ‘lecture’ amongst about 300 other teachers. I recall vividly the experience of working with visualization and intuition, as well as talking and working from experience. This was the first of many other workshops and courses that followed which provided me with a very  different experience of geometry in that it did not only focus on theorems and proofs. The geometry that I experienced in these courses was fascinating. My confidence as a mathematics teacher grew tremendously and my attitude especially towards mathematics changed to a realisation aptly described by Adler:
Knowing about teaching and becoming a teacher evolves, and is deeply interwoven in ongoing activity in the practice of teaching. Knowledge about teaching is not acquired in courses about teaching, but in ongoing participation in the teaching community in which such courses may be a part. Adler (1996: 3)
It grew to such an extent that in 1992 I was appointed to run in-service work with MEP. In this way my professional development as a mathematics teacher continued while working full -time at the Mathematics Education Project (MEP) as a field-worker doing in-service work with primary mathematics teachers. During this period, I had the opportunity to consolidate my learning and thinking around geometry. Various academics and colleagues crossed my path in this period and contributed to my learning of geometry in different ways. Chris Breen’s workshop on transformation geometry was an eye opener to me as my school learning had only exposed me to Euclidean geometry. I had understood geometry to consist mainly of memorising theorems. The visit of David Henderson from Cornell University opened up the world of spherical geometry for me, and this was exciting and interesting both in terms of the content as well as teaching style that he demonstrated. Then Dick Tahta from England visited us, and he presented a course on visual geometry with the strong emphasis on verbalising your thinking in such a way that others have access to your thoughts. One activity done by Dick involved the use of a Great Dodecahedron poster, where we had to focus on the poster and simply say aloud what it was that we saw. Eleven years later I still use this activity on my courses. This period of time in MEP saw the emergence of valuable and interesting work done by colleagues around the teaching and learning of geometry.