December 30, 2011

Bètacoach: promising project to improve math education

Recently someone told me about a promising and innovative project (named Bètacoach) by Monique Pijls (photo) a Dutch math teacher and consultant. The project is aimed at improving math education (in The Netherlands, the exact subjects are sometimes called 'bèta subjects') . I find this project interesting because I think improving math education is important and because the project seems to have some solution-focused characteristics.

Improving math (and science) education is important, I think. The Netherlands and other Western countries have well developed societies and economies in which many things are rather well arranged and taken care of.  Thanks to efforts that have been made in the past good societal institutions, a good infrastructure and competitive companies have been built. It is not a given that this prosperity will remain. On the contrary,  keeping our prosperity requires that we'll have to find new answers to questions like: What do we want to build? What do we want to be good at/become good at? How do we want to compete in the international market (taking into account the rapid development of countries like China)? Good education is essential to remain competitive and to keep societies dynamic and thriving. This applies in particular for math and science education. For an explanation, see this video with Neil deGrasse Tyson on the importance of math and science education.

The project Bètacoach seems to me to be a well thought-out and promising way to give improve math and science education in secondary education. Here is a pointwise explanation of the project:
  • What is Bètacoach? In September 2010 a pilot started in which third-graders with low self-confidence in math and science were asked to become coaches of four to five first-graders during math class. Once a week the bètacoaches joined the lesson which was prepared by the teacher, to help their group of first-graders. 
  • Role-reversal education: an important principle which is used in the project is that of role-reversal education. Research has shown that by explaning things, people construct knowledge again which helps anchor this knowlegde better and which makes it easier to connect it to information. 
  • Choosing bètacoaches: the following steps help to choose the bètacoaches: 1) choose students for whom there is room for improvement with respect to their grades and/or their self-confidence, 2) discuss their suitability for the bètacoach role with your colleagues, 3) aks the students for the role and make clear that the role is an important one, 4) express that you expect that the student will be able to fulfill the role well, 5) be demanding: make it clear that the role requires commitment and effort. 
  • Preliminary findings: both the first-graders and the third-graders turn out to be enthusiast about the project. First-graders said the could concentrate better, felt more comfortable to ask questions and understood the material better. The bètacoaches themselves, the third-graders, said they learned from the experience and that they had become more active. 
For more information, here is a video of the project: Math Boost

What do think of this project? Do you like it? Do you see the link with the solution-focused approach?


  1. Wonderful post. For me there's a clear SF link. One of the things I've seen happen in the area of mentoring is executives seeking reverse mentoring from younger managers. In theory, the older mentor wants to learn about the use of technology, especially social media. In practice, they also want to learn about generational differences in managing, etc. When I teach a mentoring group - mentors and mentees - I encourage them to use use SF by having both sides ask, 'What pleases you about your work?', 'Where are you making progress?', etc. From this, I believe there is reciprocal and active learning for both parties.

  2. While Bètacoach may help, the real gains will come when we realize that calculation is only a small part of math and that computers can do it. We should stop teaching calculation and instead teach how to conceptually set up problems to the point computers can solve them.

    See Conrad Wolfram on TED:

  3. Thanks Alan and David!

    Alan,I agree it's rather SF. I agree with the reciprocal part. In addition to this the project also works with what is already there. It acknowledges that there is already something there. I especially like the fact that students are used who may not have math as their primary strengths and still it works well. As you know I have been thinking that SF is not primarily about 'using and identifying your strengths' but rather of doing what works and using what is there. I even doubt if the most talented in math are potentially the best math teachers. My experience is that people who are not particularly talented in math may become very good teachers indeed.

    David, Thanks for that video. I will have a look. I agree that new ways of using computers is an important and challenging new task.

    I would suggest not to throughout calculation education too soon. I recently read that practice in calculation is one of the best ways to train students working memory. In addition to this, I think math education is full of wonderfully complex and interesting conceptual learning; excellent training for the mind...

  4. Great! Nicely 'outside the box' for education. This "people who are not particularly talented in math may become very good teachers indeed" shows true in China. Non-pro teachers can do a good job teaching Western ed/math in China. The reciprocal pattern is common in Toastmasters. I see it as completing a learning cycle. In an ESL/any writing class, have another student correct a student's paper, and have them chat about it, then hand it in. The peer teaching-learning is much faster than teacher-led learning.


Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner