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A cultural change

Five years ago, the Doutor Hugo Ribeiro de Almeida Municipal School, in the city of Osasco, which at the time was run by the state, had poor results in mathematics and Portuguese, according to the official tests. The directors, concerned, asked for help from the Center for the Perfecting of the Teaching of Mathematics (Caem) of IME-USP, which drew up a project for qualifying teachers from the first to fourth grades, and received support from FAPESP to do so. Through the project, some 30 teachers a year have received a grant, between 1996 and 2000. The results came last year: in the exam carried out by the municipal authorities, the pupils achieved the best performance in mathematics of any in the network – which brought about the intention to do the same with Portuguese.

Before this recycling, the vision of the teaching of mathematics was a narrow one, according to teacher Maria Ignez de Souza Vieira Diniz, the coordinator of the project. “The teachers would only teach repetitive calculations, sums. They didn't know how to explain the reasons for those calculations “, she says. Furthermore, with the shortcomings in their training, they would resist any changes. “They thought that mathematics is rules, that it really is difficult.” Little by little, more interesting ways arose for addressing the same subject matters. “The teachers thought that geometry was just giving names to shapes – paint the circle yellow and the triangle red.

We bought colored materials, flat and three-dimensional, and games and puzzles. All this opened up a new world to the students.” Children's books aimed at the teaching of mathematics, with illustrations and interesting stories helped them to discover this new world – not just of mathematics, but also of learning in general. “Some pupils showed a spectacular gift for drawing”, was an example given by Maria Ignez. After observing this development, the teachers became more confident. “They saw they are capable of learning and of teaching”.