You were probably taught to hate math – Technique

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The root cause of all the academic anxiety I’ve ever had can probably be traced to my failure on a long division quiz in third grade.

It’s a pattern I’ve experimented with too many times to count – realizing I had no idea how to figure out the coordinates of the unit circle on a pop quiz, panicking while doing partial derivatives on an exam Calculation. The decor changes, but the feeling remains the same.

It’s a feeling I know I’m not the only one feeling. Very few people enjoy doing math, especially for those of us who learned math in the American education system. It is one of the most hated and stressful subjects in school.

With Tech’s goal as a STEM school, it’s a shame that so many students here have had such a bad experience in one or more of their math classes.

Understanding and being able to use mathematical skills – beyond just memorizing formulas, but also problem solving and modeling the world around you using numbers – is one of the elements building blocks of engineering and other STEM-related fields.

But the problems start much earlier than when students first set foot on campus. Beginning in elementary and middle school, the US math curriculum prepares students for failure. This failure is particularly noticeable when compared to the math skills of students in other countries.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a test measuring the performance of 15-year-old students in math, reading and science in 79 countries and education systems around the world. In 2018, the U.S. mathematics performance was below the international average, ranked 36th out of 79, while it ranked 13th and 18th in reading and science, respectively.

These disparities in math education follow students through college. According to a report by Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit for Workforce and Education, 60% of community college students enter college without the necessary math skills and must take a remedial course before they graduate. be able to take college-level courses.

The current education system is lacking for students. For starters, no one can agree on how to teach math. The math curriculum for decades has focused on formulas, definitions, and repetitive practice problems.

Attempts to innovate from this style of teaching, such as the Core Curriculum Standards, have failed to effectively rethink this curriculum.

Common Core, a set of standards created in 2009 and 2010, has become a controversial attempt to improve America’s education system and find a way to unify standards across the country.

It tries to explain the “why” of math to students, for example by showing them how multiplication works conceptually.

However, it has been criticized for overcomplicating the math by requiring multiple problem-solving techniques for what could be a simple calculation.

Although I think Common Core’s intentions were in the right place, it often fails in its implementation.

Many teachers have not received sufficient training on how to teach the new standards. Poorly written and dense textbooks with too much information that teachers can cover in a limited time do little to help students.

Standardized tests in the United States encourage inflexible approaches to teaching mathematics. The information taught in these classes has little practical application, and students already have little interest in learning it.

Understanding the conceptual basis is important, but an elementary school student probably doesn’t care to learn the complicated explanation.

However, higher-level math courses, like those taught in college and beyond, might be the perfect opportunity to move away from this memorization-based teaching and finally give more theoretical knowledge about why math works the way it does.

Once you know how to do arithmetic and algebra, you have many opportunities to use these basics to discover more.

Not only that, everyone understands math in a different way, so there should be more room to customize the way the content is explained.

Surprising as it may sound, mathematics can be a flexible and creative subject.

In many high schools, students take Algebra I in Grade 9, Geometry in Grade 10, and Algebra II in Grade 11. One of the most prominent scholars advocating for reform in the way mathematics is taught in schools is Jo Boaler, professor of mathematics education at Stanford who calls this course sequence the “geometry sandwich.”

This so-called “geometry sandwich” in high school doesn’t leave much time for lessons on topics like probability, statistics, computer programming, and data analysis.

All of these skills could be incorporated into math lessons and create a more interesting classroom with practical applications.

Other countries, such as Estonia, have incorporated it into their mathematics lessons with great success. In Estonia since 2012, students learn computer programming and related subjects like logic from primary school. Estonia, it is not a coincidence, scored much higher than the United States in the last PISA.

Economist Steven Levitt, author of “Freakonomics,” is a proponent of increasing “data literacy” and reducing the time spent on algebra and geometry, especially by reducing them to only one class. This gives more time to learn how to analyze, visualize and present the data.

Another point of contention is how math performance in elementary or middle school is used to separate students into different math streams. In sixth grade, my classmates and I were divided into two levels of math lessons based on our standardized test scores.

In ninth grade it became four possible paths, until in my last year of high school it seemed like all of my classmates graduated with very different understandings of math.

Proponents of these “gifted” math programs point out that it gives students who quickly learn math concepts more engagement and opportunities for success.

However, these programs exacerbate existing racial and socio-economic disparities in access to quality mathematics education. Students who attend underfunded schools do not have access to the same resources as those to which wealthier schools have access.

The pandemic has made matters worse and teachers have classified math as the subject in which they are most worried about students falling behind.

Going back to the long-term quiz that I failed in third grade, and maybe the math quiz that you failed at some point, there are neurological reasons why our brains decided to stop working. in a fit of panic.

To solve math problems, we use our working memory, but in times of stress it can be impaired.

A timed test creates a feeling of pressure, which makes it harder for students to concentrate, which perpetuates math anxiety.

Separating students into different math classes based on test scores gives the impression that some people are naturally good at math, while others are not, and this mindset can prevent students from succeeding and to appreciate mathematics.

One of my favorite things about majoring in Industrial Engineering is that I see the uses of things I learned in math classes years ago, and it all finally kicks in.

It wasn’t until several years after learning to integrate that I realized how integrals could be applied to the world around me.

I like to understand the evidence I’m shown – not just to understand why a certain formula works – but to understand why it is important and how these problem-solving models can be reused.

As hard to believe, mathematics can be truly beautiful, and there is clearly a need to rethink the teaching of mathematics.

Decreasing the emphasis on memorization is a start, and thinking about ways to effectively teach problem-solving skills and the “why” of math should be a priority.

Eventually, we could all learn to love math.


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