Thursday, June 17, 2010

Math - optional or necessary?

A little over three years ago Janine and I were talking with a couple. It turned out the wife was an elementary school teacher. I asked which grade she taught. She said something about teaching the lower grades because fifth grade math was too hard.

Janine has a friend who is a kindergarten teacher. During a conversation it came up that she liked kindergarten, because the second grade math was too hard for her.

Even now, years later, I still find both of these events mind boggling. I can understand struggling with calculus or even some aspects of algebra. I don't understand how two digit multiplication could be a problem.

My oldest daughter doesn't like math. She has to work hard to master the concepts. She's asked a few times this year about why she has to study algebra. Some of my main reasons are:

1) Helps to develop logic skills
2) Helps provide a better prepective of the world, a deeper understanding
3) Helps to develop discipline

Not everyone needs to master calculus. But I think everyone should be able to do at least handle addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and some simple algebra.

Issues with teachers not being able to handle basic math may have some root causes in teacher schools. A recent article reports that U.S. Teachers Not Well Prepared to Teach Mathematics:

In a seminal study of international teacher preparation released today, researchers found a striking parallel between future U.S. teachers’ knowledge of mathematics content and the performance of the students they teach.
Led by education and mathematics experts at Michigan State University (MSU), the Teacher Education Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M) is an international examination of how math teachers at both elementary and middle school levels are trained.

The article continues later with:

The study reveals that middle school mathematics teacher preparation is not up to the task. U.S. future teachers find themselves straddling the divide between the successful and the unsuccessful, leaving the U.S. with a national choice of which way to go.
The findings of TEDS-M additionally revealed that the preparation of elementary teachers to teach mathematics was comparatively somewhat better as the U.S. found itself in the middle of the international distribution, along with other countries such as the Russian Federation, Germany and Norway, but behind Switzerland, Taiwan and Singapore.
“Our future teachers are getting weak training mathematically and are not prepared to teach the demanding curriculum needed for U.S. students to compete internationally,” said William Schmidt, Ph.D., MSU Distinguished Professor of Education and Statistics, who directed the Study.


It is no wonder that many students are graduating from public high schools without the basic skills needed to survive in our high tech world. Too many teachers can't teach them.

(Hat tip: Homeschool Math Blog)

Technorati tags: children, education, government schools, children, public school, public education


Professor Homunculus said...

Yes, sad, isn't it? I wouldn't blame it on the teachers, though. The way they were taught would probably beat the curiosity out of the best of us.

You are so right about math helping to instill logical thought in people. Unfortunately, what we have in school is not math, it's math ed.

What a difference. One fosters logic and curiosity, the other kills those things by beating us over the head with standardized tests. Math ed, as practiced in most schools (and as taught in most math ed departments of colleges) is about punishing children for not jumping through the right hoops.

Math needs to be freed of "curriculums" and fostered by good books, inspired teachers, meaningful games (like KenKen, Nimm, dominoes, etc.) and not pandering tripe like "Learn multiplication with Barney," or songs, rhymes and other things that are strictly for babies. You can memorize with songs and games, but you can't learn about what you are mindlessly repeating.

You have a great blog. I'm sure to visit again. You perform a good service to your readers. Thanks.

Crimson Wife said...

I was shocked when my MIL, who is a retired 3rd grade teacher, had difficulty helping my 7 y.o. with the math in her 3rd grade Singapore book. And it wasn't that she was unfamiliar with the Singapore approach- she was having trouble with the actual arithmetic part.

Granted Singapore does run about a grade ahead so it was stuff typically covered in 4th grade. But still, it really wasn't all that hard. I came away thinking, "How can somebody become a teacher if she can't do 4th grade math?"

VinceRN said...

We're a new home school family, just getting started. You've shown one of the primary reasons we've decided to go this route. Not only is math not optional, math is the most important part of education, it helps shape the brain, helps form an understanding of logic and is a necessary foundation to everything else in life.

I wouldn't expect everyone, or even my kids, to master calculus, but without some understanding of algebra and geometry it's hard function as an adult. Everything we do, building, cooking, investing, budgeting, traveling, everything involves math and is easier and more enjoyable with an understanding of basic math.

Thanks' for pointing out that study, an interesting read.