Thursday, July 24, 2014

Math Teachers, Go Back To School

Schools & Education

Math NonSense:
Carefully taught, the assignments can help make math more concrete. Students don’t just memorize
their times tables and addition facts but also understand how arithmetic works and how to apply it to real-life situations. But in practice, most teachers are unprepared and children are baffled, leaving
parents furious. The comedian Louis C.K. parodied his daughters’ homework in an appearance on
“The Late Show With David Letterman”: “It’s like, Bill has three goldfish. He buys two more. How
many dogs live in London?
Photo Credits
: Andrew B. Myers, Randi Brookman Harris, Tim Boelaars.
Source: NYT

In an article  in the New York Times, Elizabeth Green writes that much of the problems stem from teachers' inability to convey math to students in a meaningful and fun way.  Many students find math boring and tedious. This means that teachers need to return to school so as to learn how to teach math; one area that needs to change is to allow more discussion in classrooms among students, and to allow them to discover ways to solve the math problems on their own; this translates to less rote learning- It also means that teachers have to give up their authoritarian ways.

Green writes:
When Akihiko Takahashi was a junior in college in 1978, he was like most of the other students at his university in suburban Tokyo. He had a vague sense of wanting to accomplish something but no clue what that something should be. But that spring he met a man who would become his mentor, and this relationship set the course of his entire career.

Takeshi Matsuyama was an elementary-school teacher, but like a small number of instructors in Japan, he taught not just young children but also college students who wanted to become teachers. At the university-affiliated elementary school where Matsuyama taught, he turned his classroom into a kind of laboratory, concocting and trying out new teaching ideas. When Takahashi met him, Matsuyama was in the middle of his boldest experiment yet — revolutionizing the way students learned math by radically changing the way teachers taught it.

Instead of having students memorize and then practice endless lists of equations — which Takahashi remembered from his own days in school — Matsuyama taught his college students to encourage passionate discussions among children so they would come to uncover math’s procedures, properties and proofs for themselves. One day, for example, the young students would derive the formula for finding the area of a rectangle; the next, they would use what they learned to do the same for parallelograms. Taught this new way, math itself seemed transformed. It was not dull misery but challenging, stimulating and even fun.
Speaking as a parent of a student entering the seventh grade, I have witnessed the uneven abilities of my son's math teachers here in Canada. My son says he "hates math,' and "finds it boring." I am not surprised he finds it boring; I would also find it boring. It is taught precisely the way this article says it should not be—as a series of unconnected and unrelated problems; some do not make any sense and are nonsense.

Small wonder, then, that I often have trouble understanding the problems assigned to him, and I say this as someone who always enjoyed math and who has successfully taken university-level math courses in my engineering studies. It is always easier to blame the students, but as this article points out, the problem is more with the teachers who are ill-taught themselves and who are following a poorly designed and restrictive curriculum. Time for the teachers to return to school.

For more, go to [NYT}

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