Math Class Needs a Make Over

Dan Meyer  is a math curriculum writer in the United States.  If you click on the link it will take you to his twitter page. I encourage you to take a quick look through the photos that he posts. It gives great insight into who he is as an educator, how he teaches math, and how he is hoping to change the way math is taught.

I believe that our “Math Makes Sense Curriculum” (which is still fairly new) is intended to do the things that Meyer talks about in this TED video. Our curriculum is supposed to enhance reasoning skills, take the kids away from the formulas and get them to think through problems. This will also help their retention in math from one year to another. From Meyer’s observations, he lists the things that he finds is hardest about teaching math.

Lack of Infinitive

Lack of Perseverance

Lack of Retention

Aversion to Word Problem

Eagerness for Formulas

From my small experience in teaching math, I would have to agree that these things are the real issues. Where I was teaching there was a disconnect between the way the curriculum was intended to be taught and the way that it was actually being taught. I found that students were not being required to have to think through, ask questions and develop a solution to a problem, because there was simply no time to do so. There was two options, the first is having students work through a problem, maybe applying a hands on activity where they could ask questions, come up with steps to solve, come up with answers and discuss answers. With this type of structure it would take a whole class period to get through one problem, and my experience is that to get through the curriculum, you need to be addressing a new section every day. The second option, was to get through the curriculum by doing example problems, having students practice as many questions as they could, and helping students along when they didn’t’ know the answers. So two strings are pulling at me, I want to see them actually DO and understand math, but I am hired by the government to teach the whole curriculum.

When it came to chemistry, I had students, in grade 12 who couldn’t isolate x in a simple algebra problem (multiplying/dividing, adding/subtracting only). They would look at the problem like it was completely foreign, but I know that in math they have been working on that skill since grade 8. My cooperating teacher thought that it is probably because they do not get enough drill and practice, which could be true, but I also know that their reasoning skills do not get enough practice either.

So what do we do? Do we have to compromise on covering the content to spend time working on reasoning skills? Or is there a way that both can be done? In my 6 weeks teaching math, I am sad to say that I did nothing hands on (which is the opposite of how I taught sciences) because I felt that I really didn’t have the time. What do you do in your classroom to beat the monster that is time while developing understanding skills?

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