With the growing demand of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) related occupations, the focus on STEM education has jumped significantly in recent years. However, the majority of kids nowadays have little to no interest in STEM subjects. The way they are introduced to STEM subjects in schools is unengaging and unrelated to their lives. They can’t connect the logic between Math formulas and living out their daily activities. Children should really be exposed to STEM in their homes since early age.
One of the most debatable topics these days is whether we should keep teaching high school math or not.
“Where will I use it in my life” is common feedback from the grouchy students. However, studies show that students don't mind practicing math, its testing math where we lose them.
And we lose them badly. In 2016 a Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) unveiled the results of an international math quiz that showed U.S. high school students lag behind their global peers in math, ranking 40th in math out of 72 countries last year. The U.S. score was down 17 points from 2009 and 20 points below the average of others taking the quiz, which saw Singapore come out on top, followed by Japan, Estonia, Finland, and Canada.
As a result of this failure, many in and out of the school system advocate to “lower the bar”, drop Pre-Calc, Algebra II or even Algebra I from the curriculum (and standardized testing) and help students overcome the “math anxiety” by bypassing the subject altogether.
Astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson is a well-known TV personality whose education and experience in physics has qualified him to make pronouncements of great weight in the area of --as you might guess--astrophysics. While his background in economics may be somewhat obscure, one thing he said recently at a press conference held at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan can be taken to the bank! “Everything we know about science and technology” he said, “tells us that they are the engines of the future economies. They are the seeds of tomorrow’s growth of wealth. I’m not going to twist your arm to get you to like science, but I don’t have to twist your arm to make you like money. If you don’t want to die poor you should invest in STEM.”
A 2012 study of adults in 20 countries found that Americans ranked near the bottom in numeracy. Numeracy being defined simply as the ability to work with and understand numbers. What’s worse is that other studies showed that even the most educated among us displayed a deplorable inability to work with numbers: almost twenty percent of medical prescription showed math mistakes on the part of doctors and pharmacists. How can this be?
Why Do Americans Stink At Math is the title of an article written by Elizabeth Green for the New York Times Magazine on Sunday, July 23, 2014. The thesis is that the deplorable state of math education in the USA is the result of poor carry through on the part of our most highly placed educators. In spite of attempts to change the teaching of math by engaging students in actually studying math rather than memorizing it, the change is not happening. As evidence of this failure Ms Green relates the story of a Japanese educator who used math-teaching theory and methods developed in the USA to improve Japanese schools by engaging students but found these same theories and methods either ignored or misunderstood and misused in American schools. That Japanese educator thinks “Americans might have invented the world’s best methods for teaching math to children, but it was difficult to find anyone actually using them.” Again, why?
According to the article, American educators in the most important and influential teaching colleges don’t actually spend a whole lot of time teaching; they are into research and publishing. The result is great theory but poorly communicated methodology with the teachers actually teaching students. Common Core Standards provide us with a recent example of this disconnect.
Explains Ms Green, “With the Common Core, teachers are once more being asked to unlearn an old approach and learn an entirely new one, essentially on their own. Training is still weak and infrequent, and principals — who are no more skilled at math than their teachers — remain unprepared to offer support. Magdalene Lampert, a professor of education at the University of Michigan notes “In the hands of unprepared teachers, alternative algorithms are worse than just teaching them standard algorithms.” What results, of course, is confusion leaping from teacher to student to parent. A sequence Ms Green illustrated with this amusing anecdote: 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?”
Textbooks haven’t really made the jump to Common Core either. They have “have received only surface adjustments, despite the shiny Common Core labels that decorate their covers.” On the textbook issue, no less a personage than Phil Daro, a senior member of America’s Choice and one of three principal writers of the math Common Core Standards agrees, “To have a vendor say their product is Common Core is close to meaningless…”
It is not necessary to agree with every point made in this article to agree with the overall conclusion so succinctly implied by the title, that Americans do indeed stink at math. And there is no doubt that teaching methodology must be greatly improved if we in this country are to retain our technological superiority. Engagement, not rote learning must be encouraged. Our goal here at RobotsLAB is to provide teachers with technological aids, our robots and included curricula, that will engage and encourage students to study rather than memorize.
Conveying to kids the idea that math plays an important part in their lives is, as any math teacher can tell you, one of the most difficult things about teaching math. The blackboard, the book and rote memorization were for years the only tools math teachers had; that, and the hope that they were getting it across. As most of us are aware, for the great majority of kids over the years it wasn’t enough.
That math and music are closely related has been known forever. Music symbols (not cymbals) read like strangely designed math symbols -- or maybe the other way around depending on your orientation. A musical piece divides into measures and bars, which are further delineated by beats, and fractions are used to indicate the length of individual notes. What isn’t as well known is the relationship between math and the graphic arts. That math can be beautiful...
Louisiana math teachers are stepping up their efforts to make teaching their discipline special. These are not your father’s math teachers. Nineteen of these new model teachers, five from Lafayette Parish middle school and fourteen others enrolled in UL-Lafayette’s Louisiana Mathematics Masters in the Middle program, a graduate course funded by a $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation, recently took math off the blackboard and out of the classroom to an Olympic-themed summer math camp held at J. Wallace James Elementary School, Scott La.
Lasting ten days and hosting more than 40 gifted students from at-risk Lafayette schools, this is a great example of a university and neighboring elementary schools cooperating in bringing fun -- that’s right, FUN -- the newest paradigm in math instruction, to students. Instead of learning math procedures by rote, these young people had a chance to see how math can be relevant to their lives and, yes, fun!
Parents, are you feeling guilty about inculcating your children with that educational scourge, Math Anxiety? Take heart, it might not be your fault. According to a recent study at Ohio State University, there is a genetic component to the malady. Says lead author Zhe Wang, “We found that math anxiety taps into genetic predispositions in two ways: people’s cognitive performance on math and their tendency toward anxiety..."
Which leaves us wondering, what can be done about math anxiety in teachers and students if math anxiety is genetic? I’m not a teacher and I haven’t been a math student for nearly half a century, but as a parent (Ok, Ok, a grandparent!) I’m relieved that yet another potential, parental guilt trip has been resolved in favor of nature rather than nurture.
After very little deliberation I have decided to forgo the Nobel Prize in Physics and work on the less well-known but better funded Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics announced just last year by Mark Zuckerberg, Yuri Milner and their respective wives. The aim of the prize is to help make mathematics a more appealing career course. It’s discovery certainly did wonders for my view of the subject!
My interest in a Nobel had been waning since 1980 anyway when they debased the Nobel Prize Medal by cutting the gold content from 23 to 18 carat. But what really decided me was learning that the Breakthrough Prize this year was 3 million dollars, 2 1/2 times the Nobel’s measly 1.2 million. This year's five winners will take home a total of...um, let’s see...that’s fifteen million dollars (I obviously need to practice more).
Math teacher Dan Meyer is at it again! No longer content to just insist that teaching math has got to become entertaining if today’s kids are going to compete with kids from around the world, he’s now on record saying math teaching should get out of the textbook and go multimedia, audio, video -- the whole deal.
He’s got a point: kids live in a multimedia environment, maybe they should be learning in one as well. And as he points out, the multimedia learning environment needn't set the school or the teachers budget back by that much: “...this is an amazing time to be a math teacher right now ...because we have the tools to create this high-quality curriculum.... It's ubiquitous and fairly cheap, and the tools to distribute it freely under open licenses has also never been cheaper or more ubiquitous.”