Well, of course it’s not the problem, just one of many, but here it goes…
Somehow along the way, people got the feeling that math is supposed to always be right, and that math teachers are supposed to know all the answers.
Math has gotten the reputation of being an authoritarian science. I don’t think this is the fault of mathematicians, I think it is the fault of many math educators who have tried to turn mathematics from an art and science into a “subject.”
Math education is all too often about “standards” and “curricula” that students take “tests” about that they are “graded” on.
If Archimedes was to take a high-school math test today, he would be unfamiliar with the jargon, and would find little value in the trite little multiple-choice and partial credit nonsense that passes for assessment.
On the other hand, he could run rings around the math teachers with his knowledge of actual mathematics, and could twist their pedagogical dogma into moebius bands.
Trying to shove math into the education industry’s rubric is one of the worst educational crimes I can think of. School math seldom has anything to do with actual math, except for the very rare cases where an inspired person is doing the teaching. And when that happens, that person is invariably in trouble with the administration.
How do you know if your school is doing a really good job?
Easy - your school definitely is not doing a really good job. Even if the school representatives like to trot out some meaningless statistics saying how well their students score on this or that test.
The tests show nothing whatsoever about the essence of math. They are created by the same industry flunkies who sell the schools the textbooks and other curriculum material. It is the foxes guarding the henhouses.
Show me a school that can compete against the Russians and Chinese, and you might have a case. But you can’t .
The Germans have a great quote, which you will find yourself quoting frequently if you understand it. It’s - “Never trust any statistics that you haven’t falsified yourself.”
In other words, the education industry can manipulate their statistics to seem to “prove” anything it wants.
If you truly understand mathematics, you can understand why those statistics are worthless.
So what does matter in math education?
Here’s one thing that matters - Realize that education is not inculcation. It’s not about getting children to jump through hoops that somebody in the state capital thinks are important this week. It’s more about turning the mind on to enjoying and investigating a subject, and fostering a thirst for learning.
A Chinese acquaintance of mine said, “Curiosity is the best teacher.” I love that quote.
If you can get a child to be curious about a subject, all you then have to do is point him or her to the library where they can find out more about the subject, and they will learn more than all the textbooks in school closets have to offer.
They will also get more diverse input than from a “curriculum.” Curriculums, as far as I can see, are designed as much to limit knowledge as to teach. Maybe more.
School gives children the false sense that math is carved in stone, and all the answers are there, you just have to know the formulae. It teaches them how to answer questions that someone else has posed. It doesn’t teach them how to ask questions.
Math is about asking questions - asking how can you make and understand patterns of the things in your world. When was the last time you ever even heard about a teacher mentioning that in a classroom?
I’ll admit, it occasionally happens, but that is in spite of curricula, not because of them.
Curiosity ? ? (Len Cooper)
It is suggested that there are two events that increase the activity of the
synapses in the brain.
One is: Fear - Fight or flight
The other: Curiosity
How much curiosity are we encouraging in our maths classrooms?
Questions to Nurture Student’s Curiosity
• Where did you start?
• How did you decide that?
• Can you try that another way?
• What happens if you take part of it away?
• What would happen if. . .?
• Can you write about or tell me what you did first? second? third?
• What will you do next?
• Why do you think that happened?
• How would you describe what you saw (read)?
• Can you think of another way to do this?