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Whats Wrong With Math Education in the U.S.?

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Topic: Whats Wrong With Math Education in the U.S.?
Posted By: tatee
Subject: Whats Wrong With Math Education in the U.S.?
Date Posted: Feb 26 2014 at 1:13pm


What's Wrong With Math Education in the U.S.?

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Answer by http://www.quora.com/Alon-Amit" rel="nofollow - Alon Amit , Ph.D. in mathematics, math circler:

This is (obviously, I hope) a complex and controversial question. It is also geographically diverse: Whatever problems exist in math education in the U.S. are very different from those in India, Mexico, or Mongolia. I'll focus on the U.S.

My understanding is based on the following ingredients:

  • I have been regularly teaching in math circles around the San Francisco Bay Area for the past five years, and through that I've gathered some knowledge of what those children who are really interested in math know and what their unfulfilled needs are.
  • I have been regularly speaking at math circles for teachers, where I've worked with middle-school and high-school math teachers who are interested in expanding their understanding of mathematics. I know something about what teachers tend to know and not know.
  • I have spent my career working with software engineers, data scientists, economists, and other "knowledge workers" who rely, to varying degrees, on mathematical training and math-like problem-solving skills. (I've been a researcher and engineer myself before succumbing to the irresistible allure of product management.)
  • I have a Ph.D. in math, so hopefully I know a little about what mathematics is.
  • I've held official positions at the Mathematical Association of America (the Northern California, Nevada, Hawaii and section) and have had some exposure to the challenges facing an organization dedicated to exciting students about mathematics.
  • I have two children in elementary school in the U.S. (and another little waif who isn't quite there yet).
  • I've read lots about the issue. I care.

Those are my credentials, such as they are. I don't purport to understand the issues completely or even reasonably well; the following are my personal opinions based on my experience and observations.

First, there are two meta-problems: 1) The lack of consensus around the goals of K-12 math education. Many people have strong opinions, but they are often at odds with one another. 2) The lack of consensus around the proper way to define and measure the success of the math education system. Not everyone agrees that there is a problem, and among those who agree, many disagree on its specific form.

Beyond these two higher-level issues, I think the following are true as well:

  • The vast majority of the people who teach mathematics in schools know very, very little mathematics. They are not to blame—many are intelligent, caring, wonderful people—but they severely lack training and skills. This includes not just exposure to higher mathematical content; for the most part, they're not even aware what mathematical problem solving is, let alone how to go about solving problems.
  • People who do have the skills and even the passion for teaching math are not often excited about the career prospects of being a math teacher. Compensation is part of this; public perception and prestige is another. And I am aware of at least anecdotal evidence that the arduous certification process is not helping either. 
  • The textbooks are horrendous. They are massive, confusing, uninspiring, incredibly inefficient, and stupefyingly boring. I lack the expressive skills to describe how awful and misguided they are.
  • The recent adoption of the Common Core standards is actually a positive and promising move, but as of this writing, both the teachers and the textbooks are unprepared to actually teach students to those guidelines.

As a result, many children are led to hate the subject and lose all confidence in their ability to excel at it. This is an oft repeated cliché but it is, unfortunately, true.

Despite all of that, some people do become software engineers or physicists or mathematicians, having developed a taste for mathematical thinking, acquired problem-solving skills, and dove into deeper training. This is often done outside of the school system, but not entirely—there are certainly some great teachers and some useful resources within schools. Not all mathematical teaching in schools is broken; but much of it is, and many naturally talented and curious minds are turned off by the broken parts and face an uphill battle as they seek to nurture their talents and interests.

Those are some of the problems as I see them. How to solve them is an even harder question (but I do have a few opinions on that, too).

* * *

Answer by http://www.quora.com/Neil-A rwal" rel="nofollow - Neil A rwal , lawyer:

I was a seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher.  From my experience, it seems that the basic problem with math ed is the lack of focus on the fundamentals.

Let me give you an example: Most teachers taught 2(x+y) using dolphins. They would draw two dolphins traveling from the 2 to the x and the y. This was meant to indicate that we distribute the 2 to get 2x + 2y.

Teaching this way allows kids to answer that specific construction of problem, integer(variable + variable) = integer * variable + integer * variable, but not much else. What happens when the kid sees (x+y)2 or (x+2)(y+2)? The dolphins can only allow a child to guess at what to do in these new circumstances.

Rather, if the teacher had taught that 2(x+y) = (x+y) + (x+y), therefore giving the students some insight as to how and why the distributive property works, then kids might be more able to approach new circumstances and prevail by force of logic rather than speculation.

A student facing a new construct—say (x+2)(y+2)—has a shot at realizing that the (x+2) can be seen as its own number, thus (x+2)y + (x+2)2. The kid didn't have a shot with the dolphins.

Moreover, this drilling approach that is commonplace in schools is very inefficient. Think about it: The above two examples take up the better part of two quarters over the course of two years in most schools using the drilling method. Is that really necessary? And imagine you are the student. How boring! Three to four months of what?

The drilling approach requires that the teacher drill almost every new circumstance with the same ferocity as the first circumstance. Rather, when teachers focus on fundamentals, new circumstances still need to be taught, but usually not drilled to the same extent.

Perhaps the worst consequence of the drilling paradigm is that students and adults have no ability to use the math they learned in school outside of the boxes within which they were drilled. The value of math is in its predictive powers. You combine math with economics, or math with biology, or math with physics, even with law (see Coase) etc., and suddenly you can predict the future. But these uses of math require extremely strong fundamentals, which most people were never taught.

More questions on http://www.quora.com/Mathematics" rel="nofollow - Mathematics :


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Replies:
Posted By: carolina cutie
Date Posted: Feb 26 2014 at 1:20pm
"The textbooks are horrendous. They are massive, confusing, uninspiring, incredibly inefficient, and stupefyingly boring. I lack the expressive skills to describe how awful and misguided they are."


For me Imo Ijs Imho, many teachers didn't make it relevant to the real world which makes it a little harder to follow. Geometry was fun because you could use it and you knew it was practical.

With advanced algebra...not so much. I knew it was useful for computers or bio science but it was never taught in a manner I could relate too and that's how I learn best.Ouch


Posted By: JoliePoufiasse
Date Posted: Feb 26 2014 at 2:49pm
Don't know how your math books are in the U.S. but some people simply do not have a head for math. I never did, much to my parents' chagrin. My brother was really good at it, though.


Posted By: iliveforbhm
Date Posted: Feb 26 2014 at 2:50pm
Math is the language of the universe is the best way to show someone how important math is. We can communicate through numbers vs words.


Posted By: JoliePoufiasse
Date Posted: Feb 26 2014 at 2:54pm
Originally posted by iliveforbhm iliveforbhm wrote:

Math is the language of the universe is the best way to show someone how important math is. We can communicate through numbers vs words.


Oh, I understand the importance of math. I'm just saying that some people are not naturally inclined to do well in math. Must be a right brain, left brain thing, I don't know. I always excelled at literature and languages but math and physics always were a stumbling block. For some people, it's the opposite and math comes easy to them.


Posted By: Random Thoughts
Date Posted: Feb 26 2014 at 2:58pm
I remember in 2nd or 3rd grade we learned our times tables with a rap song that the teacher would play. Was about the last time math was ever fun for me.


Posted By: OoDles O
Date Posted: Feb 26 2014 at 3:02pm
math "eww".

thats about all I got for this thread

sorry


Posted By: JoliePoufiasse
Date Posted: Feb 26 2014 at 3:03pm
Originally posted by SamoneLenior SamoneLenior wrote:


my father was a math major in undergrad, got a MS in IS, and was a
trying to do math homework with my father was a struggle every single time....talk about tears



Man, I can so relate to this. My dad studied engineering and he was always exasperated with me when it came to homework. I was mediocre at it. I would pass with a lot of studying, though.


Posted By: AshBash89
Date Posted: Feb 26 2014 at 3:09pm
My dad is naturally good at math. It isn't naturally easy to me but I'm decent with lots of studying...but I hate studying.


Posted By: JoliePoufiasse
Date Posted: Feb 26 2014 at 3:18pm
Originally posted by SamoneLenior SamoneLenior wrote:

Originally posted by JoliePoufiasse JoliePoufiasse wrote:

Originally posted by SamoneLenior SamoneLenior wrote:


my father was a math major in undergrad, got a MS in IS, and was a
trying to do math homework with my father was a struggle every single time....talk about tears



Man, I can so relate to this. My dad studied engineering and he was always exasperated with me when it came to homework. I was mediocre at it. I would pass with a lot of studying, though.


did your father want you to study engineering?

my dad wanted us to study computer science, ugh

and I see the math gene skipped Ash as well lol



Not necessarily engineering per say. But he did want me to be either a doctor or an engineer, or maybe a lawyer. It's a very haitian thing, they don't see any other professions as valid, lol.


Posted By: melikey
Date Posted: Feb 26 2014 at 3:22pm
I like math for practical purposes, it's extremely dull on its own. I use it as a means to an end for problem solving. That's it.


Posted By: EPITOME
Date Posted: Feb 26 2014 at 3:25pm
^no other professions exist

I had one great math teacher my entire academic career. If she had been my math teacher from the first moment I started school to when I ended I undoubtedly would have been a math major.  She made math so simple for me.  It's like everything she said made perfect sense. It was amazing.

  But she was just a great teacher.


Posted By: JoliePoufiasse
Date Posted: Feb 26 2014 at 3:32pm
Originally posted by EPITOME EPITOME wrote:

^no other professions exist




That is so Haitian of you. They are so closed minded to anything else. It's like everything else is a colossal waste of time when you go to college. My brother was actually admitted to med school and considered it but since he doesn't like blood, he turned to computer science. He was just a brilliant student all around, though.

My sis ended up studying engineering but she studied her ass off and sweated bullets to get that diploma. And she didn't remain an engineer because she wasn't that good at it anyways. She did it more because of family pressure and because that's what her friends were doing. Myself, I simply sucked at it.


Posted By: Random Thoughts
Date Posted: Feb 26 2014 at 3:37pm
Originally posted by EPITOME EPITOME wrote:

^no other professions exist

I had one great math teacher my entire academic career. If she had been my math teacher from the first moment I started school to when I ended I undoubtedly would have been a math major.  She made math so simple for me.  It's like everything she said made perfect sense. It was amazing.

  But she was just a great teacher.


For me, it always made sense when my math teachers were explaining it to me. I was hardly ever lost while in class. It was when I went home and looked at my chicken scratch notes that I didn't get it.


Posted By: JoliePoufiasse
Date Posted: Feb 26 2014 at 3:40pm
Originally posted by Random Thoughts Random Thoughts wrote:

Originally posted by EPITOME EPITOME wrote:

^no other professions exist

I had one great math teacher my entire academic career. If she had been my math teacher from the first moment I started school to when I ended I undoubtedly would have been a math major.  She made math so simple for me.  It's like everything she said made perfect sense. It was amazing.

  But she was just a great teacher.


For me, it always made sense when my math teachers were explaining it to me. I was hardly ever lost while in class. It was when I went home and looked at my chicken scratch notes that I didn't get it.




Math never made sense to me in any situation and I don't remember much of what I learned anyway. Hell, I even have the Everyday math for dummies book on a shelf.


Posted By: EPITOME
Date Posted: Feb 26 2014 at 4:12pm
Originally posted by JoliePoufiasse JoliePoufiasse wrote:

Originally posted by EPITOME EPITOME wrote:

^no other professions exist




That is so Haitian of you. They are so closed minded to anything else. It's like everything else is a colossal waste of time when you go to college. My brother was actually admitted to med school and considered it but since he doesn't like blood, he turned to computer science. He was just a brilliant student all around, though.

My sis ended up studying engineering but she studied her ass off and sweated bullets to get that diploma. And she didn't remain an engineer because she wasn't that good at it anyways. She did it more because of family pressure and because that's what her friends were doing. Myself, I simply sucked at it.



Oh I wasn't agreeing w/that statement. I was just saying that's how Haitian parents thinkLOL


Posted By: juniper angel
Date Posted: Feb 26 2014 at 5:27pm
Math is evil the basics I understand then they start adding extra symbols I go blank . never been good at math idk y I want to be great but cant.


Posted By: iliveforbhm
Date Posted: Feb 26 2014 at 6:39pm
Math and everything is easy for me since I created, simply I AM.


Posted By: mzsophisticated
Date Posted: Feb 26 2014 at 7:15pm
I hate math especially once i got in high school...i only had 1 great math teacher which was for algebra 2 and i always aced exams and class work....trig and pre calc was such a struggle...ugh.


Posted By: NARSAddict
Date Posted: Feb 27 2014 at 9:02pm
Originally posted by JoliePoufiasse JoliePoufiasse wrote:

Originally posted by iliveforbhm iliveforbhm wrote:

Math is the language of the universe is the best way to show someone how important math is. We can communicate through numbers vs words.


Oh, I understand the importance of math. I'm just saying that some people are not naturally inclined to do well in math. Must be a right brain, left brain thing, I don't know. I always excelled at literature and languages but math and physics always were a stumbling block. For some people, it's the opposite and math comes easy to them.


I am hella late in responding but I have to disagree.  You tend to be good in the "arts" because you practiced for so many hours at it and maybe people subconsciously promoted that girls should stay in soft arts and boys stay in math and science.  I am somewhat paraphrasing a section of Malcolm Gladwell's book.


Posted By: ms_wonderland
Date Posted: Feb 27 2014 at 10:31pm
During my formative math edu years I was treated horribly by my white teachers since I was either the only black kid in a room full of Asians or on a good school year 1 of 2 or 3...I never really recovered from it and I've been mathematically challenged ever since.  We also weren't allowed to bring home textbooks.  I wish I was good at math...my old poli sci professor would always joke that we're social science majors because we suck at math.  


Posted By: mangachan
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 7:11am
I am a visual learner and I didn't really understand all that entailed until liiiiike, this year. LOL  Math is typically not taught in a way that is effective for me.  I don't think most teachers really care to help out students who don't "get it."  They just tell you to "go do your homework." 


Posted By: Sang Froid
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 7:25am
From my experience it seems to me like English teachers are the only ones that really enjoy teaching.


Posted By: eanaj5
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 7:47am
i cant with math. im super remedial. if aint about counting money, well...


Posted By: iliveforbhm
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 7:49am
It's sad that so many people do not understand the beauty of math. It's apart of our culture and heritage.


Posted By: JoliePoufiasse
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 11:18am
Originally posted by NARSAddict NARSAddict wrote:

Originally posted by JoliePoufiasse JoliePoufiasse wrote:

Originally posted by iliveforbhm iliveforbhm wrote:

Math is the language of the universe is the best way to show someone how important math is. We can communicate through numbers vs words.


Oh, I understand the importance of math. I'm just saying that some people are not naturally inclined to do well in math. Must be a right brain, left brain thing, I don't know. I always excelled at literature and languages but math and physics always were a stumbling block. For some people, it's the opposite and math comes easy to them.


I am hella late in responding but I have to disagree.  You tend to be good in the "arts" because you practiced for so many hours at it and maybe people subconsciously promoted that girls should stay in soft arts and boys stay in math and science.  I am somewhat paraphrasing a section of Malcolm Gladwell's book.


Nope. Trust me. As hard as I tried (and I had to because my father was relentless), it just never sunk in. Whereas in the arts, I'd be at the top of my classes without even trying that hard. It could be that my teachers had a way of teaching that was too conventional for me. I could never see the big picture.


Posted By: iliveforbhm
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 11:26am
I wished I could've taught you. Math was easy and when I decided not to do shyt in school i got left behind and taught myself and when I started studying physics and there laid out the beauty for math. I think people who teach must have a physics background and world religion background(no propaganda just straight truth) and business/economic and psychology background.


Posted By: lexis83
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 11:48am
I love math! And I get so frustrated when I'm doing homework with my niece and nephew. I don't like the way it's taught in the US. It's complicated for no reason.!


Posted By: JoliePoufiasse
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 11:49am
Originally posted by iliveforbhm iliveforbhm wrote:

I wished I could've taught you. Math was easy and when I decided not to do shyt in school i got left behind and taught myself and when I started studying physics and there laid out the beauty for math. I think people who teach must have a physics background and world religion background(no propaganda just straight truth) and business/economic and psychology background.


You taught yourself math? Wow. That's what I mean by being naturally inclined. It's like math people see things in three dimensions or something. I wish you had too. My dad would beat my ass when he saw my grades. He was the worst teacher on earth


Posted By: iliveforbhm
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 11:54am
You cannot teach through fear, but through knowledge and understanding both the metaphysics and the practicality of knowing such. That's the problem I have with those who cannot realize and apperciate people's different strengths. It's just not your strength, but he did know that you can learn it, but not to your strengths he just didn't know how to express that.


Posted By: Sang Froid
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 12:08pm
You. Are. So. Annoying.


Posted By: newin2009
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 12:21pm
I have always been naturally smart. I could ace tests without really trying hard or studying. But math...it always took me so long of studying and working example problems over and over to get it. I don't feel like I ever had a teacher that tried to make learning math fun. My teachers just mostly spoke of how important math is and told us to work hard and study. I never associated math with being fun...only hard. Something has to change to make math more enjoyable for those who don't naturally understand it. I had to take college Algebra twice; granted, I didn't study much the first time around, but the coursework was really loaded and we had to memorize so many formulas. Eventually all of the formulas began to look alike.


Posted By: newin2009
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 12:27pm
My dream is to become a Sociologist. There are so many things that need to change in the US school system, especially in the low income school districts. Things need to change on a micro level in order to see changes on a macro level, including the way children are taught. Children need to be taught critical thinking and leadership skills during elementary school years. Critical thinking and leadership skills are not being taught to children from poor backgrounds. Parents are not involved enough, and many don't know much either. They just send their children off to school and expect the teachers to be the sole teachers of knowledge.


Posted By: carolina cutie
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 12:31pm
Originally posted by eanaj5 eanaj5 wrote:

i cant with math. im super remedial. if aint about counting money, well...




Posted By: iliveforbhm
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 12:43pm

I wasn't born to appease/accomdate/disappear/etc for anyone. You can ignore me.



Posted By: Over_all
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 1:04pm
You know what was so hard about math to me.. Was that there was no why... I'm a why person and when you tell me this is just the way it is because this is just the way it is it makes it complicated for me to adjust to reason.. After I stop fighting the rules of math it doesn't seem as complicated.. 


Posted By: noneyons
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 9:46pm
give me a word problem and i will figure that ish out eventually. don't care how complicated it is. random numbers make me itch though. its like, if somebody already knows why e=mc2 why i gotta know for?


Posted By: f8dagrate
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 9:47pm
Originally posted by carolina cutie carolina cutie wrote:

Originally posted by eanaj5 eanaj5 wrote:

i cant with math. im super remedial. if aint about counting money, well...



I really can't stand youDeadLOL


Posted By: noneyons
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 9:51pm
i agree about the money thing. math education should be more practical. just a bunch of nonesense.

i remember asking some of the die hard math whizzes in that controversial bhm math thread to translate the equation into a word problem and no one seemed to know how. this is why i think all those random numbers are a bunch of useless bullsh*t.


Posted By: Sang Froid
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 10:01pm
It's about memorizing formulas.


Posted By: purpulicious01
Date Posted: Feb 28 2014 at 10:04pm
YES - the methods we use to teach math are backwards and outdated.

I've lost count of how many times individuals from other countries (namely China and India) have told me that the way US schools teach math is unnecessarily strenuous and complicated. 

Our education is behind, especially compared to other countries. 


Posted By: _ConcreteRose_
Date Posted: Mar 11 2014 at 10:58pm
This thread is sad to me.


Posted By: _ConcreteRose_
Date Posted: Mar 11 2014 at 10:59pm
Originally posted by melikey melikey wrote:

I like math for practical purposes, it's extremely dull on its own. I use it as a means to an end for problem solving. That's it.
lies!


Posted By: Mixer
Date Posted: Mar 11 2014 at 11:01pm


Posted By: BBpants
Date Posted: Mar 11 2014 at 11:06pm
Teachers could never really explain it well to me. I learned best by teaching myself with the book Confused I would study hardcore, pass the test, then forget it all the next week LOL

I seriously hate the kids who would never do their homework, talk all day in class and sleep but passed ALL the text with an A!! That pissed me off cuz I'm over here struggling and sweating bullets! Angry Then they used their intelligence for dumb sh*t! SO ANNOYING!!


Posted By: noneyons
Date Posted: Mar 11 2014 at 11:22pm
my 9th grade math teacher was the bomb. looked like doc from back to the future. spazzy as hell but a freaking genius. 

he would teach us the textbook method and then what he called the "idiot simple" way to solve equations and then grade on a curve. i think he graded that way to gauge his own teaching abilities. cool ass dude.  



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