New Math – New Technology = Failure by Elizabeth Green

A Nation of Innumeracy

  • Elizabeth offers data that shows how our public school math programs have produced a nation of people who largely suffer from innumeracy. This is the mathematical equivalent of not being able to read. When Burger King brought out its 1/3 pounder, it found that most of their customers thought McDonald’s 1/4 pounder was bigger as 4 is bigger than 3. Ironically, many people who are unschooled and engage in business transactions are better when it comes to using math than their schooled peers.

American Math Class Patterns

  • Most American math classes follow the same pattern, which includes a ritualistic series of steps. Teachers show students how to do the steps and give them more problems to practice. The problems are divorced from the real world, and students are not allowed to work together so they learn answer-getting rather than math concepts. It isn’t long until they forget the steps and never learn to apply the math outside of class.
  • The alternative allows students to struggle with a problem on their own followed by working in groups, and finally as the whole class. Answer-getting is replaced with sense-making. This also allows students to see why their answers were wrong. Rather than forgetting algorithms, students retain and even understand them.

Breaking Down the Problem

  • Teaching methods courses are often taught by the lowest ranks of professors who are underpaid, overworked, and likely ineffective. Since strong math students have many more opportunities in science, engineering, and finance, most students who go into teaching are just as innumerate as most of the rest of the population. Teachers generally teach the way they were taught so not much changes. With this in mind, it make no sense to believe that the teachers who caused the problem will solve it. New teaching isn’t happening due in part to active resistance, and teachers that don’t know how to change. Teacher trainers are likely to be no better, and textbook changes have been largely cosmetic.
  • The Common Core expects teachers to unlearn old approaches and learn new ones essentially on their own. Training is weak and infrequent, and principals tend to be no more skilled at math than their teachers. Common Core lessons often involve new algorithms, but the way they are used, they are often worse than standard algorithms. They also confuse parents who see the reforms as introducing fuzzy math.
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