Diatribe on Math Ed

**This was supposed to be about my decision making process of choosing a school for my son. However, it turned into a diatribe on math education.

During my time as a teacher I came to realize that the majority of my parents were not interested in a partnership. They felt like the teaching was 100% up to the teacher and if the child was doing poorly or misbehaving, it had everything to do with me and nothing to do with their lack of discipline, or the student’s unwillingness to do their homework.

During my time as a tutor, I was shocked by some of the stories the students told me about their teachers. Don’t get me wrong, I took it all with a grain of salt knowing they probably were exaggerating. But there did seem to be a common thread throughout the stories that the teachers cared more about what was easiest for them, or coming across as a “hard” teacher (therefore patting themselves on the back as a “good” teacher). Teachers should care most about the education and learning of their students then they should about getting home.

Putting these two experiences together, I came to the realization that students today were not getting their fundamentals down. My focus is math, and I noticed that while multiplication is introduced in the 3rd grade, multiplication facts were still not known in the 7th, 8th, and9th grades. While fractions are introduced in the 2nd grade they still are the bane of a child’s existence through adulthood. The foundations of math were not being grasped before these kids were taught something more complicated.

I kind of came up with a theory. From college on whenever anyone asked what my major was, math, the response 99% of the time was, “Oh, you’re smart.” or “I hate math.” or “Math is hard.” etc. I think what has happened is that our elementary teachers (as a whole) at best are not confident in their math skills and at worst hate math and somehow communicate that to their students. So, when a teacher goes to teach their kids math, they don’t spend as much time on it. Or they just get through the lesson as quickly as possible, so they can move on. They know reading is important, you have to do it the rest of your life. Writing, at the very least must be mastered in order to make it through high school, college and beyond successfully. But, really who needs math? Who uses it regularly? The only people that really need it are those that use it in their profession, and they’re the ones “good” at math anyway.

Well, unfortunately our country has fallen way behind the others when it comes to mathematics. Consistently, at least for the last 10 years, the top 10 jobs to have in America, which include pay, stress levels, and availability, are either math related or require high levels of math in college.

We need to completely and totally revamp our elementary and middle school level math. We need to arm our kids with the fundamentals and the confidence that math isn’t hard. At the very least, it’s no harder that reading and just as necessary to life skills. (When was the last time you bought something that was 20% off? When was the last time you halved a recipe that called for 1/2 cup of something? When was the last time you balanced your budget or counted calories? Or figured out if the 48 oz of Goldfish was really cheaper than the 16oz bag?) Yes, these are lower levels of math, but really most of what we read post college is at an elementary or middle school reading level as well. So, should we stop there? Should we not increase our vocabulary? Of course we should. And we should do the same with math as well.

I’d love to see math specialists enter the classroom in Kindergarten or the first grade. Someone who simply goes to each classroom for an hour or whatever and focuses solely on math. I do think that while discovery can be a good way of learning I think that drill and kill really solidifies those things that need to be memorized. It’s not sexy. But think about how you studied vocabulary for the SATs. Did you read books, look at the context and dig out the meaning of the word? Did you try to write your vocab words in a sentence? Or did you put them on flashcards and repeatedly drill yourself? I think most of us did the later. And yet, we poopoo drill and kill because it’s boring. Well, of course it can be, but repetition works.

Think about how one would best learn to put in an IV, or cut hair, or paint nails, or play piano, you are shown how to do something and then you try, and you try again, and again, and again until you’ve mastered it. After all practice makes perfect. Why is that appropriate when learning to throw a football but not appropriate when learning how to solve simple equations such as x+5 = 8, or even 3*5 = 15?

Yes, education needs to be revamped. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to come from the top down. I think it’s going to have to be a grass root movement of educators breaking from the NEA and trying to change the system, either through the inner workings of their local school systems or through something like charter schools.





2 thoughts on “Diatribe on Math Ed

  1. I agree. I’m definitely guilty of hating math and then teaching it to my kids!! I have found a great curriculum, I think! 🙂 I’ve used several curriculums over the years, but I’ve started using Math-u-see. I used it for a couple of years with Trand and now started recently with LH. The concept is mastering one major skill before moving on. In 1st grade it’s all addition–mastering every step of it. 2nd grade is subtraction. 3rd is multiplication. 4th division. 5th fractions. 6th decimals. Of course there’s other “math” stuff in there all along (clocks, measuring, place value, area and perimeter, etc.) but those are the main concepts of the year. It does seem to simplify it. They also use the base ten blocks a lot in the earlier years but still continue to all the way up.

  2. This is great, Stacie! So very true. I was one of the minority and loved math all the way through, taking advanced and AP classes without trouble. I also started out with a math-related major-in accounting. Then marriage happened, school got set aside,and when I went back to school in my 30s I was doing a job in the social services and my employer offered full tuition reimbursement if I majored in psychology. So that is how I got derailed off of my love of math and ended up with a psychology degree! I still enjoy it-doing math puzzles, figuring out equations, but I know I’ve lost a lot over the years. I’ve tried to instill that same love in my kids and so far the only one who loves math is Chad. Although Alyssa is taking Geometry this year and seems to really ‘get’ it. Anyway, my eyes were opened when Chad was in school. His 1st grade class was so huge (28 I think?) that the teacher didn’t seem to have a lot of time to spend on much of anything but yoga (and thats another story….). But as with any subject/concept, the class HAD to move forward to the next concept whether or not all the kids ‘got it’. Chad was lost in the shuffle when it came to reading, and the class moved on. I tried to get special help in school, but they said as long as he wasn’t TOO far behind, just work with him harder at home. Which I did, and had been doing all along. I just think some kids don’t get things as quickly as others, and the poor teachers are stretched too thin with everything-time, money, help. So of course they have to move on to keep the class going. But then these kids who didn’t grasp the last concept in math, say, whose parents don’t help them or get them help, get more and more behind until it is nearly impossible for them to catch up. I think it would be great if each class had a full-time assistant teacher who could work with those kids falling behind in any area, but I know that is not possible. Your post was very well written and I hope something happens in our country to get our kids in public school to start excelling in math.

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