I recently read an article in the New York Times regarding the poor state of mathematics education in the United States. Ever since NCLB, districts, schools and teachers have had to teach mathematics as a way for students to score well on the SAT. Math and other subjects are being taught in a way that has no real world applications.
“Today, American high schools offer a sequence of algebra, geometry, more algebra, pre-calculus and calculus (or a “reform” version in which these topics are interwoven). This has been codified by the Common Core State Standards, recently adopted by more than 40 states. This highly abstract curriculum is simply not the best way to prepare a vast majority of high school students for life.”
Teaching a concrete subject like mathematics in an abstract way that is separated from how we all use mathematics is a flawed way of teaching. It only confirms to students that they will never really use mathematics after highschool. After all, when was the last time you used pre-calculus?
We recently finished staff training for Artios Academies. During staff training I gave a workshop on “Project Centered Teaching”. While this workshop was focused on teaching the arts, I gave an example of when mathematics became real to me.
For my 14th birthday, my Grandmother gave me a mutual fund with $100.00 in it. I knew that the 5 year average of this mutual fund garnered a 10% annual return that compounded monthly. As we all do when we we see the prospect of making money, I took out my calculator and tried to see how long it would take me to make $10,000. I saw that if I put $110.00 per month into the mutual fund at a 10% ROI that compounded monthly, I would have $10,974.00 in my mutual fund by the time I was 20!
When I figured that out, Math became very real to me! It wasn’t some abstract formula, I had just used algebra to make money! Who wouldn’t study Algebra if they knew it made money! Taking math out of the realm of abstraction and into the realm of life application is how we should study math. Consider the quote from the NYT article below:
“Imagine replacing the sequence of algebra, geometry and calculus with a sequence of finance, data and basic engineering. In the finance course, students would learn the exponential function, use formulas in spreadsheets and study the budgets of people, companies and governments. In the data course, students would gather their own data sets and learn how, in fields as diverse as sports and medicine, larger samples give better estimates of averages. In the basic engineering course, students would learn the workings of engines, sound waves, TV signals and computers. Science and math were originally discovered together, and they are best learned together now.”
The problem with Education in this country isn’t what we are teaching, but rather, how we are teaching it. At Artios we teach subjects in an integrated, creative manner. Its a method that makes the subjects real to the students immediately. The article ends with the following quote, and it is a quote that can be applied to all forms of education, not just mathematics.
“It is through real-life applications that mathematics emerged in the past, has flourished for centuries and connects to our culture now.”
I strongly encourage you to read the entire article in the New York Times. Look at the underlying philosophy of the article. Think about applying this method of education and teaching to all subjects, not just mathematics.