# DailyDirt: How Does Teaching Math Really Add Up?

### from the *urls-we-dig-up* dept

Year after year, news reports state that the US has horrible test scores in math compared to other countries. This leads commenters to speculate on the dismal future of the US economy and to complain about the weaknesses of the entire US educational system. However, international tests have never correlated that well with the relative economic performance of a country, so it’s hard to see how bad test scores would accurately predict future economic rankings. There are plenty of things to try to fix in the US education system, but perhaps we should be planning a longer term strategy (instead of trying to turn the ship every election year) and focus on the evidence of what produces good educational results (if we can even agree on what results we want).

- Teach for America has had its share of critics and supporters, debating the effectiveness of TFA teachers compared to traditional teachers, but it looks like students of TFA teachers score better on year-end math exams. This doesn’t mean that TFA teachers are better trained at math education, though. The study that found this correlation also notes that TFA teachers themselves performed significantly better on a test of math knowledge than traditional teachers. [url]
- Wannabe scientists may be encouraged to know that Harvard professor emeritus E. O. Wilson believes that many of the most successful scientists today are semiliterate in math. But if you’re bad at math, you better be good at collaborating with people who *are* good at math. (This applies to non-scientists, too.) Also, this might not apply to the most successful scientists in the
*future*. [url] - Emphasizing hard work as the key to learning and mastering mathematic concepts may produce better results, rather than letting students believe they are not “math people” by nature. Ultimately, doing well on math tests is not the goal, and we may want to encourage the next generation of kids to believe that their math skills can be improved through persistence. [url]

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Filed Under: collaboration, education, math, scientists, skills, teach for america, teachers, test scores

## Comments on “DailyDirt: How Does Teaching Math Really Add Up?”

terrible math scores, cities going bankrupt, trade falling through the floor, exports falling to near zero… Sure American is doing great. (especially if you can add up just how badly you are doing !)

## poor maths

bankrupt cites, trade failing (you export a lot of boxes) poor education and a unwarranted sense of entitlement.

It is a problem for America, making excuses does not help you, its not the test is the knowledge of the people tested.

## Re: poor maths

“its not the test is the knowledge of the people tested.”

Actually, it is both – and much much more.

## It's the K-6 teachers

We’ve generated one or two generations of elementary school teachers who are math phobes. They took little math in high school and very low level or no math in college. They pass their phobia on to their students thus are extremely poor teaching the subject even at the lowest level. I once talked to a high school math teacher and he said that his algebra class was essentially 5th grade arithmetic because that’s where the student’s level of understanding was. The calculus classes at the college I teach at has no algebraic manipulations, just pretty pictures and discussions of concepts. Ask the students to find a derivative to determine the slope of a function at a particular place and they have absolutely no idea how to do it. I’m surprised we produce any engineers of any quality.

## A much better way

Given the existence of software like Mathematica and the ubiquity of computational tools (tablets, phones, etc.), it’s time to rethink the whole idea of using human brains for mathematical computation. Give everyone a copy of Mathematica on all their devices, and then teach everyone how to use the program to find the correct answer to each type of math problem.

## Re: Computation?

So you have a software which can solve an integral for you. You still have to know the correct integral to solve. Software is a tool, it can only avoid the repetitive mechanical part of problem solving. You still have to know math for the rest.

## Re: A much better way

That is not a solution, it causes more problems.

Simply following instructions and completing a task is not equivalent to understanding the underlying theory, derivation and solution to the task at hand. There will be situations that do not fit nicely into a pre-canned algorithm, solutions will be difficult for those lacking the required skills.

## Maths

Plusses & Minusis & Timeses & gazintas…. what else is thar… Cash registers calculate totals & change, calculators do your cypherin, and then there’s the XBox and Video Games…

We are a society of two simple classes… Those that are well educated and those that git basic learnin… enough to work in the burgeoning fast food industry or domestic and custodial engineering fields. It is a sad state of affairs.

We did it and we keep electing the people that keep us here.

Let’s rob edukashun to buy that new farm subsidy…

## Persistence, the real key

…and we may want to encourage the next generation of kids to believe that their math skills can be improved through persistence.

The real point of teaching math, properly IMHO, is that it teaches the students to be persistent, and helps mark those who are smart enough to actually be able to learn technical things.