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« Putting the "I" in IWB | Main | Everyday problem-solving »

Do the math

I love working with numbers but I flunked Algebra II and never attempted Calculus. I enjoyed Geometry and Statistics since they made sense to me but I fume that our state is requiring that all our students take ever more math classes and tests for graduation. I consider myself more numerate than the average mean bear but always use a spreadsheet when working out problems involving any calculations.


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I'm guessing there are a lot of people like me who may have a love-hate relationship with math. So I was delighted to discover Dan Meyer's views about changing math instruction. His 12 minute talk at TEDxNYED made tremendous sense to me (since his approach to math instruction is the same as my approach to any research or problem-solving - it has to be genuine.)  Even if you aren't a math teacher, Mr. Meyers will give you more than one standard deviation from the norm of things to think about.

Oh, English teachers - what if we substituted Daniel Pink, Malcom Gladwell and other contemporary authors for a semester of Shakespeare, Wordsworth or Whitman? And gave kids more chances to write in the narrative voice with less emphasis on exposition? I bet we'd reach a whole batch of kids for whom "English" is a class to only be tolerated.


Just as an aside, I had this comment left about my post on Everyday Problem-solving:

Educators at higher levels complain that students have no concept of developing "sustained" research.

You know, I've never felt the primary purpose of school is to prepare students for the next level of schooling.

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Reader Comments (6)

An incredible post, Doug.

I did poorly in algebra as well and now find that programming is almost entirely about algebra -- and I'm actually good at it. I hated english and literature, but find that I can't find enough to read now. History was the bane of my existence when I was in high school, but found myself majoring in the subject later in college. I bombed chemistry (he was teaching only to evade the draft) but am now absolutely fascinated by the obvious intersections between chemistry and de physics.

Why couldn't I have been this smart back them. ;-)

Why can't learning be like living?

Comment via iPad

May 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Warlick

On the other side of things, I did very well in math (probably why I decoded to teach in that area :-) but not so well in English, usually winding up in the "jock" section, so named because of all the athletes being assisted to maintain their eligibility. Except for one course on the short story in college, taught by the best teacher I've ever had, I hated English, especially writing. It wasn't until many years later that I learned to enjoy the process, mostly as a result of blogging.

However, whether it's math or English, I think the traditional curriculum used in most schools, which emphaizes the rote process over discovery and application, is what turns off most students. No one want to memorize verb tenses or the Quadratic Formula (much less diagram a sentence!) when they could be doing more creative work. Yes, creative even in Algebra!

May 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertimstahmer

Wow, Doug, I found myself in similar straits with Algebra. More about that experience here: on the Power of Enthusiasm.

Warm regards and thanks for sharing,
Miguel Guhlin
Around the Corner

May 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel Guhlin

I agree with your conclusion, Tim, though I went to school long before high stakes testing came to the U.S., when the idea of an assessment for learning based on a standard one-time event, was vehemently scorned. Still something was missing, and I think that it was -- and is -- passion.

The saddest thing is that I suspect that some teachers, because of the clinical way that their jobs are being measured, might actually be losing the passion that they may have, or have had, for their subject.

from David's iPad

May 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Warlick

Doug, Thanks for reposting Dan's video. I'd been meaning to watch it and just hadn't done it, and wow, that's what 15 powerful minutes can do...changed my thinking about teaching math forever.

And it challenged/supported thoughts I have about teaching any subject in general. My mind is wondering about the real ways this could be applied in the library in terms of research projects, and how I can challenge teachers to create real world assignments.

Lotta thinking to do about this.

May 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn Foote

I like this post! I found myself in the same mathematical boat years ago and most of my studies since 9th grade algebra resulted in, "what can I study that will allow me to succeed while avoiding math at all costs!!" It wasn't until grad school stats that the light came on....

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKurt Bernardo

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