"Why Americans Stink at Math" . . (way OT)


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Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Topic Author's Original Post - Jul 24, 2014 - 08:57am PT

I know there are some very good math people on this forum, so I am curious as to what some opinions are about this article.

Mine: this is the worst kind of educational theorist dribble. The arrogance, and black-and-whiteness behind a statement such as "the traditional approach of teaching mathematics simply does not work" (paraphrased), is so typical of those that drive educational reform. Too bad such misinformed "educators" are so reliant on jumping on anything new, and throwing out everything old, to make a living. Personally, I am a teacher: not an "educator". I make my living teaching kids directly, five days a week.

Beware the Common Core. It is simply the latest fad. That is, it is simply the latest "answer" advertised to solve all the problems of a very complicated situation. As is the case with all cyclical educational fads, it doesn't even do what it is advertised to do. (which is to make the curriculum less broad so that teachers can explore the subject more deeply. ) This is the lie that is the Common Core.

I've taught high school math for a very long time. I try to be open to learning new methods that I see work. I am fortunate to work with many talented and diverse teachers who do an excellent job teaching kids math. (No, not kids who just perform on standardized tests, but rather kids who graduate from school and then go on to use math in their lives in some meaningful way.)

My experience indicates that kids learn math best from teachers who:
1. know the math that they teach inside and out.
2. give the kids time to work on a question that has been posed during class. (i.e. from teachers who have the kids actively engaged in doing math during class.)
3. move around their classroom and engage with each individual student as much as possible in doing math, while encouraging students to communicate to each other about the question that has been posed.
4. are passionate and focused about math, and constantly strive for improving their craft.

It's really not rocket science . . teaching kids math. . .pretty basic really.

Sorry for the distraction from the Matt Gilchrist drama.

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
Jul 24, 2014 - 09:05am PT
As someone who got thru algebra II with lots of struggles, and even tried Trig (without success).

I finally learned something important that math was about things in the world. They weren't abstractions when someone finally showed how x and y graphs represent space, much like geometry, which I was good at.

Otherwise, I can unequivocally say I had terrible math teachers in jr and sr high school.

Social climber
Joshua Tree
Jul 24, 2014 - 09:15am PT
The best reasoning I've seen behind why other countries beat us at math is the structure of our language.

IIRC, this was laid out in a Malcom Gladwell essay in his book "Outliers". The gist being that the language structure of numbers in some languages is more conducive to learning and performing math and remembering sequences of numbers.

Here's an except:

In languages as diverse as Welsh, Arabic, Chinese, English and Hebrew, there is a reproducible correlation between the time required to pronounce numbers in a given language and the memory span of its speakers.

There is also a big difference in how number-naming systems in Western and Asian languages are constructed. Ö [In] China, Japan, and Korea, they have a logical counting system. Eleven is ten-one. Twelve is ten-two. Twenty-four is two-tens-four and so on.

[This allows] Asian children learn to count much faster than American children. Four-year-old Chinese children can count, on average, to 40. American children at that age can count only to 15, and most donít reach 40 until theyíre five. By the age of five, in other words, American children are already a year behind their Asian counterparts in the most fundamental of math skills.

The regularity of their number system also means that Asian children can perform basic functions, such as addition, far more easily. Ask an English-speaking seven-year-old to add thirty-seven plus twenty-two in her head, and she has to convert the words to numbers (37 + 22). Only then can she do the math: 2 plus 7 is 9 and 30 and 20 is 50, which makes 59. Ask an Asian child to add three-tens-seven and two-tens-two, and then the necessary equation is right there, embedded in the sentence. No number translation is necessary: itís five-tens-nine.

Pedagogy is an entire field of study itself. In other words, there is nothing "easy" or straighforward about teaching. I've taught sciences and math (statistics/probability mostly) at the high school and college levels. There are many different learning styles, and accomodating all of those styles in a teaching lesson is a big challenge. Some kids are visual/spatial learners, some are verbal, some conceptual, others relative/analagous.

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 24, 2014 - 09:22am PT
The best reasoning I've seen behind why other countries beat us at math is the structure of our language.

I disagree with the premise that other countries beat "us" at math. If the "us" are some of the students at my school, I would put them up against students from any country in the world, and would expect them to compare favorably.

I never said teaching was "easy". It most definitely is not easy. I said basic.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Jul 24, 2014 - 09:46am PT
Doesn't it ultimately come down to desire? I have a friend who grew up in
India in a house with packed earth floors and didn't speak on a telephone
until he was 18. He is about to earn his PhD and MD at the same time.

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 24, 2014 - 09:53am PT
I blame it on the early education years and teachers more concerned about Tenure, than students...

In 23 years of teaching, I've met very few teachers that fit that description.

Trad climber
Jul 24, 2014 - 10:09am PT
good on you for teaching math. i see very few talented math folks who have any desire to teach k-12. why would they?

folks with decent math aptitudes and skills-- and more importantly, the ability to help convey those skills and concepts to others --can go into tech or analytics or finance.

common core is just the latest attempt to get something for nothing.

pretty amazing to watch longtime and vocal posters here in the science threads demonstrate, over and over, that they lack the basic math concepts we would expect of 8th graders.

we need math literacy because these idiots vote on science and tech policy.

i notice common core also dropped the old, token "history of science" from the core elements of science ed.

T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
Jul 24, 2014 - 10:09am PT
There are many different learning styles, and accomodating all of those styles in a teaching lesson is a big challenge. Some kids are visual/spatial learners, some are verbal, some conceptual, others relative/analagous.

So true!
What also bothers me is that standards based core curriculum/testing does not account for students different developmental rates or cultural diversity.

Doesn't it ultimately come down to desire?

Bingo, and then there are those students (and parents) that just don't give a sh!t about their education making our jobs even tougher.

Carry on,

Social climber
Jul 24, 2014 - 10:24am PT
hey there say, wbw... this is very interesting...

not sure if if i'd say 'americans' as specific, as i do not know how others fare, but i know how i do...

and i know, that for me, it is a hard chore, that if i am not 'drawing' or talking to myself, as i do it... it goes wrong...

*liked geometry, due to pictures, which is my lead in, to the rest of my post:

i like this quote OF elcapinyoazz:

Ask an Asian child to add three-tens-seven and two-tens-two, and then the necessary equation is right there, embedded in the sentence. No number translation is necessary: itís five-tens-nine.
Pedagogy is an entire field of study itself. In other words, there is nothing "easy" or straighforward about teaching. I've taught sciences and math (statistics/probability mostly) at the high school and college levels. There are many different learning styles, and accomodating all of those styles in a teaching lesson is a big challenge. Some kids are visual/spatial learners, some are verbal, some conceptual, others relative/analagous.

this 'way' that the POSTER of the quote, described the ?asian? way, seems to me, like it would have helped me immenstly, as, i see and think, in pictures, shapes, and groupings, and when i have to think numbers, i really go blank--very odd... even when i do math now, i see, for example:

the seven, as a bent stick, that i count the TOP, BEND, AND BOTTOM, in a patter, of twice, and add one, for the fact that it is one line, and it MEANS seven to me... OR, i think a rhyme, SEVEN shoots off to heaven, as, it looks like an out of shape arrow...

fine way to keep SEVEN in the brain, when adding and such, huh, :O
and i have one for each number...

so by the time, i transfer all this info, and such, there i am way behind everyone... if i draw the numbers, and not do in my head, then, i SEE the pictures and it goes faster, but i have a few spots, where 'carrying over' in a column' make a GLITCH...

IF i could have learned in groups of what the quote said, i sure would seen and done it a lot faster, and EVEN understood that we are dealing ?essential? with THINGS that we are grouping up into
collected amounts that flow faster and ACTUALLY come out into
easier matches, as to our goal...

i can do this with objects, or shapes, a lot better... it is very strange with the numbers, sad to say for me... but i don't think this is why other americans, etc, may have trouble??

i DO think that if kids have troubles though, it IS DUE to teachers NOT being allowed or having TIME to teach each child according to HOW they learn, or, how their brain clicks... (though i DO feel that even if your b brain clicks/works ONE way, it is ALWAYS good after you learn the thing to practice the HARD ways to teach the brain NEW trails, etc, and help the person branch out)...

i like this part of the quote, that was IN the quote that i shared above--it was the poster's SEPARATE ADDED COMMENT:

There are many different learning styles, and accomodating all of those styles in a teaching lesson is a big challenge. Some kids are visual/spatial learners, some are verbal, some conceptual, others relative/analagous

SINCE i had trouble learning some things, and made my OWN way, (did good with words, though, as, i made them into rhythms and pictures, too, and enjoyed diagramming sentences, as i could SEE how they worked--the structure and ideas, etc) i KIND of reshaped info, so i could understand...

thus, i have taught and do know how to teach kids to read, that have troubles... there are a variety of ways for each brain and they are not really what the SCHOOLS do now...
and--i have taught and can teach DANCE, as, i can see what each brain is doing and what and how they need to adjust, to find success...

but see, THIS is teaching--taking the pupil and helping them see what is wrong, what is right, what leads to the next level of success, etc, and that THEY CAN DO IT--if--they keep trying the right key to solve their difficulty...

teaching is wonderful, but i know so many that do not like learning, and i think perhaps, there are many reasons:

-the limits put on teachers...

-the 'use only this set' system...

-lack of good basic homework, and--that when they TAKE it home, they SHOULD know the principles of HOW to do it, and not be lost...

-to many kids in room, perhaps a coach should be in the class with teacher...

-no desire to learn, as, folks at home never help the young babe at
home have a stimulated mind of inquiry... edit: so the child grows up having no desires, but for its OWN whims and for things that are SIMPLE and require no work, or challenges...

-the praise given for success, only, and not for those that MEET the challenge of the 'never give up'...

sure would have helped and caught my math trouble, early one, but:
may not have actually FIXED it all, but i'd sure not get brain-roof-caves-in-while floor-falls-down thing when i see all the numbers... :O
Ward Trotter

Trad climber
Jul 24, 2014 - 10:32am PT
Our society has changed dramatically in the last several decades. We just don't have the level of commitment and willingness to work hard and to achieve . All sorts of cultural, and institutional, and political change has brought these shift in values about--- not just in education but in all areas of life.

Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
Maestro, Ecosystem Ministry, Fatcrackistan
Jul 24, 2014 - 10:34am PT
Kids are pretty good a math.

Science too.


Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 24, 2014 - 10:42am PT
Get rid of Tenure from 12 grade down...

Watch things change...

That's been done in Colorado, Locker. Let's have this conversation a few years out, and let's see how that single legislative act has changed things.

Neebee, I appreciate your thoughts on this.

How can we expect to teach a subject as precise, demanding, and frankly challenging as math, to a society that spends its evenings watching reality TV.???
T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
Jul 24, 2014 - 10:59am PT
Yes, no doubt TV is the main problem...

Turn them off and all of a sudden kids will start doing better at math...

TV isn't the main distraction, it's the damn smart phones they all seem to be picking at in class these days. If I had a buck for every time I told a kid to put it away or confiscate it I could retire. I have also caught kids using them to cheat on tests.

Edit; Fellow teachers enjoy your summer recess.
The Call Of K2 Lou

Mountain climber
North Shore, BC
Jul 24, 2014 - 11:07am PT
I want one of those wingdings calculators at the top of the article. "What's cat plus basketball times rocket ship?"

I like the idea of teachers watching each other teach, then providing feedback to each other.
T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
Jul 24, 2014 - 11:29am PT
I was answering sarcastically about the problem being TV's...

I talk about getting rid of Tenure and truly do believe that it needs to go...

But the problems do not start and stop there...

There is more to it and it's not that simple...

I know locker,
BTW, my 15 yr. tenure and teachers union didn't save my job when the economy tanked and the schools enrollment dropped to an all time low.
Last hired, first fired, we lost 4.
I have been sub teaching since (7yrs.) and really enjoy it, stress level has gone way down and I have more time to hang at the Taco Stand with clowns like you. ;-)
Teaching, like any profession has the good, the bad and the ugly.

Social climber
chica de chico, I don't claim to be a daisy.
Jul 24, 2014 - 11:29am PT
neebee, It is interesting hearing how your mind works.... When you boil it down>> not everybody learns the same way, and all schools need to address that issue.

That is why i love the Kahn Academy and their method of teaching.. If you have a child struggling with math, please view the Kahn Academy videos....

I told a girlfriend about the Kahn Academy, and her child went from failing math to understanding math and getting much better grades..

Start the video at 1:40...

wbw, The 4 points you highlighted ... are definitely key to teaching any subject.

A pile of dirt.
Jul 24, 2014 - 11:36am PT
So I studied mathematics in graduate school, taught while a graduate student (taught my own classes NOT a TA), briefly ran a small tutoring franchise, and even had a summer gig one year teaching "gifted and telented" 6th graders. From all this experience I've concluded that the problem lies with all the B.S math ed reform and all the culturial crap.

1 + 1 = 2 (base 10) no matter what color, creed, religion, etc you are.

No litte Johney shouldn't get partial credit if his attempts at a solution were not headied in a direction that would solve the problem.

I routinely had freshman algebra students that could not ad 1/2 + 1/4 without a calculator. The education system failed them. How did they graduate High School??? Never mind -1 -2 = ? or what is 1/0 =. The k-12 system fails....

On a more comical note, at a good second tier university with a respected mathematics dept. the mathematicians strongly disliked the math ed peeps. Infact the topologists would routingly vote for the weakest new prof hires when they were math ed types because they (and the rest of us) wanted the math ed dept to wither (remember they think that little johney should get credit and that religion and culture matter wrt (with respect to) 1 + 1 = 2).
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Jul 24, 2014 - 11:42am PT
I aced math. It is just the language of quantity.

I enjoy going to the deli counter at supermarkets and asking for 5 ounces of something only to see the employee's brain vapor lock as he (she) looks at the digital scale.

I tell them, "Remember back in the fifth grade when they said that you are going to need this stuff in real life? Well guess what? They were right."
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jul 24, 2014 - 11:43am PT
It's interesting that such a complex question: how to effectively teach mathematics, devolves so quickly to overly simplistic explanations.

First, there is no agreement as to what the math curriculum should be. Let's take a radical stance, that we require children to be educated because our democracy requires "an informed public." While understanding Andrew Wiles proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, would be a marvelous cultural objective, it isn't directly applicable to those issues on which the public votes.

Yet just being able to do various arithmetic calculations is not sufficient, either. Yet even this is a challenge for some students.

More and more, the public has been involved in trying to understand the nature of quantitative information based on statistical arguments. People playing the state sponsored lottery might want to better understand the odds of winning, vs. using those dollars for some other investment. The efficacy of medical procedures, or cures, or alternative medicines. The likelihood of floods, or other weather events, and on and on...

While many mathematicians might argue whether or not statistics should be included in mathematics, few people would see statistics as anything other than mathematics. So having an educated voting public capable of actually understanding statistical arguments might be a worthy goal of public education.

Yet that would be a daunting task, some would say "impossible." And in the current political climate it would be impossible, however worthy. To accomplish it would require a huge investment in remaking the mathematics curriculum, way beyond what most of the public believe would be necessary.

As wbw also observes, ideally it would require teachers who thoroughly understand the math in order to be successful teachers. It is a generally held belief that anyone who possess such skills would do better, financially, doing something other than teaching.

Teachers as a class have always been disparaged in American society, "those who can't, teach." They are a very low paid profession, and the best teachers often find work elsewhere. For a long time teaching was a profession relegated to women, whose effort was greatly undervalued. Often we hear the statement that teaching is "a calling" to justify the low compensation, yet as a society we have not made a commitment to those taking the calling. Tenure provided job security to those who "answered the call" yet that system is now seen as a root cause for poor teachers.

Obviously, if we valued teachers we'd put our money where our collective mouths are and pay them a competitive wage, yet there are all sorts of forces aligned against letting "the market" set teacher compensation. This is most obvious in the pseudo-outrage over increasing college and university costs, and the increases in faculty salaries, which are market driven. Why not let it happen? Somehow collective activity is "evil" but limiting the compensation is ok (but we would never do that for corporate CEO's).

If you want the best to be teachers, you're going to have to compete with the private sector to attract those people. If you think giving education to the private sector will improve things without seeing increased costs, and probably unsatisfactory outcomes, you're delusional.

Americans are historically "practical" people, where practical has to do with commercial success. Education doesn't mean much to Americans as a whole except when education makes the students more successful, commercially. This is driving the American curriculum to be more a certification process for the private sector than what we'd traditionally refer to as a liberal education: "a philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and a stronger sense of values, ethics, and civic engagement ... characterised by challenging encounters with important issues, and more a way of studying than a specific course or field of study"

This definition would be anathema in the current political setting.

What the current argument revolves around is just what are the "specific course or field of study" that is required to provide the best advantage to a student's economic prospects.

Why Americans stink at math is because they don't see how math helps those personal economic prospects.

When the second order Taylor series expansion of the coupled time dependent return on investment is viewed as such a complicated and obscure bit of knowledge that it can be used in defense of the financial professions being "duped" by a bunch of physicists and cause international economic calamity, one can only sigh in disbelief of the denial of the importance to understand mathematics, even if it doesn't effect you bottom line directly.
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
Jul 24, 2014 - 11:50am PT
I sucked at math K thru 12. I was lazy and some how thought the math would come to me just by looking at the book. It wasn't until I started working the problems over and over that I began to do well with it in college. I think it had in my case far more to do with a work ethic than teachers not doing their job. I was lazy and would rather goof off and be an idiot than sitting down and working math problems.
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