Gongol.com Archives: May 2024

Brian Gongol

May 31, 2024

News Math is good for you

If a recent survey is truly representative of the broader population, then more than half of America's high school math teachers are making up their own worksheets and other supporting materials, rather than using content furnished by their districts. This is an important problem to cite for a number of reasons. ■ First and foremost, it most likely reflects a chronic problem with math education in the United States: There seems to be very little consensus about how to approach it most effectively, particularly when students don't see how content really applies to then and many of their parents still suffer from lingering resentment over how they themselves were taught. It's no surprise that nobody is proud of American students' math performance on the world stage. ■ The heavy use of non-standard content supplements also represents a non-trivial waste of time and effort. Many, if not most, other subjects have at least some context dependency -- there are local topics to explore in government class, foreign languages may reflect the accents and dialects that the instructors themselves learned, and a deep dive into biology may explore things differently in Alaska than in Florida. But math, for the most part, is the same everywhere: Trigonometry doesn't have a dialect. ■ While efforts to nationalize virtually any school curricula are bound to run up against justifiable criticism, it seems clear that we are chronic offenders when it comes to math education. Not only ought there to be some considerable economies of scale to exploit (really, can't we all learn Cartesian planes and conditional probabilities from the same worksheets?), we should also be able to leverage more from the gap between those who are really gifted math teachers and those who are not. ■ It may seem dismissive to single out the high-performers, but it's really not a matter of dispute: A good teacher doesn't just have content knowledge, they also have to master pedagogy -- the process of conveying information to the students. It may be plainly more effective to identify the very best math lecturers in a school and have them focus on lesson planning to be delivered to all of the math students together, while the other teachers attend to one-on-one interventions with students as they need them.

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