Major Causes of Poor Math Education

Many books and articles have been written about how important factors that impact the learning of mathematics, including societies inequities, socioeconomic status, gender, race, language politics, and others.

It’s true, and to achieve equity and excellence we need to do a lot of work in these domains. But such topics are beyond the scope of this website.

This is about how to improve math education by having students enjoy Hands-on Creative. Logical FUN that explores powerful math concepts in ways that are physical and understandable.

What’s Wrong

Teachers in most schools are under pressure to “Teach to the Standardized Test.”  Many teachers feel that in order to satisfy official requirements they must cover a long list of specific mini-subjects during the school term.

They know that many of their students will not understand how to do the math, or why they the procedures, but they feel they are required to cover the next subject on the list, and hope the students will somehow catch up.

This can leave gaping holes in student’s knowledge, and that harms their ability to understand future math concepts, since math builds on the missing concepts. Does this make sense?

Would learning how to read be effective if students didn’t understand how to use some letters of the alphabet?

In most schools, math teachers spend most class time presenting “Math Facts and Procedures” to learn, memorize and practice to be graded on timed math tests.

Research, however, shows that an emphasis on memorization of facts, rote procedures and speed actually impairs learning and achievement. Students who memorized facts and procedures may not have much understanding of the operations or how to correctly apply them in context.

“Timed Tests and the Development of Math Anxiety”

In the United States, although research shows that testing does not improve math outcomes, there is a trend towards greater test-based accountability for students and teachers.  But it puts students’ grades and teachers’ jobs and income at stake.

This causes many teachers to “teach to the test” which results in teaching procedures that do not assess mathematical thinking, but simply apply arithmetical procedures to information embedded in test questions.

Since the usual math tests do Not assess a student’s ability to creatively use logic to search for understanding, many students are not motivated to learn how to think creatively and logically like mathematicians, because “It’s not on the test”.

Many teachers feel they have to cover the assigned material and must press on with the lessons in their plan, instead of spending time helping their students understand the concepts.

In the short run teachers may achieve good test results by teaching the procedures that are being tested, but they are Not helping students learn the thinking processes that make the math so valuable in understanding how reality works.

According to what a student of mine expressed: “It’s not much fun to memorize and regurgitate arbitrary, abstract, pointless, weird, anxiety producing math procedures on tests.”

If misunderstood concepts are not addressed, students will have difficulty grasping lessons that are built upon misunderstood concepts.

When students don’t understand the concepts that make the procedures work, the facts and procedures have no intrinsic meaning to them, and are easily forgotten.

This often leads to a waterfall of frustration, misunderstanding and unhappiness that can be expressed as: “I’m no good at math.”

It’s a warning: It can indicate giving-up trying to learn, and can indicate a damaged self-image, or growing math anxiety. More people have math anxiety than any other type of anxiety. It may also indicate Dyscalculia, which is similar to Dyslexia and can be accommodated with various coping methods.

The Importance of Genuine Experience

Discovering ideas, and insights about how to use them is FUN. It’s not necessarily easy or quick to discover ideas and insights about anything. But it is pleasurable to make the discoveries. Thus, regardless of effort, it is satisfying and FUN.

Math, as practiced by mathematicians, is the creative use of logic to search for understanding.

Research going back thousands of years show that people learn best by experiencing creative ways to logically come to conclusions in non-punitive, inquiry-based environments.

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”   Confucius
“All knowledge begins with the senses.”  Aristotle
“Experience is the teacher of all things.” Julius Caesar
“Experience is the best teacher.” Ben Franklin
“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced.” John Keats
“All genuine education comes about through experience.” John Dewey
Children acquire knowledge through experience.”
Maria Montessori
“The only source of knowledge is experience.” Albert Einstein

The word “Experience” is derived from the Latin, experiri, ‘to try’ which is also the Latin root of experiment and expert.  To become an expert, you have to have experiences and experiments ‘to try’ and then evaluate the knowledge gained.

The Time to Change Math Education is Now

The USA’s below average ranking in math education outcomes has pushed the reform of math education to become a national priority. However, due to many forms of inertia, until this year substantial changes in the way math is taught were slow and expensive to roll out, and difficult to implement.

Due to the coronavirus, Pre-K to Grade 12 education changed. Students were at home, on the internet.

Students and parents can be contacted directly, and be engaged with intelligent, creative FUN. They can start having FUN with Wiz-Blox, then math info & “other math toys” can be offered for family FUN.

Computerized lessons and assessments over the Internet can identify concepts that are misunderstood and need to be addressed. However, since the software does Not yet understand how people think, or how to help them think better, it should Not be used as a substitute for effective learning interactions with teachers and other people.

Play and mentoring are critical ways to create positive math interactions.