How Much Do You Care if Your Kids Learn Math?


Last post, I talked a little bit about why students are not learning math. So, my question here is, how much do you care? No, this is not another rant on how kids would all learn if their teachers cared more, but it is a serious question.

Unless you are in some amazing school somewhere I haven’t been, odds are that 10% or more of your students are not at grade level. In many schools, it’s 50% or more. 

If we’re honest, the students bear some of the responsibility, and the older they are, the more we can put the burden on them. If you are five, your mom should be helping you find a pencil. If you are fifteen, not so much.

Let’s be honest, it’s just you and me here talking. 

When you have a student who does not turn in their work, does not try so much as one or two problems on an assignment or test, what do you think? Do you say to yourself, 

“Well, I can only do so much. I can’t help you if you won’t help yourself.”

Really, what CAN you do with those students who won’t do anything? Maybe they are disruptive in class. Maybe they aren’t, they just sit their with their heads on their desks, or they are quietly doodling in their notebooks or texting their friends.

It’s frustrating, isn’t it?

Maybe you believe students should be motivated to learn, either because it is worth learning in itself or because it is so blatantly obvious that it will help them in the future. If nothing else, learning math will help you graduate from high school and where are you going to be without a high school diploma.

Let’s look at facts, though, shall we?

One of the things I learned from math is that facts are facts whether you like them or not. 

We can’t have a popular vote and decide that the answer to every algebra problem is 14.6.

The fact is that you have students who are not motivated to do math. We can debate the reason – low self-efficacy, lack of sleep, no one cares if they learn or not – that’s not important right now.

The fact is that they aren’t self-motivated and if you put information in front of them with the attitude they will either want to learn it or not, and you are here to provide all of the help in the world if they want to learn, they will still choose – not.

Some students are motivated but some just are not

What can you do about it?

One answer is to make learning math itself more motivating, in other words, require less self-motivation on the part of the student. That is NOT easy. I’ve been working on this exact problem for years.

Let’s face another fact – a lot of our students are doing poorly at math and none of these programs that are supposed to raise math scores have helped our low-achieving schools. I know schools that have had one intervention program after another for 30 years and their test scores are still at the bottom of the barrel. 

The fact is that all of that stuff that looks so good on paper has not been working . As I mentioned in my last post,  pretest – practice problems – instruction – more problems to assess progress, that all sounds good to an administrator but it doesn’t work if you can’t get the students past the pretest.

Maybe it’s time we turned a lot of that on its head. Now, I don’t mean that teachers need to turn into clowns and juggle while they teach about converting fractions to decimals – although if you do manage that I will be seriously impressed.

When we changed our games to start with a game instead of a math problem, then made the math problem easier , and then, like in AzTech: The Story Begins, we started the games with relatively more games and less math, until a few levels into the game when they were already “hooked”, student perseverance went up again.

Howler monkey from AzTech: Meet the Maya

You may think that motivation shouldn’t be your problem. I say that it is your problem whether it should be or not. The question is whether you are going to admit the reality that most education companies, whether textbook manufacturers or software developers are focused on selling to the schools and that what motivates schools to buy is not always the same as what motivates students to learn.

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