Math has numbers. Duh.

If you want to hear me rant, just ask me about why students aren’t learning math. We have technology! We have STEM programs! We have STEAM programs! Why the hell are our kids still so far behind?

Cranky old teacher with a stick
Now, I’m not saying to bring back this lady

What we don’t have is a lot of actual math teaching

When I was young, there was a “Back to Basics” movement.  I was a witness, in some new educational innovations, but not a participant. I had just started middle school and was learning algebra, but my younger brother and sister got all the new stuff. Some of it was good, like having a “word of the day” that was on the board and used throughout the day.  Over the years, it had a major impact on student vocabulary.

However, some of the changes I’ve seen in math education I thought were stupid when I was 12 and now that I am 5 x 12 , I am sure these are stupid. Let me count the ways:

1. Forgetting about math facts. In short, if you can easily recall that 8 x 6 = 48 or 12+20 =32 then it is easier to solve more difficult math problems. If the problem states, “Bob worked 8 hours a day for 6 days and was paid $10 per hour, how much money did Bob earn?” , you don’t have to spend a lot of time thinking “Okay, what’s 8 x6?”

2. Forgetting about number fluency.  Think about being fluent in a language. You don’t just memorize vocabulary words, although that can be a start. Eventually, you need to use those words in context. You learn that, “I like coffee.”, and, “I will die without my coffee in the morning.” have similar but not identical meanings. Similarly, you don’t just know that 8 x 6 = 48 but also that 6 x 8 = 48 , that 48 = (4 x 10) + 8 . How do you get that? From spending lots of time using numbers in different ways.

There’s a point between 100 mindless worksheets and happy math stories

I’m not saying we need to return to the days of doing sums on a slate or having students do endless stacks of worksheets. In fact, I think the opposite of that. What we DO need is to have a lot of time and hands on experience with numbers in different formats. I don’t think worksheets, flash cards or many of the phone / computer apps that are just electronic flash cards are an unmitigated evil. I do think after limited use of those types of activities students should be hearing teachers give examples where NUMBERS are used, not stories of famous mathematicians that looked like their students. 

Math class shouldn’t be spent drawing pictures unless those pictures bear a relationship to NUMBERS. Want you second-graders to do a dot plot to illustrate 8 boys and 10 girls? I’m totally cool with that. Taking up the whole class so they can add pictures of clowns and flowers to it? Not so much. That sounds like a nice activity to have during your art period. 

Whether it is “educational apps” or in-class activities, I have seen so much “pretending to teach math” that I am just about to lose it. I want to find who started all of this so I can go to their house and slap them. 

All right, that’s my rant for today. I have to go analyze some data. However, I want to be helpful so here is a video that does include some direct teaching of math. We have hundreds of these on our youtube channel and on teachertube , all for free.

And here is a link for a more academic discussion of number fluency.

Rant off. For now.

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