Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Math Education Criticisms

     So I googled "math education" to see if any interesting blogs popped up, and honestly I was surprised. There were so many instant results that simply criticized  math education and didn't offer any realistic solution. The first one I read I couldn't even finish, it referred to math as soul crushing and I just couldn't keep reading that article.
     The next article I read wasn't quite so, let's say 'mean spirited' toward math education but still highly critical. Here's the link: http://www.computerbasedmath.org/ . On the FAQs page it talks about how as teachers we only teach "computing" and not enough mathematical thinking, they suggest using computers to replace the hand calculations. But they do not take into account that computers, calculators, or any other technology that solves math for a student doesn't help them understand the "mathematical thinking" for that question.
     The article suggests that learning how to do the hand calculations is irrelevant, and students only need to know how to set up a problem. They do not take into account that without solving the problem students don't learn from their mistakes as easily. Without doing the hand calculations students don't learn the mathematical concepts. Its like saying that students shouldn't be allowed to learn math in a concrete way or with specific examples but should be restricted only to the abstract thought that math involves.
      This article states "computers should be used for computing and students should learn concepts, applications, and interpretation and validation skills from teachers" but they don't realize that as teachers we do teach all of those things. We teach concepts on a daily basis, reinforcing them with real world applications. We ask students to validate their work by asking them to explain their work. We make students interpret word problems and computational work for their meaning. All of these things happen in a mathematics classroom today.
     I can't think that they are referring to a classroom twenty years ago either. The technology may be changing, but the math curriculum hasn't been altered enough much to say these things were missing before. Even my math teacher in high school, who taught geometry, pre-calculus and calculus every year the exact same way, for multiple decades, covers "concepts, applications, and interpretation and validation skills" in her class on a daily basis.
     I think this criticism is excessive, I think it is uncalled for, but I also think we need to be aware of the level of criticism we face as math teachers.  How easy is it to blame the teacher for any student who doesn't excel at math, even if that student doesn't try, doesn't attend class, or maybe just shouldn't be in that level of a math class. It is very easy to blame the teacher, but I don't think the teacher deserves it.