The United States has a math problem, and, like most middle school students sitting down with their homework, we are not finding any easy solutions. Young people in this country are struggling to attain the proficiency necessary to pursue the careers our economy desperately needs.
Universities bemoan students' inability to complete college-level math. Each year thousands of newly admitted college students are placed in non-credit-bearing remedial courses in math, a path that immediately puts them at a higher risk of not completing a degree.
Despite decades of reform efforts, mathematics teaching in the U.S. has changed little in the last century. As a result, it seems, American students have been left behind, now ranking 40th in the world in math literacy.
Several state and national reform efforts have tried to improve things. The most recent Common Core standards had a great deal of promise with their focus on how to teach mathematics, but after several years, changes in teaching practices have been minimal.
Like a lot of students, many elementary school teachers dread math class. But, according to a new study from researchers at Stanford Graduate School of Education, when teachers reexamine how they were taught math and their perceptions of their ability, student test scores and attitudes about math dramatically improve.
The research, published this month in the peer-reviewed journal Education Sciences, found that fifth-grade teachers who took an online class designed to give them a different approach to mathematics teaching and learning achieved significantly higher test results for their students compared with a control group of teachers in the same schools who did not take the class.
What does it take to improve student success and interest in math? The Philadelphia-based Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) asked more than 400 U.S. high school math teachers for their advice related to teaching and learning mathematics.
“The good news is that students can have success in math class with the right effort, attitude, and behavior, regardless of a natural affinity or being ‘good at math,’” said Michelle Montgomery, project director of the MathWorks Math Modeling (M3) Challenge at SIAM. “Using quantitative skills to solve real, open-ended problems by employing the mathematical modeling process is a great way to get started.”
When I was an elementary classroom teacher, I always welcomed activities that could serve dual duty—combining the goals of two subjects at once, in a seamless whole. Such activities streamlined my work efforts (so important for busy teachers), and they used valuable classroom time to the fullest.
With the current strong emphasis on literacy and math, it makes great sense to combine these two subjects.