Friday, October 20, 2006

Joy In Learning Math?

A new study finds that there is no need for students to find math relevant to succeed in it. I having been teaching math for over 30 years and couldn't agree more highly with the finding that there is no need for math to be relevant to a student's life . There is no need to create such complex word problems, using ethnic names, that the purpose of the problem is lost in translation. Kids have to understand that everything they learn in school is learning for knowledge sake. Most of the things we learn in school have no relevance in our lives. I never enjoyed reading Shakespeare, found nothing important in what he wrote, but my education would have sorely been lacking had I not been exposed to his writings. Besides, how would anyone know what courses of study they should persue if they are not exposed to everything out there?

The new trend in education is to let the kids sit in a "horse shoe". This way, they can supposedly speak to each other easier, communicate better, be happier. I am willing to bet this is not being done in many of the countries whose math grades surpass ours.

While there is no need to relate math to students lives, there should be joy in learning mathematics. Teachers need to present material in an interesting fashion. They need to make the material as fascinating as possible, to make the students want to learn it and to make them believe they can succeed. Too many of our students today suffer from math phobias and fail because they believe they cannot pass. The joy of learning should be the feelings of success when a difficult topic, such as factoring is finally mastered. I have actually seen math phobic kids light up with joy when they finally understand what they have been taught.


Anonymous said...

I always try to personalize literature, and that seems to help kids get into it. I hate to admit it, but I've always liked placing the class in a circle, and that's about the only thing Bloomberg has done that I'm glad about. I can now have that option, which I'd wanted for years.

I can understand, though, how it might not work for math.

I'm one of those folks with a math phobia, I never liked math, and I'm relieved I no longer have to study it. My daughter loves it, though. I can't figure where I went wrong.

Pissedoffteacher said...

I'm happy that you are happy about the circle and can now use it. In spite of what Mr. suit thinks, I did try it. I found the kids were just too far from the board. I usually have a free for all in the front of the room. Also, since I am constantly working at the board it is impractical to stand in the middle of the room. I can see where the circle would work in different subject areas.

As for making the work relevant, I hate to admit it but most of the stuff I teach has no relevance in these kids lives. I think they have to understand that there ae some things they just have to learn. Your subject, on the other hand is absolutely necessary for them, no matter what field they pursue and in that case rlating to their lives is important.

I know how you feel about math. That is my sentiments about Shakespeare. My daughter was a math major who happens to love Shakespeare and took multiple courses related to his works in college. I can't figure out how she did that either.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I don't much enjoy reading Shakespeare either, though I love many, many individual lines and stories.

I love reading, though, and I do try to impart that to kids, largely by selecting only literature for which I have a lot of enthusiasm. I don't suppose math teachers get that option.

I do see value in encouraging logical thought, though, which is all too rare these days. And while I'll deny it if you ask me in public, I'm actually glad my daughter likes math. It's good for kids to be enthusiastic about their studies, whatever it is they happen to be studying.

Pissedoffteacher said...

Logical thinking, I think, is one of the most important skills I teach my kids. I try to make wrod problems exciting (now, that is a challenge) by comparing them to tv shows like CSI, where you have to find the clues and get to the bottom of the case. I try to make them see that decoding a math problem is a skill they can use in almost any subject area. I just can't get excited about actually trying to come up with situations and that they can relate too.

Anonymous said...

Actually, that does sound like situations they can relate to, even if indirectly or vicariously.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the reason we ask kids to learn math is NOT because they're going to run around finding quadratic equations to solve for the rest of their lives. We want them to learn how to learn. The abstract but internally consistent systems of mathematics are perfect for that. And anything we can do as teachers to make that fun and engaging is well worth our time. My best teachers are the ones that created a mythology and an alternate world inside their classroom where we could focus on the subject without always second-guessing or questioning the value of the topics.

Can you post a link to the study?

Pissedoffteacher said...,0,7048164.story

I hope this link works. The article was from Newsday and I know they don't keep it on too long. If it doesn't work, I will copy it and send it in an email.

Lsquared said...

I stole from someone the idea that when students say "when am I going to use this" what they mean is "I don't get it", and it seems to be true. Relating problems to real life, when possible, rarely makes them like the problems any more--usually they like them less. On the other hand, giving them a situation that makes it easier to visualize and understand the problem better can be very useful.

Pissedoffteacher said...

I couldn't agree with you more!

Anonymous said...

Here's the WaPo link to the original article:

And here's the transcript of the presentation:

Some amusing quotes in the latter such as, "I am not saying, let us just cut them off at the knees in terms of confidence; we want really unconfident kids. That is not what I am saying at all."