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Deb Russell

Too Much Math?

By May 2, 2011

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I've been an educator most of my career. Something I hear over and over again is that there is too much math to teach and not enough time.  I will admit, the math curriculum is packed full of content, and, although much of the content gets repeated year after year, the level of difficulty increases.  A typical grade by grade course of study looks something like this, and most educational jurisdictions follow the NCTM guidelines regarding math curriculum.  The curriculum is daunting, even if teachers manage to teach it all, are students learning it?

In these changing times with technology supporting math, how much math should be taught? What's relevant? What's irrelevant? Tough questions but we'd like to hear your thoughts.

Comments

May 4, 2011 at 11:21 pm
(1) Herman a. Johnson says:

While I am allowing my students to use calculators to maximize their performance on year end testing (now there’s a waste of time), I still believe that it’s highly important that the students planning to be heavy math users in the future learn the basics. As a former engineer, I have welcomed and made great use of enhanced computational programming. But it was essential to me as a professional to understand the calculation enough to know what the ballpark of the correct answer is and to do that I must know the calculation. I spent the day today teaching high school juniors to manually multiply 2X2 matrices. They were amazed that it could be done without a calculator. The ability to have a calculator do the calculation is no excuse for ignorance.

May 6, 2011 at 5:50 pm
(2) Math Teacher says:

I face this argument almost daily because we do not allow out student to use calculators for Algebra I/Algebra II. We require that they learn how to do the computations by hand. Student still whine everyday about how they don’t need to know how to do it because they can have a calculator or a computer do it for them. I remind them that I need to know that THEY know how to do the problems, not that the calculator knows how to do the problem. Even the calculators are not fool proof if they do not know the correct way to enter the problem they are trying to solve. In classes where calculators have been used I would venture to guess that about half of the students still get a wrong answer because they enter the information incorrectly. Then I try to explain to them that is the reason why they need to know how to do it too because they need to be able to recognize if their answer is feasible.

May 8, 2011 at 10:40 am
(3) Michael Paul Goldenberg says:

Frightening to still see the same attitudes from mathematics teachers that were unhelpful and unjustifiable 50 years ago. Bert Waits (emeritus professor of mathematics at Ohio State University) posed the following question at a presentation he gave at an NCTM regional conference in Cleveland in November 1997, having show us the soon-to-be-released TI-89, a handheld calculator with CAS that was under $150 retail: “What part of the traditional algebra curriculum will you revise or omit given that your students will have these in their pockets?”

Apparently, the answer remains: none. The books don’t leave anything out; they only ADD to the monstrosities they already are. And the teachers, for the most part, adhere blindly to the tradition in which they were taught: theirs not to reason why, but merely follow as their students die.

The fact is that our K-12 (and particularly 9-12) mathematics curriculum is bloated and crammed with nonsense and useless garbage. A mile wide and an inch deep doesn’t even begin to come close. And so many teachers shut their eyes, turn off their brains, and teach whatever the text, district, state, and now feds say they should teach.

Whatever happened to teaching KIDS? Whatever happened to making informed, principled, professional judgments? Whatever happened to human beings, not robots, teaching mathematics? Or perhaps that’s never happened on a wide-scale basis, and therein lies so many of our woes in mathematics classrooms, the subject we teach our kids to love to hate.

May 8, 2011 at 9:21 pm
(4) John says:

This reminded me of a paper I recently read about this very topic…

http://www.maa.org/devlin/LockhartsLament.pdf

May 9, 2011 at 6:55 am
(5) Annie says:

I think it is insane how much we are trying to cover over and over again every year, touching on everything from soup to nuts on a yearly basis. We need to slow this runaway train down so the kids can see the scenery! Spend more time on fewer topics. Give the kids a chance to absorb the basics of numeracy before introducing fractions, Venn diagrams, statistics, and probability in the freakin’ first grade, for the love of Pete! It is my opinion that we need to revamp the whole kit and kaboodle! Many teachers agree, but we dance the dance knowing all that stuff must be covered because the testing demands it and is driving our curriculum more than any other factor. Then we wonder why our kids are not doing great. Grrrrr!

May 10, 2011 at 11:10 am
(6) Sadler says:

I think what frustrates me the most as a middle school math teacher is that because there is so much content (that all must, MUST, be taught before the big test) we give students an abbreviated understanding of math. I worry that we no longer teach to mastery so there can be no in-depth understandings. It’s also hard to plan hands-on lessons that require 2-3 days when we have to move on to a new lesson each and every day.

May 30, 2011 at 8:40 pm
(7) John says:

Well, for all those saying there is too much, exactly WHAT would you cut???? I wish someone would offer more than just complaints and actually make some suggestions for teachers. We all know there is too much. Let’s move past that and get to the point. What gets cut????

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