Should Mathematics Be Revised?
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This article is in response to the question: " What are your views on whether mathematics should be revised and why?" asked by Haunty, a fellow hubber. Haunty asked a very pertinent and relevant question considering students performances collectively in the mathematics classrooms and on standardized tests across the country today. As I began to think on Haunty's question, I could not help but reflect on what I believe is a major setback to student success in the mathematics classroom.
As an educator, I firmly believe that a teacher has not successfully taught until every child has learned the intended skill; whether in part or in totality. Having said, it is my belief that mathematics does not need revising. There are revisions that I believe should be made. These revisions, based on my professional experience, are relatively simple, but highly effective. Two revisions that I recommend are changes to: (1) who teaches mathematics, and (2) how it is being taught.
Mathematics is a universal language of numbers. I believe most students have the propensity to understand and apply mathematical skills and concepts to some degree of success. So what happens to lessen or diminish students' ability, desire, and eagerness to learn mathematics? Listen to some of the reasons parents and children often give:
- I struggled with math, so my child can't do math either.
- Math is hard.
- I don't like math.
- I don't get math.
- The teacher gets angry when I ask questions.
- Why do I need to learn this anyway?
Parents and children tend to have very strong emotions about mathematics - either they love it or they hate it. Very seldom are they in the middle of the road when it comes to their opinions about math. Why is this so? One reason is because mathematics is such a critical subject. Students must demonstrate proficiency in mathematics for promotion.
For this reason, it is imperative to place content knowledgeable teachers with a passion for mathematics in mathematics classroom. It's very unfortunate when there are teachers in math classrooms who are incompetent to teach math; and are therefore clueless as to how to engage students in the mathematics learning process.
We set teachers and students up for failure when we place teachers in classrooms to teach subjects that they frankly don't understand themselves. Teachers struggle with teaching subjects for which they are not passionate or knowledgeable and should not be placed in positions to do so. It's not fair to them or their students.
I know you may be wondering how can a teacher not know all subjects well. The fact of the matter is, when teachers are certifed to teach, they are not taught content. It is expected that they already know the content. They are taught how to teach content and are given strategies, pedagogies, theories, philosophies, etc of teaching.
So, let's say you were a 'not-so-great' mathematics student yourself; and yet somehow performed well enough to graduate high school and college, you probably would not want to teach mathematics when you become a teacher. Right? However, elementary teachers in most schools teach all subjects; including mathematics! Do you think this teacher will be passionate about mathematics; creating dynamic lesson plans, and learning opportunities for students to make awesome math discoveries? Probably not. That's when we begin to hear all of the above mentioned reasons and more from parents and children why they hate mathematics.
It is my desire to see mathematics specialized or departmentalized at every grade level including Kindergarten. I was very blessed upon transitioning from middle school to elementary school. My first year of being in elementary school was quite frankly overwhelming. It was mind boggling to me how teachers were expected to teach the same students all subjects all day five days a week. I introduced the middle school concept of specialized instruction to my other two team members who eagerly embraced it and so did my Principal.
What made departmentalization work so beautifully for our team was that each of us were naturally gifted in a particular subject. One teacher was specialized in Reading/Language Arts, the other was specialized in Science and Social Studies, and I was specialized in Mathematics. Deparmentalization worked like a well-oiled machine for our team and our students were the winners!
Parents and teachers alike can help build students confidence in mathematics by not telling them that it's hard. Even if you believe that to be true, the student does not need to know it. Help children to see mathematics in every day life. Make learning mathematics relevant by connecting related skills and concepts. Be patient with students as they make sense of mathematics and grasp understanding of knowledge that seems foreign to them.
To answer Haunty's question, rather than revising mathematics; I believe a viable solution is to specialize the instruction placing passionate, talented, knowledgeable mathematics teachers in classrooms from Kindergarten - 12th grades.