Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Math Might Get Tougher?

Last Monday morning the headline in the local newspaper, the Burlington Free Press, read Math Might Get Tougher. There are few things just about anybody wants to read less, especially on a Monday morning, than this. It seems almost inconceivable that both the Vermont Commissioner of Education and the Governor would endorse this statement at a time of looming national crisis vis a vis HS students' avoidance of math classes. The plan, as described, is to require all students to take Algebra II as a HS graduation requirement.

If we want students to develop a better understanding of math it would seem logical to first make it more attractive than to make it tougher. If we want more HS students to take more math and do better at it why doesn't the headline read "Math Might Become More Relevant" or Math Might Become More Creative" or "Math Might Become More Interesting"? As Vi Hart shows us there are so many ways in which  math can become more interesting, creative, relevant and meaningful to adolescents.

Perhaps the most depressing thing about the Free Press article is the way a student was described as "slogging away" at an algebra II course because she "wanted it to look good for college". What have we done to our education system when we have reduced the wonders and joys of learning to a letter grade commodity that can be used to gain entry into the next level where, once again, letter grades are all that seem to matter.

Several years ago, a professor at a college in another country made this observation. She said " Why is it that the visiting American students always ask what they need to do to get an A in my course whereas my students ask what sorts of things will they learn in my course?" 

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