Catching up in math in college years or WHY math aptitude in US kids worries us so much - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 21 Old 03-03-2011, 10:03 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm not sure how to verbalise this, but I've been thinking about this subject.  I will try.

 

I assume there are two types of students in the remedial math classes. Those who received inadequate instruction, but have good math ability and like math, and those who are behind because they don't understand  and likely don't like math.

 

The first group are very likely to catch up. The second group might catch up, or they might not. If they don't catch up, does this mean they are a failure? Or they simply figured out something about themselves and are now know to choose a different path?

 

My experiece: Math was shoved down my throat in a Soviet school, and I did well (really well--like placing third in a republican math competition, though I have no idea how I managed this LOL) , until I arrived to Canada when I was sixteen. Suddenly I had a choice in my last year of highschool not to take any math. I haven't touched math since, and in fact I struggled with the 4 courses in statistical analysis that I had to take for my undergraduate and graduate degrees. And don't even ask me about "Biological Foundations of Behaviour", which was a mandatory course. More than half of my classmates struggled with those courses, probably closer to 75%. When I did my own research for my thesis, I had access to statistical tutors in a special lab--most of my classmates used the lab to help with their statistics. It wasn't a big deal, really. I had enough knowledge to understand most of it, and what I didn't fully understand, I got help with. Many of my professors, including my supervisor and the chair of the department, knew less of statistical analysis than I did, and certainly cared less. This was University of Toronto, btw. Help was always available.

 

I've always known that math was not for me. Never liked it, beyond simple arithmetics. I am profficient in quickly calculating percentages i my head, adding, subtracting, multiplying, figuring out how much fabric I'd need--the basic stuff. I'm good at basic statistics. These are the skills that most children ARE likely to learn from real life, so to speak. These are the skills one is likely to learn in a couple of months as a teenager, or at least figure out how to use a calculator for.

 

It is hard for me imagine a youth who disliked math and felt incompetent in it, and yet who wanted a career in a math related field.

 

And if one really wants a career in a math related field, I assume he or she likes math enough to catch up.

 

So what IS the problem with math? (and I'm not free of those worries myself, especially in the darkness of winter months blush.gif)

 

Is it more of a marker of success (as a homeschooler, and in terms of future success) than, let's say, creative writing, computer science, geography or dance? Why whenever there is a discussion about worries and concerns there are stories about kids being able or not able to catch up in math?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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#2 of 21 Old 03-03-2011, 11:16 AM
 
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I seem to have trouble quoting... Oh well.

 

First, my biggest concern isn't math. Above all I'm concerned about students who come to college without good reading or critical thinking skills. These are the foundational skills for most of what is expected in college. If a student is at a remedial level in reading that is a big challenge that needs to be dealt with before students can do most college work.

 

As far as the question about why math is considered more important than dance or geography... . A demonstration of a certain level of math mastery is a mandate for nearly every student who wants to earn a college degree. The same can't be said about dance. Not being able to do math is a limitation for a many degrees and careers and that includes some that people may not anticipate will really involve a lot of math. We can disagree with whether this is how it should be - you can certainly believe make an argument that dance should be more important. But, the reality is that for students who end up wanting to go to college math, or demonstration of math competence, will be a requirement for a traditional degree.

 

The other reason why I think math comes up a lot is that parents observe that their kids are entering middle and high school years with a pretty high level of competence in English, politics, etc. almost "by accident". But, that learning math through algebra 2 doesn't tend to just happen by accident. This isn't to say some kids won't be able to pick it up fairly quickly when they choose to, but again learners aren't all the same and for some getting to the level of math necessary for college takes more time and sustained effort. And, that's exactly the reason why I cringe when it is repeated again and again that students will be able to master any subject in a year.

 

 


 

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#3 of 21 Old 03-03-2011, 12:03 PM
 
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I think the issue is that math is a subject that really builds upon previous skills in a way that other subjects don't.  If you read about WWII and then study Alexander the Great, eventually you can put everything together and you haven't really lost any information.  Sure, you might not get some Alexander the Great reference in a book about Hitler's aspirations, but you can probably figure it out or it's really easy to look it up.  Just by reading a lot, you not only improve your reading skills, but you also learn pretty much all the vocabulary you'll ever need to know, and working sense of grammar.  I never really learned any grammar in school, but I think I can write a fairly coherent sentence.  The only time it's ever really come up is when I took french in high school: I had to learn a lot of English grammar in that class in order to understand French grammar, but everyone else was in the same boat.  The kind of elementary and even middle school science that most kids study is technically background for advanced scientific studies, but really science education in the US is so poor, and elementary science is so basic and simplified that it's really only tangentially related.  An elementary level science is also likely to come up in other reading.  That's just not the case with math.

 

Math really builds upon itself.  You really can't do advanced math without an understanding of earlier math skills.  There's starting to be a real backlash against the Everyday Mathematics spiral method, because those kids are getting to college and can't do algebra because they don't understand multiplication.  You really can't just sit down and learn all of math, prek-grade 8 Algebra in a day.

 

I think Americans are also math phobic as a culture, and most of us think that we suck at math and don't really understand it and were never made to understand it, and so part of the "wanting to do better by our kids" attitude that every decent parent ever in the history of the world has ever had is wanting to make sure that our kids do get a firm foundation in math, and hopefully even like it.

 

I think that math is also required for a lot of careers that might not occur to a child but for which they show aptitude as they get older.  Most 8  year olds don't say "when I grow up, I want to be a geographical stastitician!" But if they get to college and take a class on mapmaking and realize that they think it's the coolest thing ever, it's too late for them to do much about it if they've never been made to study math.  They really had to have started down the math road at age 8.  Making sure that my kids have a really solid math foundation ensures that they have a really wide range of choices when they get older.  Many, if not most, lucrative careers these days also require good math skills: finance, construction, computers.  Even when I worked retail I had to have all my basic addition and multiplication facts down cold.

 

So those are my reasons.


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#4 of 21 Old 03-03-2011, 01:30 PM
 
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I actually don't believe that the order of learning that takes place in schools with regards to math concepts is actually necessary. My daughter was playing with Hands-On Equations when she was 6 and, even though she couldn't do multiplication in her head, she grasped the concept of "solving for x" and of both sides of an equation being equal. At that time she wasn't even clear on number placement, but that wasn't necessary to understand what Algebra is all about. I think there are so many other ways of learning math than what most of us are used to, that it's not really possible to make statements about what needs to be learned first. Unfortunately, schools don't have the resources or the time to cater math education to a student's unique way of processing information, so many kids decide they "can't do math". 

 

Along these lines is a wonderful essay called The Mathematician's Lament which addresses this issue of "basic skills" quite well (and is a very good story, too).

 

 


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#5 of 21 Old 03-03-2011, 01:37 PM
 
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Math literacy is a must if you hope to have financial literacy. That alone is reason enough for me to be concerned about people of any age over 10 not having a good grasp of basic math facts, and anyone over 16 not knowing how to do at least basic financial computations, but hopefully also the gamut of "life skill" computations (area, circumference, volume, fractions, conversions, etc), and the ability to solve real world math problems. I don't think everyone needs to be able to do calculus. Everyone needs to be able to ensure they aren't being cheated/if they can afford something/if something is really a better deal/etc. And it's nice to be able to figure out how much paint you need to buy while in the store not when your run out in the middle of a wall. Or to double check that you're ordering the right amount of lawn seed. Or if you got the right discount. How much this interest rate will cost you. Etc.

I think by and large, a family with good math literacy will be able to transfer those skills to their children through gentle direction and guidance, such as allowing children to take on greater responsibility for household management as they get older. Many, if not most, children will be curious about these life skills anyway. I have met very few children who aren't amazed at the concept of money and buying power, for example.

But, as a PP said, this is the basic math level for just living life. This doesn't get you a career in the sciences, engineering, medicine, architecture, finance, or even skilled trades. There is nothing wrong with careers that don't use or require math skills. But, allowing a child to be limited to those options due to their uniformed opinion that they don't need to learn any more math than is needed in the average 8 year old's daily life - that's too radical for me.
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#6 of 21 Old 03-03-2011, 03:22 PM
 
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I think that the pp's have definitely covered why people insist on math skills being up to the standards set by whomever makes them. I did want to address a few things, too, though. 

 

It is not necessary to have excellent, or even more than basic, math skills in order to create and retain wealth. Financial management in all but those particular careers that require more, is really basic. It is not difficult to look up formulas or even ask someone who loves complex arithmetic or mathematics, if necessary, to help one solve a problem involving numbers. This does not make one helpless, and there are just only so many hours in the day, so it's far more important in my opinion, to choose what we'll spend those hours doing. I'm assuming it's given that the children we're discussing are actually acquiring life-skill-arithmetic and hopefully some organic mathematical philosophy through life experience.

 

I am not hoping that my children will have all the requisite skills for college. I am hoping that my children continue to follow their own authentic, genuinely individual, paths and that they do so with joy. If they happen to want to do something that colleges offer as a course of study, and college presents some obstacle they are not willing to surmount for the sake of the college's approval process, then I hope that they will have acquired enough creative strategies for doing what they love by bypassing the gate-keepers and doing what they love anyway. I hope my dc will have developed a greater sense of self than to, simply by default, defer to the "list of careers" to determine how they will occupy their time and use their energy.

 

I have read about many wealthy people whose math skills are only basic, and I know second-hand that having excellent math skills can mean being able to budget welfare money to the penny.

 

I think human creativity and ingenuity are immeasurably more important. Also, my children are not growing up in my generation. It's theirs, and while for us, these skills seem important because they are right now, or they were for us, keep in mind that knowing how to shoe a horse and ascertain its health was paramount to the well-being of the general population at one point. Now we need to have the skills to look into our car manuals to figure out what that blinking light means, and if we need to call a mechanic. Before the telephone, people had to send letters by post or visit in person. Now we email and post on forums, and letter writing is drastically different, requiring a very different set of skills than even just a few generations ago. How many children are expected to know how to make, use, and maintain a brass-nibbed pen, or a quill? How many children even know what an ink well is? When children learned to write, they had to acquire the physical and intellectual skills to use those tools, and now "writing" oftentimes actually means pressing little buttons with letters marked on them. How could the parents of those children have foreseen the keypad or even the Bic pen? But there were lots of people who grew up using nibs, but didn't need those skills as adults. IMO, it would have been a much better use of their time and energy to have pursued their personal interests than to have painstakingly repeated d after d after d until their d's had no splotchy parts, no sharp corners, and perfectly smooth curves. It takes a lot of practice to accomplish that, and a Bic pen makes that task far easier, far faster, and just as legible.

 

I am not advocating helplessness at all. I think knowing how to take care of oneself and family is very important- grow, hunt, gather, and prepare food, make clothing, shelter, deal with injuries and health issues, etc...: these are essential. Reading, writing, arithmetic- these are helpful. But even now, our society has shifted toward a more visual communication style than it has for a long time. This may mean that those who cannot accurately draw and translate interpretive symbols will be the ones whose skills are behind the rest. These skills may be the determining factor in the relative financial and social success of the next generations. There isn't any valid reason to ground our children to where we are. The rate of societal change has accelerated, so it likely won't take three generations to acclimate to new technologies and skill-sets.

 

I just think that our perspective doesn't account for the reality we don't yet know, the reality that our children are presently creating. If math skills, for instance, are extremely rare, then society will evolve so that they only matter as much as the people in it can use them. A lot of human skills have become extinct because of the technology of the day. Numbers won't go away, but how many people know how to make a spoon from very start to finish? And yet, spoons are ubiquitous, and nearly everyone knows how to use one. No doubt some well-meaning parents were at some point lamenting that children nowadays have lost the ability to determine the mineral constituents of rocks by sight. How will they continue to make and use spoons without that knowledge? Well, a few have retained the knowledge necessary to progress in this field of understanding, but it has long been unnecessary for the majority.

 

I am extremely cautious about embracing any universally required skill/knowledge that isn't amongst the very few most basic skills needed for survival. Survival is essential, but all the rest is enormously variable. Parents may want their dc to have certain skills and knowledge, but that certainly doesn't indicate a real necessity. Oftentimes, the question needs to be regressed a step or two. And always followed by the caveat, "if" + personally held value.


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#7 of 21 Old 03-03-2011, 04:05 PM
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I'm not actually going to read this thread because I like my head unexploded. However, the remedial math students I taught generally fell into 3 categories. The first were non-traditional students (who always seem to be forgotten) who generally did well in high school but needed a refresher. They were older, had kids and just have been out of school for a long time. The math anxious students that could be subdivided into the hostile ones and the just anxious ones. I taught a variety of test taking and anxiety coping skills for those students. Then there was the smallest group - the group of students who were failed by the people who were supposed to get them to adulthood with basic math skills. 

 

I can't really say which group did the worst or the best because I didn't actually divide the students into groups and look at the numbers. However, I can tell you I flunked a lot of people who then could not go on to the nursing school they aspired to. 

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#8 of 21 Old 03-03-2011, 04:49 PM
 
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Originally Posted by PreggieUBA2C View Post
I think human creativity and ingenuity are immeasurably more important. Also, my children are not growing up in my generation. It's theirs, and while for us, these skills seem important because they are right now, or they were for us, keep in mind that knowing how to shoe a horse and ascertain its health was paramount to the well-being of the general population at one point. Now we need to have the skills to look into our car manuals to figure out what that blinking light means, and if we need to call a mechanic. Before the telephone, people had to send letters by post or visit in person. Now we email and post on forums, and letter writing is drastically different, requiring a very different set of skills than even just a few generations ago. How many children are expected to know how to make, use, and maintain a brass-nibbed pen, or a quill? How many children even know what an ink well is? When children learned to write, they had to acquire the physical and intellectual skills to use those tools, and now "writing" oftentimes actually means pressing little buttons with letters marked on them. How could the parents of those children have foreseen the keypad or even the Bic pen? But there were lots of people who grew up using nibs, but didn't need those skills as adults. IMO, it would have been a much better use of their time and energy to have pursued their personal interests than to have painstakingly repeated d after d after d until their d's had no splotchy parts, no sharp corners, and perfectly smooth curves. It takes a lot of practice to accomplish that, and a Bic pen makes that task far easier, far faster, and just as legible.

 

I am not advocating helplessness at all. I think knowing how to take care of oneself and family is very important- grow, hunt, gather, and prepare food, make clothing, shelter, deal with injuries and health issues, etc...: these are essential. Reading, writing, arithmetic- these are helpful. But even now, our society has shifted toward a more visual communication style than it has for a long time. This may mean that those who cannot accurately draw and translate interpretive symbols will be the ones whose skills are behind the rest. These skills may be the determining factor in the relative financial and social success of the next generations. There isn't any valid reason to ground our children to where we are. The rate of societal change has accelerated, so it likely won't take three generations to acclimate to new technologies and skill-sets.

 

I just think that our perspective doesn't account for the reality we don't yet know, the reality that our children are presently creating. If math skills, for instance, are extremely rare, then society will evolve so that they only matter as much as the people in it can use them. A lot of human skills have become extinct because of the technology of the day. Numbers won't go away, but how many people know how to make a spoon from very start to finish? And yet, spoons are ubiquitous, and nearly everyone knows how to use one. No doubt some well-meaning parents were at some point lamenting that children nowadays have lost the ability to determine the mineral constituents of rocks by sight. How will they continue to make and use spoons without that knowledge? Well, a few have retained the knowledge necessary to progress in this field of understanding, but it has long been unnecessary for the majority.

 

 

This is interesting because, in the 5000+ years of recorded human history, Math and Literacy are skills that have spread to more people as a percentage of the population, while most of the other skilled trades you describe still exist though now are the domain of a few people, with an ever increasing number of new skills jumping in so that as a whole, the human populace is just as skilled as they ever were. And as certain skills transition out of favor - such as using a quill pen - those skills get translated into new areas. Using a quill pen, again as an example,  is not just about forming letters. It is about small motor control and a light and steady hand. A person who grows up using a quill pen might want to transition those steady hand skills into circuit repair, or something else equally "modern". Or they may want to be an artist. Or a surgeon. Or do pin striping on motorcycles. Or even just be really good at putting on liquid eyeliner. I don't think there is such a thing as a useless skill, just one that you haven't found your ideal application yet. 

 

I think ultimately it comes down to each family's personal definition about what beyond food, shelter, and health are necessary to being a complete and successful human person. Compassion is not food, shelter or health, and yet I think it is extremely important to our future as a species to foster compassion in our children. If a parent is choosing to allow a child to self direct their compassion to the extent that the child is not developing at least age appropriately, I admit that I look askance on them.

 

But anyway it is an interesting take on it. Perhaps you're right. Maybe advance math skills will become once again the domain of the super elite. It would be interesting what skills would take their place. I wonder if literacy will follow suit, we already get so much of our information through television and radio which is very similar to the way information was disseminated aurally in town meetings and from church pulpits in times when literacy rates were much lower. I don't think the internet is leaving anytime soon - the netizens revolt anytime they even perceive that information is being withheld, but I could be wrong. It would be an interesting sci-fi story for sure.

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#9 of 21 Old 03-03-2011, 06:01 PM
 
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It is much easier to measure where someone is at in math than any other subject. In science, you can have knowledge in so many different directions, that even someone who knows nothing about biology could still be a physics whiz and so on. In English, you might have read different books. Creativity is rated based on people's opinions.Even in topics of social studies (history, politics, economics, etc) opinion really weighs in. Math is the only area where opinion does not count.

 

However, where we live, the public schools do a rotten job at teaching math. To be an el ed teacher (through 8th grade) you do not even have to show basic competence in math. I would consider basic competence to include fractions which seems to elude many. When my children were in public school, math assignments were full of journally, talking about politics, even making cutesy art projects that had nothing to do with math. Very little math seemed to be involved. The only children who seemed to succeed at math were the ones who had a lot of help and teaching at home.

 

I think, if we want to improve math education, we need to get teachers in, even at the lower grade levels, who really get math and who also get children. We need to rid of the current ridiculous adopted texts that are full of non-math distractions. The really poor math education is one of the top reasons that I home school.

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#10 of 21 Old 03-03-2011, 07:20 PM
 
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This is interesting because, in the 5000+ years of recorded human history, Math and Literacy are skills that have spread to more people as a percentage of the population, while most of the other skilled trades you describe still exist though now are the domain of a few people, with an ever increasing number of new skills jumping in so that as a whole, the human populace is just as skilled as they ever were. And as certain skills transition out of favor - such as using a quill pen - those skills get translated into new areas. Using a quill pen, again as an example,  is not just about forming letters. It is about small motor control and a light and steady hand. A person who grows up using a quill pen might want to transition those steady hand skills into circuit repair, or something else equally "modern". Or they may want to be an artist. Or a surgeon. Or do pin striping on motorcycles. Or even just be really good at putting on liquid eyeliner. I don't think there is such a thing as a useless skill, just one that you haven't found your ideal application yet.

 

I am a visual artist and work a lot with all types of old-fashioned brass nibs, which is why I thought of that example. :) Oh, the irony, I know, lol.

 

I am not at all asserting that literacy and mathematics are not important or that they haven't formed the foundation of our present human civilisation; clearly they have. I'm just not convinced that our particular expectations for how these areas of skill and understanding will be applied are the most beneficial to the future generations. Giiven that my children acquire basic life-skill-arithmetic and basic mathematical philosophy through experience, I see no valid reason for "teaching to the" college, degree program, university, or career description, with math or anything else.

 

I also agree that humans have not lost skill, overall, but that our skill-set has evolved. In my opinion, it is essential that whatever the inclination of the individual, there is a means and a need to achieve it. The present "list" of "choices" is obsolete, possibly owing to how restrictive it is. If a child is inclined to the healing arts, as an example, there are going to be times when measurements, fractions, units, grouping, etc... are required to accomplish the task, but it's almost never that a healer needs the information from a stats class, for instance, or advanced calculus to determine a course of action while working with someone who has asked for assistance. If we were able to analyse who we are, then we would have myriad options. Nobody has a burning desire at his/her core self to be a board-certified paediatric nose and throat specialist. That is a possible conduit or strategy for underlying inclinations, but it isn't the thing itself. So to be the licensed paediatric hcp, a stats class is required, but to participate in the healing of children through a care-giving occupation, it is not; there are myriad ways of accomplishing this end/journey.

 

It's like we're in the second wave of medieval thinking: it used to be that children did what their parents did, and now children choose from the list of approved careers/jobs- a group-approved selection that incorporates all of the jobs that all of the parents did so they can do what their friends' parents do instead of their own parents, but it's such a piddly step forward that it may not even be that; it may be a slight shuffle rather than an actual step. The pressures we exert on the limited time our dc are in our care, can have a profound effect on whether or not they will live their best life, whether they will truly choose their own adventure, or resign to conforming to ours, OR waste precious time confused about who they are before finally, and in spite of their restrictive education, beginning a life of their own design.

 

Again, I'm not advocating ignoring mathematics; I'm just asserting that it may look very different than we anticipate, and so it may not end up being worth anyone's effort to enforce learning it; those who are inclined will just be doing it as a natural expression of who they are. The rest will use the tools those people make. Parents have likely been concerned in this very same way since our species' earliest cognition of the concept of a future.

 

I'm not sure if you were agreeing, clarifying, or disagreeing with my post, lol. I enjoyed your reply, though. :)


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#11 of 21 Old 03-03-2011, 08:02 PM
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I disagree that math is necessarily so linear. My kid played around with binary number systems and negative numbers and combinations and permutations when she was pretty young - either because of games or from exhibits in science museums or the Zoombinis (yes, video games, I suppose). Sure, some stuff does build, as in any subject, but IMO it's less than one might think.

I dropped out of high school, passed the GED, went back to community college and tested into a remedial math class, aced it, aced a couple more math classes, and went on to get an 800 in the GRE math section. I'm not sure where I fit, but I do like math...

Since this is the unschooling forum, I do think it's worth mentioning that math is pretty hard to avoid altogether, unless you lock your kids in the basement. Kids get money and spent money, play board games with score-keeping, play video games with score-keeping and budgeting, keep bank accounts, and probably a bunch of other things. The idea of a kid without a learning disability in a functional family reaching adolescence without some basic understanding of the four basic arithmetic operations, fractions, percents, etc., seems pretty unlikely. They may not have all the facts memorized, but they're using these things. No, baking cookies is not the same as an algebra class. On the other hand, as a teacher I had 5th graders who couldn't remember whether 1/3 or 1/4 was bigger, and an experienced cookie-baker won't make that mistake.

I do think a lot of the math taught today is useless for a lot of people - I mean, if you like learning it, great, but generally speaking trig won't help you any more in life than British literature, or knitting, or the geography of the Middle East. The practically important stuff is that stuff you need to know in order to live your life, and that's pretty basic. Even the math you need for college isn't that overwhelming if you're not a math or science major.

 
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#12 of 21 Old 03-03-2011, 08:52 PM
 
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I only skimmed the posts, but here are two articles about teaching math. One is about letting kids learn on their own via unschooling. The other is about a school that did not introduce math until the sixth grade. Very interesting stuff.

 

 
 

 


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#13 of 21 Old 03-04-2011, 06:18 AM
 
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Maybe the concern is geopolitical-economically based, in that the perception is that technology is the foundation of the future, and since technology is based on math, by being deficient in math, we(the US in general) lose out on the advantages of being "ahead" technologically. After all, some 20 or 30 countries have better math standings in international competitions.

 

I do think the word aptitude describes the difference between the way it is taught in the US and other countries. Here is seems that we feel like only certain people can do well in math, and those people have some innate ability, whereas other countries all people have the ability to learn math, and can do well based on how hard they work at it. I think that is such a terrible limitation that we put on our kids, to say that! I did well at plenty of things that I really had no innate ability for, but through hard work and practice. It would have been a lot easier if I have those "natural" skills, but so what?

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#14 of 21 Old 03-04-2011, 08:52 AM
 
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Originally Posted by cloudswinger View Post

Maybe the concern is geopolitical-economically based, in that the perception is that technology is the foundation of the future, and since technology is based on math, by being deficient in math, we(the US in general) lose out on the advantages of being "ahead" technologically. After all, some 20 or 30 countries have better math standings in international competitions.

 

I do think the word aptitude describes the difference between the way it is taught in the US and other countries. Here is seems that we feel like only certain people can do well in math, and those people have some innate ability, whereas other countries all people have the ability to learn math, and can do well based on how hard they work at it. I think that is such a terrible limitation that we put on our kids, to say that! I did well at plenty of things that I really had no innate ability for, but through hard work and practice. It would have been a lot easier if I have those "natural" skills, but so what?


I think that these are very good points.  About the first one, even careers that didn't used to be math based are becoming more so.  If you look at hedge funds, you'll find almost everyone there has a PhD in math or science: things like physics preferred.  I think it's similar across the financial services industry.  I know that's only one example, but twenty or thirty years ago a lot of investment advice was based on gut feelings: now it's pretty much all based on mathematical formulas.

 

And as for the second point, I agree entirely. I know they pulled it, but remember when Mattel thought it was perfectly fine to say "math is hard!"  If you said "tee hee, I was never any good at reading!  I stopped doing it as soon as my high school stopped making me" a charitable listener would assume that you're talking about a learning disability, and a less charitable one would assume that you're just plain dumb.  But if you said "I was never any good at math!  I stopped taking it as soon as my high school stopped making me," you'll find people trying to outdo you!  "I was so bad at math, I failed it three years running!"  "Oh yeah?  I'm so bad at math, my high school said I could go back and do 5th grade math at the elementary school while everyone else in my grade took pre-calculus!" It's just socially acceptable to be "bad at math" that I think it's not in other subjects.  And on one level I think most of us are willing to accept that about ourselves, we want our kids to be better than we are.


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#15 of 21 Old 03-04-2011, 09:48 AM
 
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I dropped out of high school, passed the GED, went back to community college and tested into a remedial math class, aced it, aced a couple more math classes, and went on to get an 800 in the GRE math section. I'm not sure where I fit, but I do like math...
 

 

You are an outlier for sure. Around 95% of people scored lower than you in math. I have no data to prove it, but I'd say it is a fair guess that among people getting a perfect 800 on the math GRE most probably didn't take remedial math courses.
 

 

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#16 of 21 Old 03-05-2011, 10:33 AM
 
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This is an interesting thread for me as a a "humanities/bad at math" woman in high school/college who is now running an IT company and who programs websites and databases and needs to manage the finances for the company on a daily basis. My firm also manage a website which promotes STEM (science, technology, engineering. and math) education in the US. Running your own business, even as a freelancer, requires math  (figuring out your hourly rate, taxes, social security, projected income stream, cash flow, how much someone owes you, etc - all math).

 

From my personal experience and that of the program we support, the world, and specifically the US, needs MORE STEM education throughout the population, not less, on all levels - not just PHDs but also folks graduating from high school. And the thing with STEM is that it is foundational - you cannot get to the higher levels unless you have the basics such as calculations. It isn't really fair to expect our kids to learn the foundational stuff later in life, when they could have gotten the good groundings at a younger age and then been able to have more choices in terms of new careers and entrepreneurship.

Our increasing reliance on technology for day to day living means that STEM will become increasingly important in every aspect of life. And those without the skills, education, and training will make up the underclass.

From a report from the National Science Foundation to Congress in 2008.

 

Quote:
There is growing concern that the United States is not preparing a sufficient
number of students, teachers, and practitioners in the areas of science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics (STEM). A large majority of secondary school
students fail to reach proficiency in math and science, and many are taught by
teachers lacking adequate subject matter knowledge.

When compared to other nations, the math and science achievement of U.S.
pupils and the rate of STEM degree attainment appear inconsistent with a nation
considered the world leader in scientific innovation. In a recent international
assessment of 15-year-old students, the U.S. ranked 28th in math literacy and 24th in
science literacy. Moreover, the U.S. ranks 20th among all nations in the proportion
of 24-year-olds who earn degrees in natural science or engineering


There are some great stats on Educational attainment in these skills in the US and the problems it is causing.


You know the attributes for a great adult? Initiative, creativity, intellectual curiosity? They make for a helluva kid...
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#17 of 21 Old 03-05-2011, 06:00 PM
 
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The problem with stats such as those quoted in the above post are that the solution seems to be "more of the same". 

 

As the mum of two unschooled children it astounds me that 12 years of school for 10 months per year and 30 - 35 hours a week, plus homework, is not sufficient to give kids a good grounding in basic science, math, etc. Seems to me the system is very broken and only a complete attitude change and overhaul should be considered. 

 

The idea that the US (or any country) needs to churn out students skilled in STEM doesn't sit well with me for a number of reasons. Seems to me the overall concern is how the US ranks with other countries rather than the freedom, health, and well-being of the population. Also, it smacks of factory production methods, which I find rather offensive when we are talking about children here who generally have no say in being in school, let alone what they are to learn and study.

 

As to the claim that anybody without STEM skills and training is necessarily going to end up the underclass; I would have to ask what, exactly, this is supposed to mean. Do you mean "poor"? And do you equate a low income with lack of fulfillment in life? Because IME having less can be more and it is less about how much money one earns than the disadvantages one has when being brought up in a poor socioeconomic situation. I think it a rather narrow perspective on what constitutes a good career (meaning one that brings fulfillment) and a seeming lack of appreciation of the endless possibilities life offers for a fulfilling and joyful life outside the box of "college-career-money". When one approaches career with a hefty degree of self-confidence, a willingness to learn and try (and fail), an entrepreneurial spirit, and an understanding that one can have a full life without lots of stuff, then the world is truly one's oyster. There are plenty of people out there who are passionate about science, math, and engineering. Let those who are not find their own way; to heck with the international competitiveness aspect. 

 

When my father was growing up in England, many kids left school in their early teen years to pursue a trade or other line of work that interested them. My Dad was 16 when he left school to apprentice as a plumber. It was assumed back then that schooling beyond the basic years was a waste of time for people who would rather be doing something else (and that kids that age were perfectly capable of making such a decision for themselves!). These days it's assumed that all kids have to become tech-people or somehow "contribute to the economy" by getting fancy, high paying jobs. Nobody seems to care whether that child has any real interest or natural ability for that sort of work. 

 

I still believe that there are many things in life you can do without advanced math, that your average unschooled child cannot help but get to the age of maturity having acquired basic skills as are needed for living, and that making kids learn math when they are clearly not interested is a waste of time. Why not focus on the children who really love math, who are passionate about careers that require math, and leave the rest to follow their own paths?

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#18 of 21 Old 03-05-2011, 08:38 PM
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Originally Posted by siobhang View Post

This is an interesting thread for me as a a "humanities/bad at math" woman in high school/college who is now running an IT company and who programs websites and databases and needs to manage the finances for the company on a daily basis. My firm also manage a website which promotes STEM (science, technology, engineering. and math) education in the US. Running your own business, even as a freelancer, requires math  (figuring out your hourly rate, taxes, social security, projected income stream, cash flow, how much someone owes you, etc - all math).

 


It seems that your own experiences mirror the kind of thing that happens a lot with unschoolers, too - you went all the through college being anti-math and then once you were out of school and needed to learn or use math skills for something relevant to your real life, you were able to do so. We've found that to be true here a lot... when there's a real need to learn something, you do.

 
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#19 of 21 Old 03-17-2011, 03:08 AM
 
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Quote:
when there's a real need to learn something, you do.

Yes that is the unschooling mantra, but I think it also happens that you give up on certain things if they are too hard, even though you want them, and might have a chance to make your life's work or passion out of them.  The worry is that certain (many?) paths get closed if the math is not under the belt.  Is this true?  I really don't know.  I love math and so does dd so I don't know how it feels to dislike / fear it etc.   Maybe it is okay if some paths get closed, some other ones open.

 

I am never sure in these discussions whether people believe that we should worry less about math (or any other specific skill / discipline) because when we worry less we achieve more, or we should not worry because even if we don't achieve it is okay, achievement is not the only thing, if we haven't learned it is because it was not required, etc.

 

In theory I would not have much of a problem with the latter but as lach noted, math-phobia has a strange role in our society.

Quote:
 But if you said "I was never any good at math!  I stopped taking it as soon as my high school stopped making me," you'll find people trying to outdo you!

 

I think that we have to make some effort to swim against that tide.  Now I am perfectly happy to take a less-is-more approach along the lines of Peter Gray et al  but I also like to sprinkle in some math practice now and then, and part of the reason is all that stuff others have posted about later math building on earlier math, and my own awe of the beauty of higher level math. 


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#20 of 21 Old 03-21-2011, 02:00 PM
 
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It's like we're in the second wave of medieval thinking: it used to be that children did what their parents did, and now children choose from the list of approved careers/jobs- a group-approved selection that incorporates all of the jobs that all of the parents did so they can do what their friends' parents do instead of their own parents, but it's such a piddly step forward that it may not even be that; it may be a slight shuffle rather than an actual step.
Since apprenticing to a family friend, neighbor, or distant relative's associate was around in the Renaissance, I don't think that being able to do what the friend's parents do is actually opening up career choices at all.
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#21 of 21 Old 03-21-2011, 02:08 PM
 
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Back on topic,

 

The few teens I've read about where the parents didn't worry about a lack of interest in math took off on math skills around age 15 and by 16 were at the expected level for a 16 year old.

 

We already know that it's a fairly typical pattern not to start reading until age 7 or 8 and then read just like any other 9 year old by age 9.

 

 

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