The problem with teaching math

The problem with teaching ‘math’ is much like the problem with teaching any ‘subject’
Originally posted – August 6, 2008, 9:09 pm

So some of you know, I have 2 boys, and they’re being raised in a trilingual household.

How’s that relevant?

Glad you asked 🙂

Since I work mostly from home while living in Japan, I am also mostly responsible for the English education of my boys. I am charged with teaching them all kinds of things outside of their regular Japanese public school curriculum.

I am a professional educator, so you’d think that wouldn’t be so hard, but I also am used to teaching university students (who, quite frankly, don’t differ much in their enthusiasm levels most of the times from my boys who are 8 and 6). It becomes paramount for me too that the ‘lessons’ be more than a classroom lecture.

NOTE: I also still teach English, mostly writing and advanced communications skills, to non-native English speakers.

Math is very similar in this way to learning English, or any language, first or second.

Without understanding ‘why’ the student is learning, or how it applies, or if it even really does, there’s no motivation to learn. (okay, to get a good grade, or avoid being in the doghouse – people still have those, right?)

Math, and language, are tools. Not ends.

Sitting around and learning (by learning I’m mispronouncing ‘parroting/memorizing for later regurgitation) rules and formulas is just not interesting, or engaging.

Using those things, math and English for example, as tools to do something else should be the ultimate goal.

If students can see and practice applying the things they are learning in an atmosphere or situation that doesn’t involve a test or score, they’re more likely to find it interesting and later retain the information.

The recently departed Randy Pausch termed this the ‘head fake’.

Good teaching should always incorporate the head fake.

Use money for counting.
use a variety of wooden blocks
use license plate numbers on passing cars
give them sets of numbers and ask them where the pattern is
use the clock (great for introducing base number systems, counting by 5’s and 10’s and also introducing fractions

Use math to play games, to shop (pretend shopping is easier on the pocketbook 🙂 ) or figure out how to build something fun.

Ask questions about how to get the information they need. Then just ‘do the math’ to get it. Maybe check that or test your answers as review, then get to the ‘doing’ part.

The same is true for language learning, or most learning for that matter. It’s always much more beneficial, interesting, and yes, fun, to be ‘doing’ than aaaarrrggghhh! studying something.

So, get to doing something now, ok?

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