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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hate math? It's not about you, and new teaching methods may help

"A quiet revolution in math education says that mathphobia isn't permanent, nor does it indicate a low IQ or missing gene. Instead, it points to long-standing problem in classrooms that's being addressed with more relevant, visual and creative exercises." continues San Jose Mercury News.

Photo: San Jose Mercury News

Fear of math represents not personal failure or a missing gene but wrongheaded "one-size-fits-all'' ways of teaching. That, at least, is the theory behind a quiet revolution in math education incubated in the Bay Area that is exciting teachers even more than an elegant proof of the Pythagorean theorem.

A vanguard of math instructors is embracing ideas developed by two Stanford professors to reform math instruction. Their approach includes more visual and creative exercises, discussions of ideas and procedures rather than a focus on memorization and speed, and individually tailored lessons.

Mention to people that you teach math, David Foster of the Silicon Valley Mathematics Initiative said, and "to a person they launch into a horror story about high school math. The only mystery is if they blame the algebra teacher or the geometry teacher.

Foster, whose Morgan Hill-based organization offers training and resources for teachers, advocates a more positive approach to get kids
"Learning to do math is no different from learning to play the piano or learning to play a sport -- a lot of it is about hard work and practice."

That idea is rooted in the work of psychology professor Carol Dweck and education professor Jo Boaler, whose approaches to teaching math are resonating in education circles -- and spreading virally. Dweck has found failure helps students to learn, grow and get better, and urges that math education focus on helping students persevere even if they do not succeed at first.

Boaler's free online course last summer attracted 85,000 people. Her approach involves less rote memorization; instead, lessons focus on different ways to solve problems, individualized approaches, small-group discussion and real-life applications of math. Also feeding the teaching revolution is an explosion of online math lessons replacing lectures and one-size-fits-all textbooks.

"We're in a crisis in math," said Boaler. "These poor kids are given the idea that math is about performance, and then they get the idea that they can't do it."

Source: San Jose Mercury News