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Friday, June 08, 2018

We Should Teach Math Like It's a Language | Mathematics - Education Week

Jeannine Diddle Uzzi, provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Southern Maine argues, "Solving the nation's math problem requires a new approach."

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The United States has a math problem, and, like most middle school students sitting down with their homework, we are not finding any easy solutions. Young people in this country are struggling to attain the proficiency necessary to pursue the careers our economy desperately needs. Universities bemoan students' inability to complete college-level math. Each year thousands of newly admitted college students are placed in non-credit-bearing remedial courses in math, a path that immediately puts them at higher risk of not completing a degree.

Maybe it's the classics professor in me talking, but I approach this math problem from an unorthodox angle: Latin. In a 2011 article, "An Apology for Latin and Math," high school Latin teacher Cheryl Lowe made a compelling comparison between the study of Latin and the study of math. Much like Latin, she observed, "math is hard because it builds so relentlessly year after year. Any skill not mastered one year will make work difficult the next."

High school teachers have discovered that the unrelentingly cumulative nature of the study of Latin and the study of mathematics explains why students struggle to excel in either discipline.

A favorite lament of college and university faculty in quantitative fields is that students cannot perform college-level math. But what is college-level math?

In the world of classics, there is no such thing as college-level Latin. My daughter's high school Latin teacher uses the same textbook for her class that I have used to teach Latin at Duke University, Whitman College in Washington state, and the University of Southern Maine. It turns out that there are only two differences between high school Latin and college Latin. The first is pace. I tell students that one year of college Latin is the approximate equivalent of three years of high school Latin...

As is so common in the academy, we have focused on faculty-centric, content-based questions ("What constitutes college-level math?") rather than student-centric, learning-based questions ("What do students need to reach their goals?"). Solving our math problem will require unorthodox strategies for increasing student success in math rather than trying to quantify what "counts" at the college level.  
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Source: Education Week 


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