by Bonita Richins, K-12 Math and STEM specialist, Cache County School District
I admit it. I was one of those kids who just understood math. Many students struggled with the concepts, but they just made sense to me. It wasn’t until I became a teacher and began tutoring those struggling students that I understood their frustration.
The world is really divided into two kinds of people. It’s not the division you think: those who get math and those who don’t. More correctly, it’s divided between those who accept the logical nature of math, and those who need to see more connections of math to their world. Math is important for everyone, and everybody can learn math.
The new core is not new concepts. The Utah Core Standards are the same standards we have been teaching forever, but they are arranged differently. Students still need to learn arithmetic and algebra, geometry and graphing, story problems and systems. The curriculum, not the core, looked different; it didn’t resemble the “math book” everyone was used to. This has changed how a teacher presents the standards.
Math is being taught differently. It should be. We can’t keep teaching it the same way if only a few kids understand it. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics states that we learn through a process of knowledge construction that requires us to actively manipulate and refine information and then integrate it with our prior understandings. This will not happen if the math teacher always just writes a problem on the board, shows how to solve it, then has the students practice.
Teachers should establish goals to focus learning; implement tasks that promote reasoning and problem solving; and use and connect mathematical representations. They are encouraged to facilitate meaningful discourse, pose purposeful questions and build procedural fluency from conceptual understanding. Teaching includes supporting productive struggle, and eliciting and using evidence of student thinking. This has changed how a math teacher teaches.
Math is a participation sport. Just like a basketball player has to practice foul shots, math students have to talk about it, manipulate it, draw it and model it. They should solve problems without giving up. They need to think about numbers in various ways; explain their thinking; try to understand others; show their work in many ways; use math tools correctly; work carefully and check their work; use prior knowledge to solve new problems; and look for rules and patterns. This has changed how a math student actively learns.
Parents can still be an active participant. It’s not going to be the same math that you learned. Then again, you probably struggled with it, so it needed to change. Have your student explain it; this might be hard at first because we aren’t used to “talking math.” If you teach it to someone, you learn it so much better yourself. Be careful not to stunt your student’s learning by saying negative things like “I never got math.” This can be a positive change in how parents participate.
Mathematics is really one of the most important subjects. It is the language of science, the logic of society and the foundation of the economy. By helping students make sense of mathematical ideas, we are preparing them in the most beneficial way in becoming college and career ready.