April 2019

Numbers Evoke Joy and Wonder, Why Doesn't Math Class?

The Hechinger Report
Numbers Evoke Joy and Wonder, Why Doesn't Math Class?

First comes math. Then comes the aftermath. What happens to students after they take high school or college math? The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics say math class should help students expand professional opportunity, understand and critique the world, and experience wonder, joy, and beauty. But too many students receive little or none of those benefits. In fact, math anxiety is prevalent. All of this calls for a re-thinking of the purpose of learning mathematics to re-ground our assumptions about what math students should learn, how they can learn it, and who can learn math. Just Equations founder Pamela Burdman’s piece in the Hechinger Report speaks to this challenge and what can be done to ensure more students cultivate mathematical literacy and have the positive “aftermath” they deserve.

What happens to students after they take math in high school or college? Does their math experience lead to expanded professional opportunities? Does it help them understand and critique the world? Do they experience beauty, joy and wonder? If math is achieving its purpose, as defined by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, students would answer “yes” to all three questions.

Too many students instead answer “no” to all three. Given all of the attention that our education system puts on math education, it’s time to focus on this “aftermath." Despite improvements in recent years, large numbers of students still score poorly on tests of mathematical skills and understanding. But more concerning — and perhaps even at the root of poor math performance — are the negative experiences that too many students have. Reasons given by teens to stop pursuing math include statements like “I despise the way it is taught” and “I have no confidence.” According to surveys, the majority of Americans dislike and fear math.

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