I just completed writing my comments below for an assignment in my curricula and instruction course in my ed program. I drank way too much tea and coffee Monday so I have not been able to get to sleep yet…so at least I am catching up on my homework!
Both of these readings tie into my statement last week in class that “math is not fun.” I did not explain my reasoning clear enough then primarily since I had just finished one of the worst days at my placement of the entire school year. Also, the social justice activity we just finished motivated me and resonated with meaningful and enlightening experience students might appreciate about one aspect of math were they to do the same, or similar, exercise.
So, where am I going? In “What’s Math Got to Do with It?” Boaler states, “I would pity those boys and girls that who did not conform to the ways of thinking and working that were typical for their gender but were forced to be taught via a distorted version of mathematics that was entirely abstract or entirely based in the real world” (Boaler, 2008, p. 137). She goes on to say that “If mathematics teaching included opportunities for discussion of concepts, for depth of understanding, and for connecting between mathematical concepts, then it would be more equitable and good [interpreted broadly to mean: interesting, educational, and maybe even fun] for both sexes, and it would give a more accurate depiction of mathematics as it is practiced in high-level courses and professions.”
Boaler also states, “Among students who experience traditional math classes, one of the biggest complaints (and surely the most reasonable) is that the classes are always the same. The monotony causes disaffection; it also means that students only learn to work as they have in class – using procedures that have just been shown to them” (Boaler, 2008, p. 158). That is one of the best descriptions of a “BORING (aka not so fun)” environment, or experience, that I have read.
Thus, since most math classes have been, and continue to be, taught using direct instruction, emphasizing coverage (of curricula, standards, etc.) over understanding, leaving little to no time for discussions of why, not experimenting with multiple methods using trial and error, overemphasizing procedural knowledge (usually only one way), not building problem-solving skills, and hence, self-confidence, and removing students from the center of learning, or having a voice in their learning, MATH IS NOT FUN!
Also, while math can be fun, in the “let’s play a game” sense, that is not what I believe most students mean when they say “math is fun,” and I hope that is not the message / expectation we should communicate to all students, some maybe, but not all. Using this narrow sense of fun, some math can be “fun.” However, I believe when students say they thought the math they experienced was fun, they mean they enjoyed being able to solve the puzzle that lay in front of them, which with traditional environments most likely would have gone unsolved, since it would seem hopeless that it could be solved since only one method is likely shown, with little to no explanation of the why, how, when, and where driving method choice.
Hope this clears up any confusion I may have created with my declaration last week.
And on the gender front, which I mostly skipped over above, I have never subscribed to the boys are better than girls thinking with respect to knowledge / smarts / IQ / thinking ability, or vice versa, or heard or seen that thinking in my immediate ife experiences; I likely was blind to it, or so wrapped up in myself, I was ignorant of the challenges foisted upon others. I think it is a shame people are treated the way they are if they differ from the “majority” view and hope over time, those that do think that way recognize their mistakes. For what it’s worth, my wife, a Latina, has a degree in math, of which I never wanted, nor think I would have excelled at since I struggle with abstract math, but do well with applied math. My challenge with abstract math could easily be a byproduct of how I was taught math as well.
Lastly, my eldest son, who is a 7th grader, HATES math. I blame the way math is traditionally taught where the unforgivingness of math, if a “minor” mistake is made, destroys any interest in it students might have since no one wants to experience “failure,” over and over; so little things get in the way of students experiencing the richness, the beauty, and the big picture of math.
My question: How best can we STOP teaching students in ways that bores them to tears and kills any interest they have in math?
We need to revise the nation’s mathematics curricula and pedagogy from pre-school through high school ASAP if we ever expect to expand our nation’s intellectual base to start grappling with the daunting problems facing the world with respect to population growth, global weather changes, limitations of carbon-based fuels, etc. And the common core standards sweeping the nation are too small of a step to make a significant enough impact.