Jul 31, 2012

VIDEO: Math Makeover

Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover

Dan Meyer, a high school math teacher, presents a humorous, intelligent argument on changing math instruction.

Teachers, we have to change something. We order them to memorize vocabulary, practice facts, remember steps and algorithms, and, yet, we're surprised when they can't solve new word problems. Why? We've not asked them to do math. Now, I'm not saying that those things aren't valuable, but there has to be more to math. Through thinking and collaboration and freedom and challenge, we can create mathematicians instead of frustrated robots.

"To start with, I'd like to break math down into two categories. One is computation; this is the stuff you've forgotten. For example, factoring quadratics with leading coefficients greater than one. This stuff is also really easy to relearn, provided you have a really strong grounding in reasoning. Math reasoning -- we'll call it the application of math processes to the world around us -- this is hard to teach. This is what we would love students to retain, even if they don't go into mathematical fields. This is also something that, the way we teach it in the U.S. all but ensures they won't retain it."

"So first, five symptoms that you're doing math reasoning wrong in your classroom. One is a lack of initiative; your students don't self-start. You finish your lecture block and immediately you have five hands going up asking you to re-explain the entire thing at their desks. Students lack perseverance. They lack retention; you find yourself re-explaining concepts three months later, wholesale. There's an aversion to word problems, which describes 99 percent of my students. And then the other one percent is eagerly looking for the formula to apply in that situation. This is really destructive" [emphasis added].

"I encourage math teachers I talk to to use multimedia, because it brings the real world into your classroom in high resolution and full color; to encourage student intuition for that level playing field; to ask the shortest question you possibly can and let those more specific questions come out in conversation; to let students build the problem, because Einstein said so; and to finally, in total, just be less helpful, because the textbook is helping you in all the wrong ways: It's buying you out of your obligation, for patient problem solving and math reasoning, to be less helpful" [emphasis added].

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