There’s an unusual editorial in today’s New York Times. It’s all about how to interest more kids in math. It’s long and detailed, with numerous recommendations on which the editorial board asks for feedback. And the paper has put in place an elaborate feedback mechanism with which to categorized respondents and their answers. They are obviously trying to generate a real discussion and, based on the comments so far, it seems to be working: the initial comments are constructive, not polluted with the usual internet sarcasm and snark.
So give it a try. Here, to whet your appetite, are a couple of the recommendations:
A More Flexible Curriculum
The Common Core math standards now being adopted by most states are an important effort to raise learning standards, particularly in primary and middle school, when many students begin to fall behind. They encourage the use of technology and applied thinking, moving students away from rote memorization. At the high school level, they would introduce all students to useful concepts like real-world modeling. But the standards also assume that all high school students should pursue a high-level math track, studying quadratic equations, transformational geometry and logarithms. The standards need more flexibility to ensure that they do not stand in the way of nontraditional but effective ways to learn, including career-oriented study.
Very Early Exposure to Numbers
Only 18 percent of American adults can calculate how much a carpet will cost if they know the size of the room and the per-yard price of the carpet, according to a federal survey. One in five American adults lack the basic math skills expected of eighth graders, making them unfit for many newly created jobs. In many cases, that’s because they weren’t exposed to numbers at an early age.
A new study, by researchers at the University of Missouri, showed that the most important factor that predicted math success in middle school and upward was an understanding of what numbers are before entering the first grade. Having “number system knowledge” in kindergarten or earlier — grasping that a numeral represents a quantity, and understanding the relationships among numbers — was a more important factor in math success by seventh grade than intelligence, race or income.
Children of all backgrounds can build a good foundation in math with early exposure to numbers, which should be required in all preschool classes. But less than half of 4-year-olds are enrolled in full-day pre-K programs, and only 70 percent of kindergartners go all day. Although preschool enrollment has increased in recent years, it is still not a high priority in many states and cities, as shown by the cold reception to expansion proposals by President Obama and Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio of New York.