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Home » Common Core » Stanford Education Professor: Math is more about deep understanding than memorization — Hechinger Report

Stanford Education Professor: Math is more about deep understanding than memorization — Hechinger Report

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In an article for the Hechinger Report, Stanford mathematics Professor Jo Boaler argues that, contrary to popular belief, true math skills come from deep understanding rather than memorization.  This erroneous assumption is widespread and detrimental to math learners who come to believe they simply aren’t “math people.”

The Common Core math standards do, she says, recognize the value of conceptual learning in math, opening the door for more math learners:

Mathematics is a broad and multidimensional subject. Real mathematics is about inquiry, communication, connections, and visual ideas. We don’t need students to calculate quickly in math. We need students who can ask good questions, map out pathways, reason about complex solutions, set up models and communicate in different forms. All of these ways of working are encouraged by the Common Core.

Boaler and other math and technology professionals contend that math is about much more than calculation.  It’s about understanding the key concepts, which the new standards strive to promote by emphasizing depth versus breadth of knowledge.

That’s good for students of all abilities and makes math more approachable to abstract and creative thinkers.

Read the article here.



  1. Jo Boaler is a Stanford professor of mathematics EDUCATION, not mathematics. There is generally a world of difference and I’m confident that Dr. Boaler would not want you to give the false impression that she has a Ph.D in mathematics itself. I say this as someone with a graduate degree in mathematics education from the University of Michigan. There are mathematicians resent the common confusion, and most mathematics educators would be quite appalled at being touted as mathematicians. The fields are related, and there are mathematics educators with advanced degrees in mathematics, too (e.g., Alan Schoenfeld of UC-Berkeley), as well as mathematicians with a great deal of involvement in mathematics education (e.g., Hyman Bass of the University of Michigan), but by and large, the fields are distinct.

    • Bill Duncan says:

      You’re right, as usual, Michael. I changed it.

      • Now, now, let’s not butter me up TOO much, Bill. 🙂

        However, Jo is already under regular attack from some mathematicians, including our friend R. James Milgram, so I would hate to give them more ammo: I can see them claiming that Jo falsely said she was a mathematician even though they know perfectly well that she never would.

        • Bill Duncan says:

          Under attack from JM doesn’t count. She’s honestly looking very deeply at the issues. But it’s math, so there will be debates. That’s fine as long as it’s really about kids’ learning.

          • I fully concur, Bill, but Milgram still has a lot of influence beyond his area of expertise and he’s well-placed politically so as to get his opinions out there regardless of their validity or honest basis.

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