Saturday, April 12, 2014

The future of Math Education??

This blog post started out as a post about how I used my gMath and gGraph Add-ons to create a test, saving me a ton of time and allowing me to use Google Docs to do it instead of Mathematica (or Word, which I hate).

It unintentionally morphed into a philosophical rant about math education. I think because +Blair Peterson's blog post from ASBUnplugged has been sitting in the back of my brain for the past few weeks. I could add tons of links and write/rant/re-write for hours, but limited myself to 20 minutes.

I have a passion for including technology into math as I think it makes "real" math more accessible. I don't mean to imply that math we do in class is not real, it is just that most of the work we do in class to develop skills work out "nicely". The values are mostly positive integers and everything mostly works as it should. This is how it should be, since students are just get familiarized with the material so it falls within their comfort zones (positive integers are what they think is correct; they usually have trouble when the answer is not an integer as it feels "not right").
But I also have the mindset that students should be able to "get down and dirty with the math". Almost all problems will have answers that are not positive integers, so why should we focus on those that do and create the reality that this is what the math world looks like?

I generally teach coming from the viewpoint as a coach. There are basic skills for every sport that need to be acquired to have success, but the games or matches don't always require every skill. I have my soccer players practice striking the ball with both feet, but they can play in a match and have fun while only using their right foot.

  • Do I need to make sure they have all of the basic skills to be able to get into the match? 
  • Won't the fun of playing in the match motivate them to want to acquire new skills?
This second point is where the struggle in math education comes into play. We never let them get into the match. What I mean by the match in the math world is higher level math classes that are not Calculus. Calculus is great, especially if you are trying to predict where objects will land, but it is not the pinnacle of math as everyone believes. There are tons of great math topics that can be explored without having Calculus first. I love Discrete Math. You could teach Graph Theory to an elementary school student and they would be able to discover lots of cool things. Combinatorics problems are insanely hard, yet have basic entry level math pre-requisites so almost everyone can approach the problem.  
I love the groundbreaking that Hour of Code has done for bringing coding for everyone into the classroom. This is the model that Math should be using. Have students create cool fractal graphs by messing around with graphing recursive complex functions. Who cares if they understand the underlying math, let them WANT to figure out why it works early on. I hope the Computer Based Math Initiative takes off and everyone follows the lead of Estonia. 

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