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Why Students are not Mastering Math? 4 Reasons why Decision Makers are missing the mark.

Updated: Jul 6

Our next activity for the Summer is to provide students an opportunity to share their message about the importance of math by creating a video that will be shared across the world. If interested in this media challenge, see our Lights, Camera, Action Plan.

As we prepare for the start of another school year, it is a good time for us to reflect on our decisions of the past and create real strategy to improve math education.


Kids don’t get it because adults don’t get it. We create problems that are supposed to mirror real life, but the make believe problems that we create are applicable to our lives not the students. We have to change our thinking.

Reason #1 - Students don’t master anything. As educators we spend too much time in math introducing students to new skills and little time getting to mastery because that is not the goal. The thinking has been to familiarize or to introduce them to the basics and then cover it again next school year. By utilizing this method, our students and teachers are confused. Students don’t seem to master anything because every year brings a new program with the hopes of bringing new achievement. Our strategy is to re-work something new from something old, something borrowed, and something that will make our students blue. The question remains, why can’t we stick with the same programs that previously worked for us and has produced brilliant scientist and engineers?


The present educational environment based on this deficit thinking dictates that when a researcher gets a new idea or a new product comes out, it will work for all students. We then want that program and proceed to do the training without getting instructor or student by-in. Once we become somewhat proficient, here comes new leadership and we change again. Consequently, the Flavor of the Day is not working and we should stop spending so much money on the newest, so-called research based program that may not necessarily work for our school population. A better solution would be to stick with what worked in the past. Research has shown that programs like Singapore Math, a curriculum that focuses on problem solving with pictures and diagrams make good sense for educating our children. Back in the early 1980s, many educators were excited to learn about this new math program which offered a strong option for our visual learners. The move to incorporate Singapore Math ideas was intense but short lived. For more information on Singapore Math visit Education Week Article on the impact of Singapore Math for American Students.


Reason #2 – The “new math” requires too many steps. Why is it so important to emphasize so many steps in “completing the old“ math? I know that it is “researched based,” but do we really need so many steps to complete simple math problems. For example: If we have a problem like Jennifer has 4 books on her desk. She later gets 12 more books. How many books does she have now? In the past, we would answer 16 books and move to the next problem. The “new way” requires students to decontextualize as they focus on the process of understanding the symbols. Then they have to infer without distracting information that might be presented in the problem. Next comes contextualization where students have to see the 4 books as being the total then add 12 to the original number. So we end up teaching the steps on how to complete the steps so that we can solve the problem. As a result we are doing a lot of work and not getting any smarter.


Reason #3 - Uncommon Common Core. About 8 year ago, the research said that we needed common core so that all students around the country would be taught the same content so that they could be on the same playing field. So once again off we went to get the new books and new assessments to support this new common core initative. As the popularity of Common Core increased, a lot of people got rich creating all the materials, however, our students didn’t get any better. See the study from US News and World Report dated December 3, 2019. After mixed implementation, many states started deviating from the original plan. Many southern states felt that the common core was too rigorous and they backed the standards down. Before long, we had the common core of the north, common core of the south, common core of the west, and common core for homeschoolers, etc. I think that you get the picture. In theory, it would have been interesting if we could have ever agreed on what the common core should have looked like before we abandoned that ship.


Reason #4 - Application justification. Many students have a tough time with math because the application of the skills is missing. Just image using some of the complex geometry etc. in real life. Kids don’t get it because adults don’t get it. We create problems that are supposed to mirror real life, but the make believe problems that we create are applicable to our lives not the students. So, once again we miss the boat and our students don’t want or they don’t like math because they don’t see the significance of the subject in their lives. No application for all this work. It would be great if we could find ways to make the math fun for our kids and perhaps they could get hooked in early grades. Programs like MathFest, focusing on peaking the interest and building excitement for math. We don’t have a lot of those programs for our kids and we wonder why they shy away from the subject.


Our next activity for the Summer is to provide students an opportunity to share their message about the importance of math by creating a video that will be shared across the world. There is no cost and students can win prizes. If interested in this media challenge, see our Lights, Camera, Action Plan.

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