It’s Time to Change the Way We Teach Math

Paula Montoro

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If you are afraid of math and hate the subject, if you panic on tests or blank out and forget what you have studied, you’re definitely not alone.

According to the University of Nebraska, math anxiety affects more than 50 percent of the U.S. population. Students associate math with frustration and failure. For this reason, the United States performed below average in math in the results from Programme for International Student Assesment of 2012, ranking 27th among 34 other countries participating in analysis by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Loy Norrix is not an exception. U.S. News statistics show that at our school mathematics proficiency is around 30 percent, while reading aptitude is more than 60 percent. Students no longer feel motivated to do math because routine practice and memorization of algorithms which according to the United Federation of Teachers interferes with a real understanding of mathematical concepts.

“It depends on the teacher,” said sophomore Claudia Ligman when asked how she feels about math. “Some teachers make it easier for me to understand math than others.”

Jo Boaler, math professor at the University of Stanford, claims that the way we teach math contains too much methodology and calculation and not enough real understanding of the problems we are given. Students often find themselves incapable of comprehending math classes. Boaler also remarks that homework and quizzes are part of the problem, and not a solution.

The problem begins with homework and its negative effects on students. When asked about homework, Nancy Kalish, author of “The Case Against Homework: How Homework is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It,” says that many homework assignments are “simply busy work” that makes learning “a chore rather than a positive, constructive experience.”

Students, parents and experts worry about homework, specifically busy work assignments because long sheets of repetitive math problems tend to make children dislike school.

“I think kids don’t like math because they don’t see the value in it,” said Dyami Hernandez, math teacher at Norrix. “For me, it’s always been really difficult at a high school level to make students like math because at this level they already have an opinion towards math and they know if they’re good or bad at it. I always try to take the students who struggle and show them that they can be successful even though they’ve failed in the past.”

The way in which we grade students doesn’t seem to work either. Tests and exams are an inaccurate representation of knowledge and failure is a critical point. An article from Psychology Today explains that teens tend to have a negative mindset about themselves and failing tests can make them feel incompetent.
Students are likely to fail math because of how the tests and exams work and affect their grades. Boaler claims that students do poorly on math exams because they need time to think and solve the problems and feeling like they’re going to run out of time will limit their math skills.

A student could be very smart as well as a hard worker, but they could also be bad at taking tests. The test is therefore unfair because it may not accurately portray students’ abilities. When a certain class becomes the subject of constant failure, which usually happens with math, students end up hating the class and eventually giving up.

Tests and exams might still be necessary to assess students, but instead of just having long homework assignments, teachers should give students real-life problems in class where they would have to apply what they’ve learned. Giving students a creative, realistic way of using the knowledge from the class would make it easier for students to completely understand the concepts and, consequently, they wouldn’t get bored and frustrated with math and they’d do better in exams.

“It feels really good when you get the problem right but I personally don’t like math because I don’t find it interesting,” said sophomore Ellie Lepley.
The traditional ways in which we teach math are perceived by some people as too boring and don’t let students be engaged in the process of learning. We need to end the frustration and fear that many students feel towards the subject and transform math into an appealing and useful class.