"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, November 1, 2012

"x=why?"

Michael Alison Chandler of the Washington Post wrote a yearlong (2008-2009) series "x=why?" on high school math education.
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/x-equals-why/2008/09/wasnt_once_enough_1.html
The series had more than a hundred articles reliving one school year. Chandler, an education reporter, found a way to bring math in the classroom to the readers of Washington Post by sitting in a high school math class in Fairfax county. Fairfax county schools are among the best nationwide. Still, the articles describe current challenges of math education in the country. Chandler started this series with an article "Wasn't Once Enough":
Now I report to school every other day at 7:20 a.m. There, for 80 minutes each session, I join 27 other Fairfax Rebels in a windowless room, under the laminated gaze of Albert Einstein. Together, in somnolent camaraderie, we practice solving linear equations and graphing inequalities and take turns at the Smartboard. These days, I carry a three-ring binder full of graph paper in my canvas work bag, along with a TI-84 graphing calculator, a handful of mechanical pencils, and a purple, rubber eraser that smells like grapes. I am 32 years old. 
I have homework to complain about and studying to procrastinate, and last Saturday, I spent the better part of an afternoon holed up in a D.C. public library finishing a take-home test. I am not yet exactly sure what I am going to do with this algebra (or why I am doing this). This blog is part of my attempt to figure that out. 
x=why? is a place where I aim to bridge the cultural divide between math people and the rest of us, to make the abstractions of algebra a little more lifelike. Visitors will find scenes from math classrooms, profiles of people who use math at work, research about math education, debates about how best to teach math, and--why not?-- an occasional pop quiz, for which I invite you to submit your best, or your worst, word problems.
And after one semester, she wrote:
I have come a long way from the day I stared blankly at a Virginia Standards of Learning test, perspiring from the foreign language before me and flashbacks of a high school math teacher who once wrote on my report card: "Michael is not in the Circle of Knowing." 
Still, success in math comes at a price: Time. 
Effort and diligence make a good math student. The difference between the math student I am now and the math student I was 15 years ago is improved study skills and, thank goodness, a little less hormone-induced despair. (Oh and about $100,000 in college tuitions, a decade of work experience, and a Washington Post audience that gets updated on my quiz scores...)
 And at the end of the year,
...What I discovered at Fairfax High was a hard-working teacher who knew her math, a fast-paced, too-crammed curriculum, and a group of teenagers who mostly tried their best. Sure, there was a guy who snoozed in the back and a reliable smattering of shrugs when the teacher came around to check homework. But I was surprised by the high number of students who stuck around after class to ask for help...

...I also learned a lot about math beyond Fairfax, including the wars over how math should be taught, how other countries approach training math teachers, and how many college students in the US still require math remediation.

We are far from our goal of becoming a math literate society. Many students still say they are uninterested in math, even in high-performing Fairfax County. But encouraging all students to pursue math further is an important start...
Indeed, the series presented a lot about high school math. Some are simple and short yet extremely thought provoking. One example is the short post entitled "Is Math Fun? Should it Be?. It featured a video made by a high school student in Virginia:


Chandler then wrote:
Math can be interesting all by itself if you don't get too fogged or behind. Many teachers I know try to lure students in with the concepts alone.
I recommend reading the articles of Chandler. After all, her quiz scores in algebra were not bad:

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