The Causes of Poor Math Education

What’s Wrong

Many teachers feel that in order to satisfy state requirements they are faced with long lists of specific subject matter to cover during the school term. They know that many of their students will not understand how to do the math, but feel they are required to cover the next subject on the list, and hope the students will somehow catch up.

Research shows that people learn best when math is presented as an open, inquiry-based conceptual, subject. Yet, most schools spend most math class time presenting “Math Facts and Procedures” to memorize and practice in order to pass math tests.

Recent research, however, shows that an emphasis on memorization, rote procedures and speed actually impairs learning and achievement.

The way math is usually taught often leaves gaping holes in student’s knowledge that harms their ability to understand future math concepts, which build on the missing concepts.   Does this make sense? Would learning how to read be effective if students didn’t understand how to use some letters of the alphabet?

In the United States, although research shows that testing does Not improve math outcomes, there is a trend towards greater test-based accountability for students and teachers.  The test results do not increase learning, but put students’ grades and teachers jobs and income are at stake.

This causes many teachers to “teach to the test” which results in teaching procedures that do not assess mathematical thinking, but simply apply arithmetical procedures to information embedded in test questions.

Since the usual math tests do Not assess a student’s ability to creatively use logic to search for understanding how to solve problems, many students are are not motivated to learn how to think creatively and logically like mathematicians, because “It’s not on the test”.

Many teachers feel they have to cover the assigned material and must press on with the lessons in their plan, instead of spending time helping their students understand the concepts. In the short run teachers may achieve good test results by teaching the procedures that are being tested, but they are Not helping students learn the thinking processes that make the math so valuable in understanding how reality works.

Discovering ideas and insights is fun. It’s Not fun to just to regurgitate arbitrary, abstract, pointless, unreal, anxiety producing math procedures.

When students don’t understand the concepts that make the procedures work, then the facts and procedures that have no intrinsic meaning to them are easily forgotten.

With teacher interaction, blended learning that utilize computerized lessons and assessments can be helpful in identifying concepts that are misunderstood and need to be addressed by teachers. However, since the software does Not yet understands how people think or how to help them think better, it should Not be used as a substitute for effective learning interactions.

If misunderstood concepts are not addressed, students will have difficulty grasping lessons that are built upon misunderstood concepts.

This often leads to a waterfall of frustration, misunderstanding and unhappiness that is expressed as: “I’m no good at math.”

which may indicate serious math problems that may result in Math Anxiety or Dyscalculia.