Understanding Math

Teaching kids to use algorithms in math often provide them with a useful tool, but without understanding how things work, tools aren’t very helpful. I’ve always thought that calculus was a complete waste of my time in college. Even though I thought it was easy for me (or so I thought), it’s something I never thought I’d ever use in my life. 20 some years later, a wonderful, short, simple opinion piece in the NY times about calculus has completely changed my mind. Definitely worth the five minute read and perhaps relearning a few things this summer. I realize now that I was just good at following procedures without any real understanding. I wasn’t taught to understand. Many continue to criticize how we assess our students like AP tests. Tony Wagner suggests many can get through AP programs without actually having to do any real thinking. Algorithms and math text books can be good tools if accompanied by understanding. As teachers, we just have to be careful to balance those two things.

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2 thoughts on “Understanding Math

  1. I really found Tony Wagner’s article to be thought provoking. Now that Will is in 6th grade, I’ve begun messaging the process of working hard in middle school so he’ll have the choices he wants when it comes time to pick a high school, and working hard in high school so he’ll have the choices he wants when it comes time to pick a college, etc. with the final payoff of this process of being proactive being that he’ll have the best likelihood of having good choices for his life as an adult. Wagner’s argument, however, makes my “plan” short-sighted. If high school is structured towards making them “college admissions” ready rather than “jury” ready as the article argues, then my job needs to be helping all of our kids find opportunities to get that more rich, subtle and meaningful education – even if it means sacrificing a point or two on a standardized test. We parents are always looking for ways to encourage activities that broaden and enlighten (like volunteering), but I should probably focus on nurturing citizenship development even more. Goodness knows that the need for people with a “critical mind and a compassionate heart” is increasing every day. Thanks for sharing this article!

    • If Will continues to be supported and encouraged to pursue his passions like he is now, he will grow up loving what he does and will be motivated by that alone to advance the world in some way be it small or big. His passion will drive him to work hard.

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