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Education Science

An Advanced Math Education Revolution Is Underway In the U.S. (theatlantic.com) 218

AthanasiusKircher writes: The Atlantic has an >extended article on the recent surge in advanced math education at the primary and secondary levels in the U.S., arguing that last year's victory for the U.S. in the Math Olympiad was not a random anomaly. Participation in math camps, after-school or weekend math "academies," and math competitions has surged in recent years, with many programs having long wait lists. Inessa Rifkin, co-founder of one of these math academies, argues that the problems with math education begin in the 2nd and 3rd grades: ""The youngest ones, very naturally, their minds see math differently.... It is common that they can ask simple questions and then, in the next minute, a very complicated one. But if the teacher doesn't know enough mathematics, she will answer the simple question and shut down the other, more difficult one." These alternative math programs put a greater focus on problem-solving: "Unlike most math classes, where teachers struggle to impart knowledge to students—who must passively absorb it and then regurgitate it on a test—problem-solving classes demand that the pupils execute the cognitive bench press: investigating, conjecturing, predicting, analyzing, and finally verifying their own mathematical strategy. The point is not to accurately execute algorithms, although there is, of course, a right answer... Truly thinking the problem through—creatively applying what you know about math and puzzling out possible solutions—is more important."

The article concludes by noting that programs like No Child Left Behind have focused on minimal standards, rather than enrichment activities for advanced students. The result is a disparity in economic backgrounds for students in pricey math activities; many middle-class Americans investigate summer camps or sports programs for younger kids, but they don't realize how important a math program could be for a curious child. As Daniel Zaharopol, founder of a related non-profit initiative, noted in his searches to recruit low-income students: "Actually doing math should bring them joy."

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An Advanced Math Education Revolution Is Underway In the U.S.

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  • by sittingnut ( 88521 ) <Unga_m AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @10:34AM (#51468971) Homepage

    drop the silly coding classes that gives nothing ('nerds' will learn anyways, others never will), do maths!

    -
    but will americans ever be free of mind control to even ask,
    "I admit that twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing too." - from 'notes from underground' by fyodor dostoyevsky

    • drop the silly coding classes that gives nothing ('nerds' will learn anyways, others never will), do maths!

      When I was in school, I learn calculus, and I learned programming. The programming has been about a thousand times more useful. Programming is also a better way to learn logical thinking. If your proof is wrong, you may never even know it. But if your program is wrong, it won't work. Calculus classes should spend less time on proofs, and more on things like numerical integration.

      • by creimer ( 824291 )

        When I was in school, I learn calculus, and I learned programming. The programming has been about a thousand times more useful.

        I didn't find programming useful until after I learned mathematics. Since I was terrible programmer on the Commodore 64 as a teenager, I avoided computers and took plenty of mathematics in college. A decade later I went back to school to learn computer programming and get my technical certifications. Everything fell into place with programming and I made the president's list for maintaining a 4.0 GPA in my major.

      • by gtall ( 79522 )

        I've done extensive work in math, logic, and CS, including programming. Math and logic are by far the most useful. CS is good for grinding out mundane chores after you have used your math and logic to solve the problem.

        • CS is good for grinding out mundane chores after you have used your math and logic to solve the problem.

          Most programming is sorting, searching, string processing, and user interfaces. Those involve little, if any, math (unless you think you need to design your own sorting algorithm). Math is needed for 3D graphics, and physical processes simulation, but even those rarely involve anything beyond first year calculus. You are never going to need to integrate the cube root of the co-secant.

    • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

      Math up to about logic and maybe trig is useful in daily life for most careers. You need calc only in fields where you have to use those methods to make pertinent calculations or you're an academic.

      I've spent 20 years being shitty in calculus and having not suffered in the slightest. However, coding has kept me employed (in part) and well paid.

      It's good to know advanced math, and you should pursue it if you are good at it, but if you don't have the knack for it, you're better off learning something else.

    • You don't think that an increase in grasping math could be a result of an increase in those students being apply to apply math concepts in programming?
  • by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @10:36AM (#51468989) Homepage Journal
    I have noticed that Public education is getting better in the US. They are now teaching Math much more effectively (at least at the elementary school level). At first I thought the Common Core was dumb after my elementary school child showed me what he was doing, but after researching the teaching methods I know understand the reasoning behind techniques they are using. Plus the efforts of Code.org to introduce our kids to logic and programming at an elementary school level is really helping with all of their studies. Amazingly teaching basic logic helps in all aspects of life. Kudos to the Common Core people and Code.org. Too frequently the teaching "experts" are teaching the wrong techniques. Anyone who grew up learning "new math" (Venn diagrams, etc) in the early and mid 1980s public schools knows what I mean by that!
    • I have noticed that Public education is getting better in the US

      I disagree, the article has some very telling things to say between the lines:

      The students are being produced by a new pedagogical ecosystem—almost entirely extracurricular—that has developed online and in the country’s rich coastal cities and tech meccas.

      Parents of students in the accelerated-math community, many of whom make their living in stem fields, have enrolled their children in one or more of these programs to s

    • The correct arithmetic techniques are Soroban techniques from ancient Japanese history. Everything else is long-path bullshit that makes for slow, inaccurate computation.

    • At first I thought the Common Core was dumb after my elementary school child showed me what he was doing, but after researching the teaching methods I know understand the reasoning behind techniques they are using.

      Clearly you need to do a bit more research. Common core isn't about methods or techniques at all.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      "The standards do not dictate any particular pedagogy or what order topics should be taught within a particular grade level."

      http://www.corestandards.org/a... [corestandards.org]

      "That is

  • Math is a Chore (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @10:38AM (#51469007)

    The way math is taught, Math is a chore. The way common core teaches it, it's a stupid, idiotic chore.

    There is never an example of the wonders of math. No examples of what can be accomplished and how you can actually benefit. It's just a series of numbered problems with the answers to the odd numbers in the back and precious little explanation. Something to finish before class is out and to remember just long enough to pass the next test.

    Math is a chore because it's taught like a chore.

    • Math IS a chore. Learning IS a chore. People need to realize that not everything in life is "fun". You need to do the chores in order to get work done. Too many people don't want to put in the work.
      • Re:Math is a Chore (Score:4, Insightful)

        by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @10:49AM (#51469079)

        Yes, but there needs to be a context and a purpose to that chore.

        When you are learning to read first grade books, the teacher is reading third grade level books to you. You see what's possible. YOU want to read that book. But you can't. So you work harder on the books you can read in order to be able to read the higher level books.

        It's like being taught to sculpt marble by MichaelAngelo, but he only lets you see the 6 square inches around the chisel.

        • To learn to read you first need to be able to recognize letters. You don't start out by reading books. To learn to write, you start out by writing letters. You don't write books. Michelangelo didn't start sculpting by creating David in the first week. You need to put in the work and stop needing to be entertained 100% of the time.
        • The way math is taught, Math is a chore. The way common core teaches it, it's a stupid, idiotic chore. There is never an example of the wonders of math. No examples of what can be accomplished and how you can actually benefit.

          Can you elaborate with some ideas on how to teach math so that it's more engaging?

        • Yes, but there needs to be a context and a purpose to that chore.

          I found calculus an arcane mystery until the teacher explained how to calculate the optimum shape for a can to use the least material. About the simplest use but immediately demonstrated the potential of what I was learning.

        • Such as teaching subtraction by eating skittles?
      • Math IS a chore. Learning IS a chore. People need to realize that not everything in life is "fun". You need to do the chores in order to get work done. Too many people don't want to put in the work.

        While that might be partly true, it is also true that Math education is a chore because it was treated as a process of memorizing, not discovering - memorize process x,y,z so you can answer contrived questions a, b, and c. There is an excellent essay on this topic: A mathematician's lament [maa.org].

        • They don't teach math like that anymore. Math is still a chore for most people. There are the 0.1% of people who actually enjoy math "discovery", and they all read Slashdot.
        • One of the more interesting thing about Common Core is the effort to change this, to teach problem solving rather than memorization. It's also one of the reasons common core is lamented so heavily by some people, that is because the answer is less important than the method of developing the answer. Some people look at a common core kids math problem, and these people grew up memorizing answers, and they can't conceivably solve a problem that is based on the premise of teaching solving the problem rather tha

          • I've seen some of the posted problems that target common core as absurd and what I saw was ingenious problems that teach problem solving

            My sentiments exactly. I stumbled on some blog post that was lambasting common core and when I got to the actual example that illustrates the author's premise, I was like, that's actually a really good problem and a fantastic way to teach kids math. Realizing that this is what people are bitching about regarding the common cold curriculum, my faith in humanity eroded just a little bit more.

      • Learning is not hard; it is, however, *effort*.

        It's also technology. I've been collecting some of the high technology--spanning modern, classical, and *lost* technology--and trying to turn that into a primary education system. That's a complex feat of engineering *well* beyond my personal capability. I'm trying to put something together that adults can understand and which skilled teachers can stream in the same rough order and detail I provide to teach first-grade children; I can't create a viable cl

      • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
        If learning isn't fun, you're doing it wrong. Children love to learn, until you beat the enjoyment out of it.
    • The way math is taught, Math is a chore. The way common core teaches it, it's a stupid, idiotic chore.

      Having seen quite a bit of Common Core math at this point, I have to disagree. I have taken a lot of advanced math, and use it every day. Common Core teaches math the way I think about math. As an example: What's 25 + 36? I don't approach this problem by adding 6 and 5, getting one-carry-one, then adding 1+2+3 and putting it in the tens column. I remember that 2+3 = 5, so 20+30=50, with 5+6 left over, which gives us one more ten (for 60) and one left over (for 61). Common Core teaches addition that way, with lots of visualizations so children can see how much ten is, and that a hundred is ten groups of ten, and so on. This is just one example. It teaches kids to reason about numbers, not just calculate.

      An additional advantage of the standardization brought about by Common Core is that it makes is possible for third parties to create software, web sites, etc. that are aligned with the standard and thus relevant to what's happening in the actual curriculum, without having to custom-build for each school district. This means that there is a ton of supplemental material available on the web, a lot of it free, that is perfectly aligned with the curriculum. It's awesome.

      That having been said, teachers who were already in the habit of teaching math as dreary, meaningless memorized computation can certainly do so with Common Core. That's not a problem with the standards. The problem there is the teachers.

      • 100% correct. Finally someone else that has knowledge of what Common Core is. I was against Common Core when I first looked at it, but after learning more about it, and seeing how it works with actual kids, I am a fan.
    • The way math is taught, Math is a chore. The way common core teaches it, it's a stupid, idiotic chore.

      YessereeBob, I think its important for my kids to learn to skip the hard stuff, and only develop skills in the fun stuff. I tell them, "if it seems like a chore, that is your excuse to perform poorly". My youngest wanted to be a clown, but she didn't like the chore of putting on the makeup.

      • If it seems like a chore, you may need a new method to accomplish the same goals.
    • The way math is taught, Math is a chore

      Well, it is being taught by teachers who don't actually understand it all that well, so that is the way it has to be.

      Now, I don't actually know what goes for "advanced maths" in primary and secondar education in the States, but I hope it is something that tries to dive into the actual, intuitive foundations of the subject and tries to impart real understanding of mathematical reasoning. Take elementary set theory as an example; when I learned about it in primary school, it was rather vague and hard to find

    • Here we go with the common core backlash...

      Lets say a great many people all need to do something in their lives that the vast majority believe could be improved, backed by numerous scientific studies. A program is devised based on many years of research that attempts to change the focus of this task from memorization to understanding. Since this is a significant paradigm (sorry) shift, those who came up from the old system are confused and as with most new programs there are a few bugs to work out. Should w

    • Depends on the textbook. We decided to start homeschooling and I'm using a Saxton Algebra Book. I love it. Each chapter increments what was done previously and there are some examples worked out followed by a handful of problems on that material. Then the problem set is 30 questions that can go back to the beginning of the book. Each question has the reference chapter in parenthesis in case the child needs to review it. That way you are always checking retention.

      After an initial rough period transitioning f

  • In the rest of the world the subject is mathematics
    plural

    apparntly in America there is only one math.

  • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @10:53AM (#51469105) Homepage Journal

    From my experience with kids of this generation, there's one teacher who's responsible for most of the positive increase in mathematical competency in recent years: Salman Khan.

    I'm sure you'll find any number of politicians and their cronies at the textbook corporations who will claim credit, but when they mess everything up and the children find themselves mystified and befuddled, they turn to Khan for help.

  • in the 80's in elementary school we spent years doing the basic operations and the daily homework was dozens of easy and mind numbing problems. didn't start algebra until 7th grade honors math. my oldest kid is in third grade and they are already doing fractions with different denominators. the basic operations start in kindergarten now. the homework is a sheet of a few problems but word problems every day. less time but a lot more effective. i saw a sixth grade math text and they are doing algebra with mu
    • 100% correct. I know I wasn't doing fractions in 3rd grade. Kids are doing much more advanced math now, and doing it better, no matter what the sticks-in-the-mud commenters here say. I attribute it to Common Core, but there might be other factors in play.
    • I grew up in the same time period, what I remember is teaching the same math every single year from 1st to 6th grade. Maybe a shade more difficult but I agree, pages and pages of mind numbingly boring problems.

  • by JWW ( 79176 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @11:12AM (#51469257)

    The kids winning these competitions today were not taught Common Core math in elementary school.

    Or to put it another way, these gains will not be long lived as the inadequately taught youth in elementary school today make their way into the secondary levels.

  • by epine ( 68316 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @12:04PM (#51469769)

    My father taught me binary in the early seventies when I was still in elementary school, with black marbles and a grey egg carton. I got it right away. Numbers were one thing, representations of numbers was another thing, and these could be whatever you found convenient, so long as you obeyed certain rules (I wasn't so accelerated that I immediately started banging out Euclid's Elements on the piano).

    Then I thought really hard one Saturday afternoon about fractions (on the unit interval, which I thought of as positive integers with the numerator greater than the denominator), and discovered that even though there are a lot of them, it is possible to enumerate them exhaustively, though not by the traditional "counting up" procedure, which got me hooked into the problem of the common divisor thing.

    The next project I recall was to exhaustive write out the Tic Tac Toe game tree. Since I was a lazy bastard (always have been) this involving thinking very hard about something somewhat like symmetry groups.

    Over the annual summer visit to my grandparents—small town prairie Badlands without the cool geography, though often we managed a trip to see the hoodoos—I played a lot of solitaire on the golden-green shag carpet which Puss Puss—the duodecarian house cat who lived in the shadows under my grandparent's bed (the short duration of our visits was probably for her sake)—sometimes preferred in her dotage over asking out into the Canadian winter. Quite undeterred by the sticky and/or stinky patches, I managed to clearly formulate the concept of a "decision procedure" and that such a thing could be unambiguously specified; furthermore, I worked out (at first empirically) that the greedy algorithm was provably not optimal for Klondike (for me at that time, all Solitaire was just "Solitaire", though I knew several).

    At age ten, the boundary between empiricism and proof is still a fuzzy one.

    In grade five, I spent a lot of time (by myself) trying to puzzle out the rate-limiting step in long-hand square root. I had by then also discovered E=IR and P=IE. Pretty soon I had determined that this generates 4 choose 1 times 4 choose 2 simple algebraic forms. But for an entire painful week, some kind of thick cloud entered my brain and I couldn't reliably write all the forms down without a lot of mucking around; this I knew to be completely bogus, and a permanent blot on my record. By the time the cloud passed, I was pretty good at substitution and gathering. Later, when I first encountered a matrix (don't recall), I immediately went to myself "oh, that's just algebra, better organized". At least something stuck.

    Now, during this entire period of my life, I was in a constant state of deeply repressed rage about this thing called "school", with all the inherent stimulation of Puss Puss waiting out the daily bedtime / ultimate final departure of the grandchildren (geriatric cat yay!) from the furthest dark remove under the master bed.

    Grade six came as a shock. For the first time I experienced a math teacher who believed in letting kids learn at their own natural rate. He quickly put four of us a private work program. We could go as fast as we wanted, but the rule was we had to do all of the tedious exercises at the end of every chapter. Many of these exercises were heavy on the pencil work, so I only made it through grades six, seven, eight, and nine. My fingers put in about 90% of the work (this is not actually a bad thing), and my brain put in the other 10% (this being 100 times more than 0.1%). Awesome!

    So I was armed, locked, and loaded for bear when I showed up at the beginning of grade seven. I figured I could knock off ten, eleven, twelve by Easter, and still have a month left over for real math at long last.

    Problem: my grade seven teacher thought my purpose in life was to sit enthralled by his boring lectures. Shields up! I don't recall a single thing he wrote on the board

    • If we let you get ahead, that's isomorphic to letting the other guy get behind. And we can't have that.

    • by epine ( 68316 )

      Whoops. Four choose one times three choose two. My fingers sometimes get the best of me.

    • My father taught me binary in the early seventies when I was still in elementary school, with black marbles and a grey egg carton. I got it right away. Numbers were one thing, representations of numbers was another thing, and these could be whatever you found convenient, so long as you obeyed certain rules

      This is why the Japanese start on the Soroban and then move the damn thing out of the classroom.

    • Guys we get it: you are all special flowers with a high ability for math. This does not apply to 99.9999% of the population. You are probably autistic. What Common Core addresses is the 99.9999% of the population who are not like you.
    • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )

      I didn't have it quite that bad, but vaguely similar. My 6th grade math teacher realized I didn't need to be there and assigned me self-paced algebra instead. I was lazy, but eventually worked through quite a bit of the book. Then 7th grade came, and I was back in pre-algebra, before 8th grade had algebra again. I dealt with the boredom by reading novels through all of 7th and half of 8th grade (before it got ahead of where I had been) math. The teacher for 7-8 had mixed feelings, sometimes just letting me

      • 8 * 8 =64

        x * x =x ^2

        (x-1)(x+1)=x^2 +x -x -1 = x^2 -1



        Should work for any numbers...



        (x-2)(x+2)=x^2 - 4



        And so forth. Algebra...
  • I remember elementary and high school math from the 80s and early 90s. It was an endless cycle of memorization of procedures and formulas, with very little emphasis on the real utility of it all. In particular, I remember plane geometry proofs that barely made sense to me -- I can't imagine what someone who was bad at math or disinterested thought of those. That, and the algebra manipulation phase (factoring, quadratic equations, etc.) I will always remember that x = (-b +/- sqrt(b^2 - 4ac)) / 2a -- for som

    • by Pollux ( 102520 )

      what needs to be taught differently in early math so that students will enjoy it?

      Here's my answer...from the perspective of a licensed math teacher in the state of Minnesota, plus the father of a two-year-old and an 18-year-old...

      1) Teach parents how to teach their children. As a teacher, when I conferenced with parents, there was always a high likelihood that students that struggled with math had parents struggle as well. (And they would openly admit this, sometimes even with pride. It was very common

    • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )

      I would imagine it varies a lot from person to person. I really liked patterns, for one. Any time a sequence or series came up, I really enjoyed it. And the shapes, in geometry, but absolutely not the proofs. One of my favorite moments came in 5th grade, learning about different bases, and converting from one to another. I told myself then, "This is so much fun, I wish I could do it as a job." Curiously enough, a decade later I landed a job doing web design and did get to occasionally translate between deci

  • Okay they won in 2015, congrats! But these are their results going back to '74 when they first participated:
    1 2 3 3 2 3 6 3 5 5 2 2 3 3 2 3 10 3 4 2 11 1 7 2 5 3 5 6 5 1 2 4 2 3 1 5 2 1 3 3 2
    They pretty much always were top 3. Looking at other countries, only China has a better track-record coming in 1st often. Other countries placing well historically are Russia and South-Korea, but on average the US seems to do better (historically I would say 2nd after China).
    So really, the are making a moot point. I
    • Yeah, I think it's reading WAY to much into it to say that they placed well because the US education system has improved.

  • "Melvin’s comments led Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, to ask him whether he’s actually read the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by 45 states.

    “I’ve been exposed to them,” Melvin responded.

    Pressed by Bradley for specifics, Melvin said he understands “some of the reading material is borderline pornographic.” And he said the program uses “fuzzy math,” substituting letters for numbers in some examples".

    http://tucson.com/news/local/e... [tucson.com]

    https://en [wikipedia.org]

  • That's rich. It seems that every ten years or so some person or group finds a way to revolution math or math education. Yet, nothing changes except for American education being dumbed down more with every "revolution".

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