Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Math Curriculum: How and Why It Needs To Change

It seems that everyone is talking about math reform these days.  But, what does that really mean?  What does it or should it look like?  The truth is there are many facets of what should make up math reform including things like assessment, understanding how students learn, metacognition, technology and math curriculum.  This post will focus on the need to rethink math curriculum and the role of technology in transforming math curriculum.

You've probably noticed that over the last few decades, our world has been changing rapidly.  Technology has changed the way we operate our daily lives.   And, technology has certainly changed the way businesses  and industries operate.  But, surprisingly (or not), technology has not really impacted math curriculum as a whole.  

Traditionally, math curriculum has been all about computation with little, if any, emphasis on understanding or context.  Until the last few decades, math curriculum needed to focus on arithmetic and computation because we didn't have technology that could do the computation for us.  

Today, we don't need as much emphasis on computation and arithmetic because we have technology that can support this.  Let me be clear, I'm not suggesting that we don't need to teach any computation.  I'm saying that computation should not be the primary focus in our math classes.  For students to be successful in our ever changing world, they need to be able to demonstrate mathematical reasoning, think critically, apply math to real situations, interpret and analyze data, and problem solve. The beauty of technology is that it allows us to spend more time focusing on higher order thinking, making real world connections to math and problem solving skills with less time spent on teaching arithmetic.

There are two TED talks that describe what today's math curriculum should look like.  The first one titled Teaching Kids Real Math with Computers is from Conrad Wolfram.  The second one titled Math Class Needs a Makeover is from Dan Meyer.  Both of these TED Talks do a great job describing why we need to rethink math curriculum and how technology can help make math more relevant, interesting, and practical.  They also show how technology allows students to gain deeper mathematical understanding and become better problem solvers.

Some key points form these videos are:
  • Math looks different in the real world than it does in a typical math classroom
  • Math helps everyone make sense of the world
  • Math is NOT computation
  • Math is about posing the right questions 
  • Computation should arise from a need to answer a mathematical question
  • Calculating no longer has to be the limiting step in answering mathematical questions
  • Math in the real world is popular
  • Math is used regularly by many professions
  • Math in the real world is difficult and often doesn't look like a bunch of calculations
  • Sometimes math doesn't look like math
  • Estimation is a necessary and valuable skill
  • Technology allows students to see a need for computation
  • Technology allows for deeper more meaningful mathematical dialogue
  • Technology allows students to experience and understand difficult math concepts like Calculus much earlier

Teaching Kids Real Math With Computers by Conrad Wolfram

Math Class Needs a Makeover by Dan Meyer

If you're interested in more resources from Dan Meyer and Conrad Wolfram, check out these sites.
The purpose of this post is get you thinking about how you approach math instruction.  What changes can you make that will help your students become more equipped to function in today's world and in their world of tomorrow?

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