Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Being Slow in Math is A Good Thing

"Speed ISN'T important in math. What is important is to deeply understand mathematical ideas and connections. Whether you are fast or slow isn't really relevant." - Laurent Schwartz, mathematician

If you haven't seen the video by Jo Boaler and some of her Stanford students entitled "How to Learn Math: Four Key Messages", you definitely need to. Besides the four powerful messages (which I will list below), it has some great stories and quotes, one of which is the one I have above.  Jo Boaler has done powerful research and written some terrific books on mathematics and learning math (one of my favorites being "What's Math Got to Do with It?" and the video about these four key messages in math is so interesting.

Here are the four key messages about learning math (I highly recommend you watch the video to clarify and define each message a bit more):

  1. Everyone can learn math at high levels
  2. Believe in yourself (your beliefs about your abilities actually changes the way your brain learns)
  3. Struggle and mistakes are really important in learning math
  4. Speed is NOT important
All of these speak directly to the way we currently teach and learn mathematics. One that really struck out for me was #4, speed is not important. I remember my own daughters struggling with the timed math tests - i.e. you have a minute to try and solve 100 times tables, or complete as many addition problems as possible. Very stressful, very ridiculous, and to top it off, they were penalized with poor grades if they couldn't reach the arbitrary goal. It still goes on and students memorize and stress over these timed math drills. Why? It's ridiculous. And, if we continue to do this to students, then they begin to believe they are bad at math (see #2 above), which leads to them thinking they can't learn math (see #1), and therefore giving up when problems get tough (see #3). A self-fulfilling prophecy.

So - I ask those math teachers out there who continue to put pressure on students to perform mathematical skills in a timed matter, where speed is important - stop. Just stop. Focus on what mathematics should be - understanding why those calculations matter, what they are related to, how they help us solve real-world problems. Help students make connections. 

I know I keep coming back to it - but the Common Core Mathematical Practices seem to embody these four key messages. No where in there does it say students have to be able to do ___calculations in _____ minutes. Math is NOT about speed - it's about the struggle, perseverance, conjectures, connections, and applications that help students solve relevant, real-world problems and see the beauty and need for mathematics.

Check out the video here (sorry - it did not allow for embedding):

Friday, December 11, 2015

#HourofCode Sparking the Need for Computer Science Curriculum

It's been great to see all the posts on Twitter this week and the many articles focused on National Computer Science Education Week. The #HourofCode hashtag has been lighting up Twitter this week, which has been really exciting to see (and I have loved reading and sharing all the great links).
Science and teaching students coding. All of course in response to this week being

The idea behind #HourofCode is to expose as many people, especially students, to the basics of coding. The hope is by showing that anyone can learn coding, need for, interest in and involvement with computer science will increase. One of the many articles I read this week was one that suggested Computer Science courses should be considered math credit.  I think this is a great idea - it would provide a valuable math credit option for students, especially those not interested in the traditional Algebra II, pre-calculus, calculus path, which is usually the push for a majority of students. Often a path completely unnecessary for most students, who would benefit more from Probability & Statistics, Computer Science and Financial Literacy courses, which often don't exist as options. In fact, I would go so far as to say, that computer science classes would be far more beneficial for the majority of students as math credit than Algebra II, pre-calculus or calculus. In this technological age, where a majority of jobs require tech skills, coding and/or the ability to understand coding is a necessity.

I look at my recently graduated daughter (from UT Austin), who graduated with an Advertising Degree and is having a difficult time getting a job in large part because the skills many marketing/advertising companies are looking for are coding skills: HTML, Java, Codex - can you design and build a website? An app? None of which was part of her advertising curriculum. And not something that was offered in her high school either. Will she go out and learn it now? Absolutely (hopefully on-the-job training!). But, what this emphasizes for me is computer science is a vital need in our K-12 and higher-ed curriculum and one that is NOT being given enough focus.

Hopefully, #hourofcode is helping to make Computer Science become a required course/subject in schools. But, if it's not in your school, there are so many resources where, no matter what you teach, you could begin utilizing/teaching coding in conjunction with your own topic. Why not start the movement yourself in your own school? The links above provide many resources, but here are some specific resources as well.Obviously there are many more options out there, these are just some of my favorites, with students in mind.

  1. Globaloria - this is an amazing curriculum that can become part of any content area. Students learn coding and content by developing a computer game to teach others. Check it out here:   I've had the privilege of working with these folks, and they do an excellent job connecting Common Core, Next Generation, and ISTE Tech standards to content while students learn to code.
  2. Has some great #hourofcode tutorials kids will love.  Just some listed below:
  3. Tynker has grade-level games and coding and teaching support as well
  4. Khan Academy - coding tutorials among the many free content videos available.