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):

1 comment:

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