Wednesday, March 2, 2016

What is the "Math Path" We Should Encourage Students to Take?

I read this article the other day by Dana Goldstein, "Down with Algebra II!", which describes professor Andrew Hackers views on mathematics, and how the push for STEM, higher math like Algebra II, is actually creating a the failure and dropout rates we are seeing because it is pushing students into mathematics that is not necessary for their future endeavors and "destroying a tremendous amount of talent". The math requirements in high school and college are "highly irrational".

And then my friend sent me the same exact article via Facebook and asked my opinion. (This is what happens when your friends know you are a math person!). So - what is my opinion? I have to say, I completely agree with Andrew Hacker. In fact - I have written about it before a few times: Math Curriculum - What should we be teaching?; Financial Literacy - Real-world math, REALLY; Let's teach probability & Statistics - We need it! 

Don't get me wrong - I think Algebra II and higher level math is important.  I believe in the Common Core Standards, which recommend higher mathematical concepts.  However - NOT for everyone. My friend who sent me the FB link, has a student with a learning disability who completely struggles in math. She was concerned because if Algebra II is a requirement, she knows her son will struggle, probably not get the grade needed, which will then hurt his chances of getting into a college of his choice. He is NOT planning to go into a field where he would need Algebra II, or Calculus.  Which is true for many students. But - in our traditional curriculum, even with the Common Core, we push students along the following path: Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II, Pre-Calculus, Calculus.  Maybe some Trig.  Rarely do we push them into Probability & Statistics, and since Computer Science is usually NOT allowed as a math credit, we don't push them there either.  And Personal Finance? Not even an offering in most places.

I will use my daughters as examples.  The oldest is an art person - lives, eats, breaths art.  If she could
Example Oldest Daughters Art - Acrylic 
draw all day (which she does), she would be happy and satisfied, with the occasional break to eat. The younger - well, she is still a conundrum, but she is brilliant with math and science.  She just gets it.  She thinks different. When it came to what to take after Algebra II (required), it was a no brainer for the younger one to go into precalculus and calculus. She needed the challenge.  However I told my older daughter she should take statistics.  It would be more relevant to her more artsy/business direction (advdertising). Let me tell you - her counselor was NOT happy.  Kept trying to push her towards Pre-calculus instead so she would get into "college". NO.  This daughter would have done horrible in Pre-calculus - she was not interested in it, was not planning to use this mathematics in her future endeavors, so why should she be forced down this path?  Well - we went against counselors wishes and took statistics, which she absolutely loved (great teacher) and totally excelled in.  It was relevant, real-world, hands-on and - pertinent to what she does now.  Perfect match.  But - it was NOT on the recommended path so we had to fight for her right to take it.  My point - two very different daughters, two very different personalities and interests, and therefore they should have two very different pathways.

I completely agree we need more students interested in STEM careers, however, not every student needs to be pushed here, especially if their interests lie in arts, history, business, computer gaming, etc.  All students need math - and I am a big believer of math every year through grade 12. But - just different math. What I think, especially in this age of "personalized learning", is there needs to be choice in mathematics, and not the constant push to force all students down the same path, a path that for many is unnecessary and a road to failure. I definitely want students to learn math - and I truly believe in the Common Core State Standards - which emphasize problem solving, real-world application, critical thinking and conceptual understanding.  All of these goals can be accomplished with other math choices. If we had other pathways for mathematics, we might actually find students developing an interest in math and pursuing higher level courses of their own free will.

A lot of districts will say they don't have the funding to offer more math choices. With online
Andres Marti Teaching Statistics w/TinkerPlots
learning that is not an excuse, as long as districts are willing to accept credits students take online from other places. Additionally, districts/states need to rethink the math requirements and what courses count towards a math credit.  Thankfully, this seems to be coming up more and more, but courses like computer science should count as math credit (to replace Algebra II or Calculus), Personal Finance courses should be offered first of all, and should also count as a math credit. How does this work with Common Core State Standards and other standards? It shouldn't impact those at all - if students do take Algebra, Algebra II , Statistics, then the content standards should be followed. The Mathematical Practices should be followed no matter what courses you take. But - what is 'required' for math credit - THAT's what should be rethought. Let's make learning about what is going to help a student acquire the skills they need to pursue the career path they want and be productive members of society. Personal Finance would go a lot further towards that goal for all students than Algebra II, don't you think?

What is my ideal math menu?

1) Students should have at least 4 math credits to graduate high school.  Math is important!
2) What are some required courses?

  • Basic Algebra (abstract thinking is important and useful to everyone)
  • Geometry (this helps with logic, spatial reasoning, etc.)
  • Personal Finance (yes - EVERYONE)
3) What are some optional courses that count as MATH credit? (not exhaustive)
  • Computer Science - all kinds (coding, robotics, gaming, etc.)
  • Probability & Statistics (voting, sampling, etc...important for being a functioning person in todays' society)
  • Advanced Algebra (Algebra II?)
  • PreCalculus
  • Calculus (A&B)
  • Trigonometry
  • Math for Medicine (i.e. for those interested in nursing or doctors)
  • Accounting
There are more that could be added to the optional courses list obviously - this is just a smattering. But - what matters here is there is choice. And based on a students interests, they should be given the choice. 

No comments: