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Educator: Math Teachers Need Creative License

More on the topic of student motivation and math achievement: In a Newsday op-ed, Alfred Posamentier, the dean of the Mercy College School of Education in New York, warns that the centrality of standardized tests in math—particularly vis-a-vis teacher evaluations—may reduce the flexibility teachers need to engage students in the subject. "Motivating students requires a great deal of creativity from teachers, taking into account a variety of psychological, environmental and cultural factors," he writes.

To illustrate, Posamentier tells the story of how, as a young high school math teacher in the Bronx in the 1960s, he used dice and card games to spark his students' interest in fractions and probability—and ultimately to boost their mastery of math concepts. He suggests that he wouldn't have been able to use this approach if he were bound to a scripted curriculum or concerned about the impact of a standardized test on his job.

While wary of standardized approaches to teaching math, however, Posamentier notes that the Common Core State Standards, now being implemented in most states, may offer a way forward if taken in the right spirit:

The Common Core State Standards Initiative cautions ... that the "standards do not tell teachers how to teach . . . so that teachers can build the best lessons and environments for their classrooms." I hope today's math teachers and the principals evaluating them will take that to heart. The Common Core State Standards Initiative may well recognize that the most difficult part of any math lesson is how to implant within students a desire to learn the material.
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