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Math Problems

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A new study has found that the U.S. is not effectively developing strong math skills in boys or girls, reports The New York Times. “We’re living in a culture . . . that’s telling everybody that only Asians and nerds do math,” said Janet Mertz, the study’s lead author.

Rather than looking at standardized test scores, the study, which will be published in Notices of the American Mathematical Society, relied on data from prestigious math competitions, such as the International Mathematical Olympiads. The results show that the majority of U.S. participants are immigrants or children of immigrants from countries that prize mathematical talent. Zuming Feng, who grew up in China and is now the leader of the United States Olympiad team, says that “in China math is regarded as an essential skill that everyone should try to develop at some level. Parents in China view math as parents in the United States do baseball, hockey, and soccer.”

Girls with exceptional math aptitude are even more rarely identified in the U.S. than boys. Since 1974, when the U.S. began participating in the International Olympiad, only three American girls have participated. Bulgaria has had nine girl participants and Soviet Union/Russia has had 13.

Melanie Wood, a former Olympiad, states that being a math whiz is more challenging socially for girls. “There’s that image of what it is to be a nerdy boy in mathematics. It’s still in some way socially unacceptable for boys, but at least it’s a position and it’s clearly defined.”

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One solution to this sorry state of affairs is the growing popularity of Math Circles (http://www.mathcircles.org). We are particularly fortunate in Dallas, TX that Dr. Titu Andreescu, one of the authors of this study, is the founder and director of the Metroplex Math Circle (http://www.metroplexmathcircle.org).

I think our nation does have problems in teaching math. I taught for 32 years in the public schools. I also taught for 3 more years in the teacher education programs.
I am now tutoring students having difficulty in math skills. Most of the students have problems in basic math skills that should have been learned in the first four or five years of their school experience. They have just been pushed on and experienced problems that are carried through their High School experience. Thus their math skills are not firmly in place and they continue to have minimal or below average performance.
I believe that our schools are run on achievement based testing. We are told that we need to be at a certain point at a certain date so that hopefully when the achievement test is given, the student will have an above average performance. So our teaching is driven by achievement testing.

Teachers have been given skills in identification of learning skills in students. However, we are not able to use what we have been taught to do- teach math skills based upon sequential knowledge. I feel that we need to let the teachers decide when students are ready to move on from one skill to another. Those decisions need to be based upon student performance, not on date and time. Let teachers use their skill based on student performance. .

I have taught math for students in grades 4 through 6; my current group is 5th grade. It bothers me that we are pushing more and more abstract mathematical concepts at this age group when their brains are not developmentally able to grasp very abstract thoughts. I realize that the pressure to compete nationally and internationally is behind this drive, but I think we'd be better off in the long run if we stick to basics until the brain is ready to move on. I'd like to see some "less is more" thinking in the lower grades.

8 years at the end of my careers trying to teach at-risk HS students Math, now tutoring. Yes to most of the above! Most of my students could not do mental math and struggled with addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Few understood fraction operations. Almost all hated and could not solve "story" problems. Here in Ohio, the standardized testing seems to me to be reasonably representative of the level of math understanding we want in our children. I am confused when I read the comment that we teach to the test. I have never understood that, given the only way I can tell if a student understands is by "testing" their ability to acomplish math problems. Seems to me appropriate standardized tests are the best method to see if standards are being met. Certainly one-on-one gives me a much greater understanding of their prowess, but how does one find time to work one-on-one when one has 75 to 150 or more students? Let's simply get them to the appropriate level - - then they can pass the test.

I agree that pushing abstract reasoning before children are developmentally ready is a poor practice! An even poorer practice is using calculators in the lower grades before addition and multiplication tables are memorized along with division/multiplication by 10. Approximation is another concept/tool that seems to be avoided in grade school - - and should be taught. All of these are in the excellent Ohio standards, we just seem to avoid teaching them. By the way, why do we change standards and methods expecting results within a year or two. Last I looked there are 13-15 school years. Math is a sequential learning process so it will take that long for results started in pre-K to ripple up! How about teaching math in a reasoned, structured manner that gets K to appropriate level, then the next year gets these children to their first grade level, then next year gets these same children to "second", etc. Or is there a better way?

How is it that students of the same age from a variety of other countries are so much more capable in math than our students? Do we try to teach things in a different order? Do we skip important factors that the students of other countries learn? Are our students less mentally capable than students in these other countries? Just saying our students aren't ready for math isn't enough.

Hi, I made a humble effort to collect math videos around the web ranging from elementary math to college math that can be seen at: http://www.watchmath.com
Hopefully people find it useful.

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