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Cookbook Math

Jennifer at Elementary, My Dear, or Far From It wants to know What are we doing wrong in math?

As a society we do not have the most positive attitude towards math. It would be highly embarrassing as an adult to say that you can’t read, but it is perfectly acceptable to say that you don’t do math. Why is that? What message does this send to kids?

As someone who taught math for many years, I’d say it’s more than “perfectly acceptable” to admit to having poor math skills. Many people I’ve met, even some public figures, seem to be downright proud of their ignorance in this area.

While Jennifer is trying to improve her ability to help her 5th grade students learn math, she certainly understands one big reason why math education in this country is so poor.

I have come to one significant (I think) conclusion; in language arts we are teaching our students skills but in math we are teaching content. In language arts we teach students how to make connections as they read, how to organize a piece of writing, or how to write strong leads; skills they could use in any text they read or write. In math we teach students how to multiply or divide, but we limit the use of the skill to specific instances. Instead of teaching students to think like mathematicians we are teaching them to follow set rules. We teach students to be readers and writers. We should be doing the same in math.

That cookbook approach to math extends all the way through high school into college.

And, unfortunately, having students memorize recipes is only reinforced by the standardized tests.

math, teaching, ignorance

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the link. I love the term “cookbook math”. It so clearly says what we are doing in our schools and our society in terms of math instruction.
    The blog address has changed: http://emdffi.blogspot.com/

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