State officials in Michigan are worried about the math and science skills of its students. An increasing number are leaving school with skills that are well below the minimum standards. Possibly more troubling, fewer and fewer kids are exceeding the standards.
The governor and other politicians are concerned, of course, because all of this doesn’t look good to the high tech companies they’re trying to attract to the state. They and education officials are also puzzled as to why all this is happening.
There’s no mystery here. The way math and science is taught, especially in the elementary grades, is boring with huge chunks of time devoted to memorizing facts and formulas. Students see no point in the exercises, and with good reason. Lessons and activities are completely disconnected from how the subjects are actually applied, or anything else interesting.
Eliason [chief scientific office for a Detroit company] often judges science fairs in Metro Detroit and said he sees the lack of interest and knowledge in science firsthand. The experiments are often generic and use little creativity or skill, such as just comparing different laundry soaps.
"They really don’t know what they did, and it is really not interesting," Eliason said. "Some of them don’t have a clue.
Kahn [executive director of the Mathematics Pipeline at Wayne State University] said part of the problem is that educators need to re-evaluate the way math is taught.
"We teach math in the most complicated and confusing way possible," Kahn said. "The whole world hates math."
At the camp, they have high-schoolers teaching and mentoring middle school students and college students teaching high school students. They also set aside plenty of time for hands-on work, even using art to teach math lessons.
At least they have a few people who get it. And don’t give me the tired crap that kids can’t learn to make real use math and science until they absorb an arbitrary number of facts or repetitive skills.
Real learning is not linear. In the real world, people develop an understanding of a new subject by mixing practice in basic skills with applications of those skills. That’s how math and science should be taught.