Four Hundred Eighteenth Post: 3rd Post in Improving Education (20091009)

This is the third blog entry about improving education in the United States. Most of these ideas would not cost millions.

The U.S. has a bad reputation with math. It is not that all high school math programs are bad. There are some great teachers and challenging courses. The only problem is that such programs only reach the advanced students which are only a small percentage of the student population. Also the quality of math programs range from school to school.

The quality of education is the teachers responsibility. However, it is the student’s responsibility in the amount of work is put into the class. Students need to learn the proper approach to learning math. There is a clear difference between learning arithmetic in elementary school and other math such as algebra and geometry.

The first problem is that you must study for math like algebra and geometry. That is, as apposed to arithmetic in elementary school where you spend hours of instruction in class. With more advanced math the more of the workload that has to be done outside of class.

Bad study habits are another area that needs improved. It is nearly impossible to “cram” for a math test. Keeping a running knowledge is essential. Look at the graph of a function. It is change over “time”. Similarly math knowledge is work over time.

So what can teachers do? Teachers must create interesting lessons. In the book, “Writing Math Research Papers”, by Robert Gerver, it is suggested to use math research projects as a learning tool. It does not mean that the fundamentals and standard course work is not taught. Instead the research complements the standard material. The project is about a semester long with the student working applying what they have learned.

From my college experience when the lessons were augmented with projects or extra content, I always was more interested. Of course that doesn’t mean the fundamentals are important, I just enjoy solving hard problems or working on a lab that relates the math to real life. In fact that is why I put the “Arched Doorway” problem on Constructor’s Corner. If I could have solved it then I would have received an automatic “A” in the class.

Of course, I understand the challenges that teachers face. How do they make a course challenging that it will not isolate those who do not understand the material. Sometimes when the student does not get an “A” the parents don’t like it. Alternatively, if the teacher teaches the test they are blamed for the lack of standards. But I believe research projects can correct this problem to a certain extent. How? Students often complain that things they learn in the classroom are not applicable to “the real world”. So if the teacher gives them a research project they learn that life is not structured into grades. In other words what you do in life and want to accomplish isn’t just about getting an “A”. There is a much deeper meaning.

So, off topic, adding hours to the school days does nothing. It doesn’t even make sense. If I was going to increase hours of schools, I would do it by making at least one extra curricular activity mandatory. But kids don’t usually respond well when you force them to do something.

So ends the 3rd post in improving education.