Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Is it okay to not know how to read?

So, back before I retired to become a naptime writer/one-pupil-teacher (who is pretty much still on order and wonder and how to eat), I taught middle school math.

Instilling wonder in my main pupil/Everyone loves baby pics

Yes, just about everyone's worst nightmare.  Least favorite subject, least favorite age.

"Math?" My well-meaning interlocutor says.  "I was never very good at math."

Or, less frequently but still common, "I always did well in math but I never really felt like I 'got' it."

A flurry of recent articles by Elizabeth Green or about her new book address the causes of being bad at math-- and some of the consequences for innumerate grown-ups (that's the numerical equivalent to illiteracy, for all you limited vocab folks)*-- as well as the problems of teacher training, both for math specifically and in general.

 She addresses two things that are supremely important:
1. American teachers are overworked. Teachers in countries that perform well in math spend a lot less time in the classroom- and a lot more time working with other teachers to prepare their lessons.

2. Thorough teacher training and understanding of mathematics is crucial in developing students who think about the world mathematical rather than are just able to "do" math.

So, now, many of the reforms introduce new algorithms for multiplying numbers that just confuse kids. And parents.  By themselves, a textbook cannot teach a kid to think mathematically.  A teacher has to guide them.

This could be you.

Seriously.  Whether you are a parent or a mentor or just know some children, when the opportunity arises, talk to them about numbers: how much things cost, odd and even numbers, what product is cheaper to buy, ratio of girls to boys in class, how much flour to measure when you need two cups but only have a half cup out, whatever.

Baking: perfect situation to talk about numbers- fractions and ratios organically arise!
(This is a variation on Martha Stewart's flag cake that's similar to the buttermilk coffee cake but not quite as good)

You don't have to have this conversation, but you can still talk about numbers!

And as for the difficulty of the the middle school age: well, let's just say that the parents were worse.^

*See what I did there?

^To be truly honest, let's say that the most misbehaved kids were not nearly as hard to deal with as the most misbehaved parents.

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