Why our children deserve higher math issues

What if every student who ever studied Language Arts read and write individual words?

Every day they read word lists and completed spelling dictations. Sometimes they can put the words into simple sentences – but not until their teachers show them exactly what order to go in.

The main purpose of this course, students are told, is to read and write words accurately and quickly without making mistakes. There are no stories to research, no predictions to be made, and certainly no room for creativity or alternative perspectives. Nobody ever talks about fostering the love of reading and writing.

What would our students think of reading and writing if it were their only experience in these subjects? Would you view reading as a series of routine tasks, out of context and with no deeper meaning?

Sounds dark, doesn’t it?

And yet…

Do you remember how you learned math?

When I think back to math class in the early 1990s, I remember a lot of worksheets.

First, Teacher stood in front of the blackboard and explained exactly how to solve the type of task for the day.

Then we worked independently and quietly to answer each question on the worksheet. If we got an incorrect answer, we had to go back and find out where we missed a step.

When we finally got to the word problem at the bottom of the page, we found the numbers and followed the same steps.

Sound familiar?

Even now, with more manipulation and group work, the focus of math lessons is on speed and approach rather than connection and understanding.

Students are taught the steps to solve a specific type of problem, and then those steps are applied to a workbook page.

The word problem remains, this time the students just underline or circle the numbers before plugging them in.

Discussions and problem solving are still strictly controlled by the teacher. Students who have difficulty will be taught the steps again if they do not understand them the first time.

Even when students master the solution of one type of problem, each variation leaves them unsure of how to proceed. “I didn’t learn that,” they say.

We need better math problems

Decoding and spelling individual words is part of learning to read and write, just as learning operations like addition and subtraction is part of math. The biggest difference between our dynamic literature blocks and our static math lessons is not in the core competencies of the tasks, but in the nature of the tasks themselves.

We trust students to read novels, make annotations and predictions, discuss the topics, and maybe even write a paragraph to convince others to read it.

So why don’t we trust them to solve relatable and extensive math problems without giving them “the steps” first? Where are the math group discussions and the authentic math projects?

Do you remember Bloom’s taxonomy? Our students also deserve challenging brain teasers in math.

By finding complex math challenges, we can increase student engagement and deepen understanding.

Check out this extensive math assignment from Let’s Talk Math, a complementary resource designed to help engage students in authentic listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. Each word problem in this resource helps students understand, discuss, reflect, and write about how they solved complex problems with their peers.

Instead of the teacher presenting exactly how to solve a problem, students are encouraged to develop their own strategies and explain their thinking.

Extensive math assignments like this will keep a classroom buzzing with excitement and raised hands. Similar to how teachers moderate book group discussions, they can also facilitate discussions on math problems.

We have the power to make math classes more meaningful and effective.

Students can develop a deeper understanding of mathematics while learning operations, just as our language students learn to decipher and analyze books. The change starts with better math problems.

Learn more about Let’s Talk Math, a new complementary resource from Teacher Created Materials, here.

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