Friday, June 27, 2008

Is Something Wrong With the Teachers? reported an article yesterday which says that many elementary teachers are poorly prepared to teach mathematics. It is not that they are unable to perform the mathematics germaine to their students' level (multiplication tables and fractions, for adults, should be pretty easy); the study they report on states that these teachers are "poorly teach math." What does this mean?

The fact is, most elementary teachers do know how to do the math problems their students are learning to do. But not all of them can do the following:

  • Explain the underlying concept—why, precisely, "does" 12 × 7 equal 84? There is a good reason for this.
  • Prepare the student for what comes next—for example 3½ equals 7/2...but what is the purpose? How is this fact going to be used going forward?
  • Show the relevance of the mathematics to everyday life—not only the cute story problems about numbers of apples and making change from a $20, but also problems not found in a textbook [it troubles me to think how few times teachers, and not only in math, don't even bother to try to come up with outside-the-book questions for students; this should be common].
Many elementary teachers do a great job in these areas. Some, quite frankly, do not—and some of them may not even know how! Ask your child's elementary teacher sometime how these things are used in the classroom.

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