Why Is It So Hard to Change How We Teach Math?

| July 24, 2014 | 10 Comments
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Educators have been talking about changing the traditional way of teaching math for a long time, but nothing seems to change. Elizabeth Green’s New York Times Magazine article digs into why it has been so hard for U.S schools to effectively implement changes to math pedagogy, and just how far American students have fallen behind as a result. A lot of it comes down to ensuring teachers are comfortable with the new methods, she writes:

“In fact, efforts to introduce a better way of teaching math stretch back to the 1800s. The story is the same every time: a big, excited push, followed by mass confusion and then a return to conventional practices. The trouble always starts when teachers are told to put innovative ideas into practice without much guidance on how to do it. In the hands of unprepared teachers, the reforms turn to nonsense, perplexing students more than helping them.”


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  • Forrest_Higgs

    …because our math teachers are hidebound, nationally well-organized and absolutely certain that they know exactly how to teach maths all performance evidence to the contrary.

  • Atlas Educational

    Because teachers are handed a textbook, forced to take training on how to use it, and forced to build common assessments so they all teach the same way at the same pace to different learners. If that doesn’t make sense to you. ….. welcome to our current educational system.

    • http://www.jugnu.pk Mohsin R

      I regularly hear that students from Asian families do better in maths in US schools. Here in Pakistan we teach maths like everywhere else, with textbooks oriented for common assessment. I personally know students (not all) who spend hours practising math questions. Where do you think the difference lies?

  • Epicrapbattlechem

    I disagree, I teach science, but I see the problem being that we underestimate how few really understand science and math. I would put the number of people that have a very high level of simple chemistry and physics under 100 in the world. And most of those are probably teachers or students of those teachers. The reality is the smartest people we have can get really good at advanced science but are never reinforcing their knowledge of basics and the overlap of physics and chemistry. That’s what goes wrong when you implement common core and other teaching methods. Honestly most science teaching methodologies are constructed in a bad system to improve the bad system. Look at how people describe heat in a macro sense so consistently poorly. So many professors apply thermo like it is not statistically based, as it were physically based and real. We need to reduce the stigma of teachers/highly educated not understanding their content and then address the lack of content knowledge amongst ourselves as severe.

  • Robin

    I taught in two very good elementary schools for 12 years and one huge problem I observed is that the majority of elementary teachers do not like teaching math. They often are not secure in their own math skills & even if they don’t say it directly, their students can tell that they’d rather be teaching reading, writing, or social studies. We need teachers working with our very young students to teach math confidently and ideally enthusiastically.

  • Lokie

    It’s probably because you’re still looking at it the wrong way. We shouldn’t be focusing all our efforts on how changing how we teach maths. We should be understanding how students learn maths more effectively, then we can develop the pedagogies and design the learning.

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  • Bruce_William_Smith

    An interesting article on this is Dr. Aiping Xu’s “Investigation of Mathematical Cultures”, which suggests, in the developed world, the mathematical cultures of most anglophonic countries (including the United States) to be the weakest, surpassed, in ascending order, by those of England, eastern Europe, western Europe, and, on top, China and other east Asian countries.

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  • sonita

    how students learn maths more effectively, then we can develop the pedagogies and design the learning.
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