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Changing the Way we think about Math: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) :


Thinking about Math Differently

This Isn't The Math I Remember!

(Excerpted and adapted from http://www.nctm.org/resources/content.aspx?id=2822)
Why doesn’t the math my child brings home look like the math I remember?

If you don't recognize the math in your child's homework, think about how the world has changed since you were in school. The math looks different because the world is different.

Advances in science, technology, information processing and communication, combined with the changing workplace, make it necessary for all students to learn more math. You may hear about STEM in your child’s classroom – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Many students in the United States are not doing as well in math and science as we would hope, so schools are focusing on those areas, trying to help teachers and students think in innovative ways to learn more effectively in these areas.

The basics are changing. Arithmetic skills, although important, are no longer enough. To succeed in tomorrow's world, students must understand algebra, geometry, statistics, and probability. Businesses and industries demand workers who can:
  • solve real world problems
  • explain their thinking to others
  • identify and analyze trends from data, and
  • use modern technology.
The mathematics students do in middle school should prepare them for the new basic skills necessary for their futures.

Instead of worksheets, your child may bring home problems to investigate that are related to real life-investigating salaries, life expectancy, and fair decisions, for example.

Giving students opportunities to learn real math maximizes their future options.

There’s More than one way to do Math!

In a story than appeared in USA Today, ( http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2008-07-15-old-math_N.htm)  Jocelyn Noveck wrote about the difference in the way many parents learned to do math and the ways in which children are learning to do math today. Many parents are surprised and frustrated when their children do math differently than they way they themselves would do it.  When many of us went to school, we were taught that there was only one way to get the answer to a math problem and if we didn’t do it the way the teacher taught us to do it, we were most often given a poor grade for the work even if we came up with the same answerer. Today, children are often taught that there is more than one way to get the right answer.

Noveck wrote that one teacher told her, “One problem… is that parents remember math as offering only one way to solve a problem. We're saying that there's more than one way. The outcome will be the same, but how we get there will be different. Thus, when a parent is asked to multiply 88 by 5, we'll do it with pen and paper, multiplying 8 by 5 and carrying over the 4, etc. But a child today might reason that 5 is half of 10, and 88 times 10 is 880, so 88 times 5 is half of that, 440 — poof, no pen, no paper. The traditional way is really a shortcut. We want kids to be so confident with numbers that it becomes intuitive."

In other words, children need to know how to get to the answers through whatever methods make sense to them. Teachers today understand that we all have different ways of learning and thinking, and that it helps to teach in different ways to take advantage of those different ways of learning. For example, some children can just listen and learn, while others need to “see” what they are learning, by writing it and looking at it. Others might need to move around and touch (writing, moving things around) what they are learning before it takes hold in their minds. Similarly, our brains may work differently, and what seems like an easy way to understand a problem for one child may seem difficult for another, but by doing the problem in a different way, the child may find it easier to understand.