Sunday, December 30, 2012

Math Education: We Need New Answers

Someone in my PLN shared this cartoon on Facebook this afternoon. (I'm not posting a picture of it due to copyright).  That, in combination with a discussion stemming from a blog post entitled "What is UP with Multiplication Tables" by Lisa Cooley in the Innovative Educator Forum on Facebook recently, led me to this thought:

We ask students to add 2+2 and expect them to answer that it equals 4.

They'd be better off if we asked them to find examples of when it doesn't.  


  1. In most contexts, 2 + 2 does equal 4, but were I going to play the "what if" game, I think I'd ask, "Assume 2 + 2 does not = 4. What follows?" That might get at some useful ideas about the nature of arithmetic for K-6 students.

    Let me recommend a book I'm reading, NEGATIVE MATH, that goes into some depth on "What if?" questions, starting with the implications of choosing to define a negative times a negative as a negative.

    I have a lot to say about the post on Innovative Educator Forum and the connected blog piece, but I feel a bit overwhelmed about how to lay out the entirety of issues the author raises and the many misconceptions about the nature of mathematics she's been unwittingly led to accept, starting with the wide-spread one that computation = mathematics.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation. I'll definitely look into it. When that discussion got started in the In. Ed. Forum, I immediately thought of you and how your perspective would be helpful. Many times I find myself fighting against the computation=math misconception, especially when it comes to the "Why do kids need to learn math at all?" discussion that pops up there from time to time.

    2. I've never seen a "why do kids need math at all?" discussion in The Innovative Educator group. I have seen the "why do kids need HIGHER education" discussion, which is, I believe, a critical point.

    3. Lisa,
      Many of the discussions I referenced make the false assumption that basic calculations are "lower math" and anything more is "higher math." Within those discussions it has been difficult to have a conversation about the need for math when "math" is being defined in such an incorrect way. Students need the creativity and problem solving skills that come with doing math (defined as so much more than basic calculation) at all levels.

      On a separate note, I apologize for not linking to your post directly in mine, since that is what started this excellent discussion that has now spilled over into multiple online spaces. I am editing my post above to add a link to yours now.


    4. I think it's a good point that math has been divided in ways that do not promote great interest -- payoff, if you will -- in learning more.