Education that REALLY Prepares Our Students

       This week I've had the great fortune of attending the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Annual Meeting.  Many subject areas hold these types of large, national conferences to help teachers and supervisors and school board members and principals to grow professionally and help students to achieve.

       I attended one particular session that discussed the need for our schools to examine the needs of the world that we live in and to make appropriate changes to the education that we provide to our students--the adults and workforce of the next generation.  The speaker was Diane Briars; President of NCTM.  She referenced the book Education for Life and Work (2012) that discussed the sort of competencies that will increase in the near future.  These include:

  • non-routine analytic skills
  • non-routine interactive skills
  • thinking
  • reasoning
  • expressing information to others
  • interpreting information and responding appropriately

       Math teachers know that we teach reasoning and problem solving and analytic thinking.  But we currently teach these skills under the guise of Algebra and Geometry courses.  Is there a better way?  Would it be better to teach these skills within a context rather than strictly in the abstract?  And what about the actual teaching strategies that are employed when presenting such content to students?  Ms. Briars cited a study from 2014 that stated students learn better in active learning classrooms than they do in the traditional lecture-type classrooms.  Active-learning classrooms would use strategies such as: (i) Occasional group problem solving, (ii) Tutorials completed during class, (iii) Use of personal response systems, and (iv) Increased emphasis on student discourse including student-to-student discourse and teacher-to-student discourse.

       Finally, in the report titled, A Common Vision , the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) states that the status quo of teaching mathematics to our undergraduate students is no longer acceptable given that so many students struggle to complete the first one or two mathematics classes offered to them.  We need to see cooperation between the P-12 system and the collegiate system to create courses and course pathways that help students to learn the skills they need to learn to be successful in the world they will inherit.  One possible solution is to offer math courses that are not based on Algebra or Calculus--considering that the content learned in these classes is not necessary for the majors that some of our students seek.  For instance, Journalism may not need to know Calculus, but they will need to know statistics and how to interpret data.  

       From time to time, great institutions need to examine their work in light of the goals that they seek to achieve.  Education is one of those great institutions.  Such change should not be rare but (indeed) should be ongoing.  We no longer live in the 1920s or the 1960s or even in the 2000s.  We have an obligation to prepare our students for their world.  

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