The 8th grader that I have been tutoring in math has been assigned to “advanced geometry” for next year. This is apparently the highest classification available in the local high school. Her father brought me a bottle of Champagne and said that all of the credit for this was due me. Of course it would have been rude to contradict him so I gratefully accepted credit for my student’s hard work.
Now that I have demonstrated the ability to claim success in this domain it is time to share what I have learned.
Basically the American K-12 math curriculum is so dull that it takes an almost inhuman effort to stay awake and focused while solving the pointless and repetitive assigned problems. As with flying, the crew concept improves performance. One crew member (the student) solves the problems while the other crew member monitors and offers reminders to (1) slow down, (2) write everything down, (3) make the smallest change to an equation at a time (e.g., don’t add 4 to both sides and divide by -3 in one step; that’s two operations and therefore one should rewrite the equation twice). The student will be trying to escape the pain and boredom by doing multiple steps in his or her head. This leads to errors that wouldn’t be made if the steps were simpler and the result of each step written down.
A lot of these problems are basically arithmetic, despite the fact that the subject is called “math”. The school expects exact answers from a calculator, but of course it is easy to be way off by pressing the wrong key. So I worked with this 8th grader on estimating techniques so that if there were a huge discrepancy between the mental or pencil/paper estimate and the calculated result it would be noticed before handing in the work.
In a competitive and lucrative marketplace for textbooks I would have thought that a great book full of real-world examples would be out there, but apparently our local school system didn’t find one. I’m wondering if the way that we’re teaching math actually is the right way. Can that be true? Just tell students “this is an abstract subject and if you want to get a good job one day you need to do everything we assign”?