How maths can change your life

Mathematician Jordan Ellenberg argues that maths can help all of us become sharper thinkers. Jordan Ellenberg is a professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His new book, How Not To Be Wrong, is an attempt to reconnect us with how maths can improve and inform our lives, deploying simple insights to get us thinking about real-life issues differently. He describes maths as, “an atomic-powered prosthesis that you attach to your common sense, vastly multiplying its reach and strength”. Here the interview here.

Manitoba students’ math scores show steep decline in international test

A new report says our math teaching methods are not adding up. The C.D. Howe institute said math scores across the country have declined between 2003 and 2012. The steepest drop occurred in Manitoba. The report cited Canada’s performance on the OECD’s Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) as evidence that a fundamental shift in math instruction may be necessary. Discovery-based learning to blame for students’ declining math skills. The report blames the decline on discovery-based learning – a method introduced in the late 1990s where students do more independent work using pictures, drawings and objects to solve problems. “What we are seeing in schools is a lot of things like multiple strategies and convoluted methods and what happens is that children’s working memory gets overloaded and they are unable to learn the information properly,” said report author Anna Stokke. Instead, Stokke said 80 per cent of learning math should be traditional: adding, subtracting, and memorizing times tables, with direct instructions from a teacher. Stokke said in 2013 Manitoba began reintroducing times tables, column addition and long division. Manitoba’s Education Minister said the province is waiting on the results from recent tests since the changes were implemented. Read more here and a related story here

A Math Paradox: The Widening Gap Between High School and College Math

An article by by Joseph Ganem expressing ideas that were recently expressed by professors at the University of Manitoba, and concerns I myself have seen in my classes. Two articles in the Winnipeg Free Press here and here discuss the challenges of teaching math in Manitoba and raise questions like the article below on whether or not we (the education system) are doing a sufficient job. The math teachers I know are working hard to do the best job possible, but maybe we ought to be doing more (did I just derive an “ought” from an “is” – David Hume rolls over in his grave) – Read more in the article below…

We are in the midst of paradox in math education. As more states strive to improve math curricula and raise standardized test scores, more students show up to college unprepared for college-level math. The failure of pre-college math education has profound implications for the future of physics programs in the United States. A recent article in my local paper, the Baltimore Sun: “A Failing Grade for Maryland Math,” highlighted this problem that I believe is not unique to Maryland. It prompted me to reflect on the causes. The newspaper article explained that the math taught in Maryland high schools is deemed insufficient by many colleges. According to the article 49% of high school graduates in Maryland take non-credit remedial math courses in college before they can take math courses for credit. In many cases incoming college students cannot do basic arithmetic even after passing all the high school math tests. The problem appears to be worsening and students are unaware of their lack of math understanding. The article reported that students are actually shocked when they are placed into remedial math.The article did not shock me. It described my observations exactly. In recent years I’ve witnessed first hand the disconnect between the high school and college math curricula. As a parent of three children with current ages 14, 17, and 20, I’ve done my share of tutoring for middle school and high school math and I know how little understanding is conveyed in those math classes. Ironically much of the problem arises from a blind focus on raising math standards (see more at The Back Page)