Hey parents, teachers, mentors, tutors, caregivers:
Your middle schooler, high schooler, even your elementary school student has five more days within which to achieve ONE OF A MILLION status. This week, October 10 – 17th, has been designated as GLOBAL MATH WEEK (GMW.) The plan is for one million young people, worldwide, to have fun while learning important math principles and calculations. Already more than 800,000 kids have signed up. Your child’s registration will help them reach this ambitious goal.
We know that for many of our children, math and fun will never be appropriate in the same sentence. But math has always been fun and exciting. It’s the institutional setting and the tired teaching approaches that take the excitement out of the equation. Expectations also play a negative role; too many of our math teachers either doubt their students’ ability, or are absolutely sure that their demographic or social status prevent success.
On last year’s state exams (http://www.nysed.gov/common/nysed/files/2017-3-8-test-results.pdf) less than one-half of all students met acceptable levels of performance in math. Terrible. Among Black and Brown students, less than one quarter met the standard. Disastrous. But these horrific statistics didn’t merit a headline in the newspapers. No politician expressed outrage or urgency. No one was surprised or demanding improvement. Failure is the default setting.
Through GMW (www.theglobalmathproject.org ) the failure script may begin to be flipped. This past weekend, organizers of the project gathered in New York City to collectively kick off the week of participation. Through their combination of creativity, caring, and technology this group of math teachers, college-based mathematicians, and dreamers have created a learning opportunity that should be taken advantage of.
And the payoff can be significant. Give them 15 – 30 minutes, GMP promises, and they will have your 10 years-or-older student screaming “eureka!” (without spilling water on the floor.) Good student, average student, poor student – all can gain something from this exercise. No lap top or desk top? GMW has high-tech, low-tech and No-tech access to their program.
The center of the math week experience is something called “exploding dots.” This free, online activity is truly one size fits all. Starting from wherever your child is (let’s assume a level one, lowest performing 2016 test scorer) the dots exercise will teach primary school students about place value, algorithms, and arithmetic. It will take them to the doorstep of algebra and high school math. High school and some middle school students will, within an hour, understand and calculate polynomials, repeating decimals, and infinite sums. Then ask them, when is the last time they heard the words algorithms, polynomials, or infinity while in class?
This ultra-modern teaching approach has its roots in the abacus, the 5,000 year old tool used for counting and trade. Essentially a group of beads/pebbles on rods, the mechanism uses exponential notation (10 squared, 10 cubed, etc) to track large numbers. From ancient China to Imperial Egypt (where its use was recorded by Greek historian Herodotus,) the tool was state of the art technology – the ancestor of the modern day calculator.
Please reach out to your after-school study groups, math circles, math tutors, etc. After a short prep/briefing, they will be able to lead students to this new level of understanding.
Parents Associations – ask why your school math coordinator isn’t involved in this process? Can anything be worse than the status quo? School Leadership Team members – are you really leading if you’re not searching for out-of-the-box approaches to a failing math curriculum?
Sadly, reform of public school math curriculum will have to come from outside, not from inside the bureaucracy. Global math Week may be one of the catalysts of that movement.