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Is outdated math setting students up for failure?

Is outdated math setting students up for failure?
Posted at 3:02 PM, Apr 19, 2023

Parents and teachers' agree: Math is crucial to a child's education. When students succeed in math, they are more likely to succeed in life, according to a new poll by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Jo Boaler, professor of mathematics education at Stanford said, "The results of the survey really show what mathematics educators have been calling for for a long time, which is to make math more relevant for students, more engaging, more real world." 

Before the pandemic, American students already lagged behind in math compared to students from other countries. The pandemic made it worse. The Northwest Evaluation Association, an education nonprofit, says students have fallen as much as a year behind foreign students their same age. 

"The slide in math skills during the pandemic just continued a problem that we had had for decades, which is that we have failed to find a way to teach math that works for everybody," said Laura Overdeck, Founder & President of BedTime Math. 

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60% of U.S. adults polled, including parents and teachers, ranked math as the most important subject for students to learn. Teachers and parents also said the way math is being taught needs an upgrade to make it more "relevant," "useful" and "engaging to students." 

"It's a subject that they will use all of their lives," Boaler said. "Some of them will go into careers that use mathematics, but even if they don't, everybody really needs to be able to make sense of mathematical areas in their lives." 

While not a replacement for learning in schools, Bedtime Math is a way for parents to make numbers fun for children ages three to nine. 

SEE MORE: Data shows reading, math scores fell sharply during pandemic

Overdeck said, "I always gave funny little math problems to my kids at bedtime, along with their bedtime story ... Just chatting about math and talking about whatever we talked about at dinner: flamingos, pillow fights, chocolate chips — you get a conversation going and kids just see that math is in everything around us." 

According to experts, solutions include increasing the number of teachers who are prepared to teach math, adding more resources including time to teach, and working alongside school districts to implement updated protocols and systems.

Boaler also says, it's time to dispel this notion that you need a math brain to do math. There's no such thing. She says if you're struggling with a math problem, it's part of the process. 

"High and low achievers: We want to struggle. It's an important time for our brain. You don't want to be getting everything right in math class. That means you haven't given your brain a good workout," she said.