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Teaching Math and Science – for Real May 14, 2010

Posted by Wilz in Education, Science, Society.

Incoming overly long sentence :- You know those ‘seizures’ you get when your mind is screaming, “OMG MY THOUGHTS EXACTLY” a little bit too loud in your own head when someone else is talking while you politely wait for them to finish talking so that you can agree with them vehemently? A US high school mathematics teacher gave me one of those today, via a TED X Talk.

It’s about a problem I’ve been trying to express for a while, especially to my fellow educators. I usually refer to it as “lexical analysis of examination questions without actual learning” (being the geek and programmer that I am). He calls it “lack of math reasoning and patient problem solving.” Both describe the “plug numbers into formula” teaching that we do in most of mathematics and science education today. He talks about the whole thing in a much more positive way though. I tend to ooze negativism and sarcasm whenever I discuss these things.

What we usually end up achieving is the conversion of our students into walking computers. Given carefully worded questions (not unlike a programming language) with strategically placed numbers, they will identify a pre-programmed formula (14 weeks of lectures and tutorials in university) and be able to spit out a solution and answer. We then conveniently ‘evaluate’ their math understanding based on that. Given real world problems however, the likelihood of them solving it is pretty low.

Video below:

English teachers never have to deal with their students only ‘theoretically’ being able to speak English. Why are math and science teachers settling for that? It … doesn’t compute – in any way or form for me. At university level, our usual excuse for continuing the numbers-into-formula-plugging-education is that the students are used to it, i.e. blaming it on the schools. I wonder who the schools blame it on. And when does this cycle change if not with every individual teacher/lecturer/department/faculty out there?

I think it is high time that society stopped settling for half-baked math and science education in schools and universities. Until there is consumer awareness of the crappy methodology we’re employing in formal education, there will be little push for things to move forward. For real.

P/S I give short talks (for free usually) on consumer empowerment in technical education. Sick and tired of lectures, but don’t know how to point out that it’s a crappy teaching method? Think of yourself as a holistic learner but being forced to learn sequentially? Or are you a teacher/lecturer or managing teachers/lecturers and would like to start finding better ways of reaching your students? Look me up.

A follow up video to that is of course Ken Robinson’s TED Talk on how formal education kills creativity. I can’t believe this video isn’t up on this blog yet.



1. Will - May 17, 2010

After roughly 10 years of being taught to match circles, triangles and rectangles with the respective holes, you now tell them to create their own shapes.

Coz you know, the world is one big hole.

2. Ken Robinson – Tread Softly on our Children’s Dreams « Earthwatcher - May 26, 2010

[…] Ken Robinson’s earlier TED Talk is embedded in this post. […]

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