Monday, September 12, 2016

The Problem With Math Class (As Told by a Future Math Teacher)

One week ago, something started. Something that many students dread. Something that students refuse to acknowledge, because it means the end of summer and the beginning of countless loads of homework that most students neither care about nor understand. It means the beginning of hearing "What did you learn today?" from your parents and replying with an "I don't know" or a "Nothing" every time. It means dragging yourself out of bed at an ungodly hour and forcing yourself to make that awful drive, after eating a half-hearted breakfast. It means the beginning of school.

Here's the thing: School isn't supposed to be a place where students sit for 7 hours a day and get bored out of their minds. School isn't supposed to be a place that causes students to struggle to complete homework for hours per night, because they don't understand what was taught. School isn't supposed to be a place that students go to, just because it's required. But it is. For a time, I myself felt this way about school as well. It only takes so much time of sitting in class, taking notes off a whiteboard, before that feeling of "go with the flow" boredom sets in for the rest of the school year. I've watched friends do the minimum amount of work required to get through high school, and now I watch and listen as the next generation does the same thing. This problem, although prevalent in all aspects of schooling, is particularly an issue in regards to math classes. It's not to say that there is something wrong with these students, but I will say that maybe, just maybe, there is something wrong with the style of teaching of our textbooks.

As a current education student at Grand Valley, I have found myself in many different 'teaching' classes. In the one I am taking this semester, we watched a short video titled, "Math Class Needs a Makeover". This video talks about 5 symptoms that show math is being taught incorrectly. You can view all five of these in the video posted at the bottom of this page, but I only want to talk about two of them. Two of the symptoms mentioned, 'lack of initiative' and lack of retention' are two issues I strongly believe to be very present in math classes. Students can be incredibly hard to engage when teaching, but it isn't necessarily because of something they are doing wrong. When math is being poorly taught, or when a student's learning style isn't being met, it makes it difficult for students to find that desire to listen and to learn. It makes their understanding of each concept sometimes impossible to grasp, silently encouraging them to give up on trying. In a similar manner, when students don't understand a concept, it makes it that much harder for them to retain any information regarding that concept. At times, even if a student understands the general idea of a particular concept, if the math is being poorly taught, a lack of retention can occur as well. Because of these two issues, I feel it is important to find alternate routes to using 'typical' teaching methods.

One thing I have learned while being in education classes, is that not every student learns the same way, and not every student is starting the year with the same knowledge. It is important to enter a school year knowing that you should meet each one of your students where they are at, not where you expect them to be. This is important to keep in mind not just at the beginning of a school year, but all the way through. I think it's easy for us, as teachers, to get caught up in the schedule we have in our mind. We don't want to have to change how many days a unit lasts, or how long it takes to cover one concept per class period. My thought is this: if your students need more time to gain full understanding of a unit, let it happen! Our job is to ensure that each student can go home feeling confident in what they learned; timing doesn't matter.

The second thing I have learned while being in education classes, is that making use of the world around us provides so much more room for learning. As is stated in the "Math Class Needs a Makeover" video, often times teachers use the method of teaching out of the book. This is the typical way of teaching, but for students, book learning is simply a lot of memorization of things that they will forget just as quickly as they learn them. We need to turn memorization into remembering. Instead of staring at a book, we need to encourage action in learning. If you're curious as to specifics, there is more information again, in the video below. It is my belief, that in making use of real life situations, teachers can incorporate multiple learning styles, effectively reaching out to each student's needs.

All in all, I think that math class does need a makeover; maybe not in all situations, but generally speaking, I could go for a change. There is so much more I could say about this topic, but for now I think I've written enough. To conclude, I want to mention that I am in no way trying to throw math teachers under the bus. I have had many amazing math teachers who worked hard to make sure classes were taught well and made fun for their students, successfully reaching out to each student to ensure initiative and retention. I think that's the key; working to make use of other resources and not simply requiring students to understand book problems without extra activities. Help your students want to be engaged, help your students feel excited to learn something new. The world is at our fingertips, why not make use of it.

In any case, I am a math teacher in the making, a fellow math nerd, and these are just some of my thoughts. Thanks for reading.



  1. It's a nice balance to talk about needing change while respecting the work and teachers that we feel should change, and I think you hit that here. Good focus, too.
    clear +
    coherent +
    complete +
    content + retention paragraph could have used an example
    consolidated +
    C's: 5/5

  2. Hi Kelsey! I really loved your post, I think it was well-written and super concise and clear. I loved all of your points, and I think you made so many good ones. I think my favorite point was that there's nothing wrong with the students, but there may be something wrong with the way textbooks are teaching. I completely agree with that point! I have seen so many textbooks that don't cover important topics or are not clear enough about what a student should know or should understand, and this needs to change! All in all, I really love your passion and I think this post reflects that.

  3. I really enjoyed the way you started the post! It was addressing the issue then offering a solution. Super helpful! Then the way you jumped right into your topics and transitioned was really well done. How do we reduce this stigma of school? Adjust the curriculum to the best way for students to learn. Mentioning memorizing vs. actually helping students understand their methods was a very important example I'm glad you included. Nice work on this post!

    Tanner Rubin

  4. I greatly enjoyed your introduction. It honestly reminded me of my own experiences. I agree with the fact that not everyone learns the same way, and how when teachers don't teach the way they learn it creates a lack of interest in the subject. My question though is if you have any recommendations on how schools can resolve the issue of students having teachers that don't teach the way they learn, while the teachers still have to worry about a time constraint?

    -Edgar Fernandez

  5. Kelsey I loved the introduction to your blog. I laughed when I read it because I can relate completely to everything you said. I also enjoyed your second paragraph because I think you really captured what goes through students heads when they go to school. You are right, school should not be a place for students to go and be bored out of their minds and sadly this is the case. I liked your points about how everyone learns differently and how we can use the world around us to help us to teach these topics. I have heard many students say the words "When will I ever use this?" If we can use real life examples and activities in the classroom, I think not only will students enjoy the activities, I also think they can see how what they are learning can apply to the real world.

  6. Kelsey, what a great start! You wrote such an intriging introduction. I like that you start by pointing out issues you see within schools, and I think you point out some very valid problems regarding how schools work and student motivation, or lack thereof, and their lack of yearning to learn. I totally agree that when students learning styles are not met, it makes it much for challenging for them to learn. I also, think you are so correct when you say it is important to know where your students are in their understanding at the start of the school year. Finally, I really like your concluding statements about helping students want to engage and learn something new. Your thoughts are so well organized and you made several good points. Thanks for sharing Kelsey!

    -Kati Bayer