Christian Long

Dan Meyer: Math Needs a Makeover

In TED Talks on May 25, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Extra credit reflection by KATIE R.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Dan Meyer: Math Needs a Makeover

Ah math! What is it about math that can turn the most reasonable person into a blabbering mass of fear? I am certainly familiar with the situation in which the students Mr. Meyer references in his discussion themselves in. My brain simply cannot make the connection between what I find the text books and the application process. Somewhere in taking notes, trying to learn the lesson and actually attempting to do the homework my brain shuts down. I have no trouble with the basic concepts of adding, subtracting, dividing and multiplying. I’ll even tackle the dreaded fraction and decimals, but, the more complicated the math becomes; the harder it is for me to absorb the concepts.

Please sign me up for Mr. Meyer’s class!

It is true that the current math curriculum needs improvement. We students are asked to follow a required course of study with an increasing degree of difficulty. We memorize theorems and formulas which we then must use in correct applications. Every level that we study is based on building layers upon layers much like a house of cards. If, however, we do not understand the building blocks at each level then we face the distinct possibility of having that house of cards come crashing down. I find that math has its own language and unfortunately it is one that I have not mastered. It is not only the students but the teachers as well that are trapped in the situation. Our teachers are hampered by having to follow a standard level of instruction. They are asked to teach a required level of knowledge at an accelerated rate and hope that the students can retain the knowledge. It places them in the role of trying to sell, as Mr. Meyer stated, a product that no one wants. We students are supposed to remember all the information not only from lesson to lesson but also from year to year. Teachers do not have the luxury of teaching at every student’s level and students are not given the time to develop the “patient learning” skills that promote adequate reasoning skills. Our current curriculum seems to push the learning process on the basis of how much ground is covered as opposed to how much is learned. Not every student is a math whiz and while there are regular and advanced math classes both progress at a pace that can prove disheartening to the less math savvy student.

I do have to disagree with Mr. Meyer’s stereotyping of students as lacking initiative and perseverance.

I think that by the time we arrive at his class level, Algebra II, most of us have already have suffered the frustration of trying to learn within the current system. I know that I have problems keeping up with the concepts but I keep up by the old rule….practice, practice, practice. I try to understand what the book is trying to explain; I take the best notes I can; I ask for help if necessary. Through it all, I still struggle with finding “x” and where the two trains coming towards each other will actually cross paths. The problem with most of the math textbooks is that they present the subject matter is such a way that any information that would enable us to try and solve the problem is hidden within the lesson. I wish that Mr. Meyer was able to turn me on to the code he references so that I might be able to decode my textbook. Perhaps if we were studying math as he advocates we might have a chance at actually enjoying the subject matter. I would probably find it much easier to understand concepts if they were presented in a visual manner much like the water tank example in the video. By using today’s technology math can be presented in a format that invites all students to participate. It is not as intimidating to ask questions when everyone is engaging in the discussion . An open discussion allows for student to participate without fear of being wrong. We all become part of the problem solving equation and as Mr. Meyer quoted from Einstein, that the formulation of the problem is much more important than the solution. Why? Because formulating the problem actually teaches reasoning and logic and these are tools that we can apply in everyday life.

There are no formulas or theorems to follow in real life, unless you are going on to be a rocket scientist. I figure that for the most part the majority of math student today will be living quite ordinary future lives. We may never have to find “x” in literal terms but there will always be situations where the reasoning skills learned today will help find our own “x’s ” in life. So, if math were taught in a “language” that reached more of the target audience, the students, then the audience would participate in a more enthusiastic manner. I might even have my own “ah ha” moment and realize that I have an actual grasp on the subject. Right now I’m always relieved to find that at the end of the day, or school year, I have dodged another bullet and made it through to the next level.

Game On!


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