Add it up: Math practice + more practice = improved performance and great opportunities

Success in upper-level math requires a solid foundation in early math. That basic premise would seem to go without saying, yet for years, U.S. students have lagged far behind other countries. And the best way to catch up remains the focus of heated debate.

Last year Slate republished a question that originally appeared on Quora: “What’s Wrong with Math Education in the U.S.?” Alon Amit, who has a Ph.D. in math and is a “math circler,” answered it. (The National Association of Math Circles Wiki defines math circle as “a form of education outreach and enrichment through which mathematicians and mathematical scientists share their passion with K-12 teachers and students. The Math Circle landscape includes two types of programs that can operate standing alone or in coordination: Math Students’ Circles and Math Teachers’ Circles.”)

As a result of complex factors, which Amit says include math teachers who know little higher-level math, those who do have skills and passion not entering the teaching profession partly due to compensation, “horrendous” textbooks, and teachers and textbooks “unprepared” to teach Common Core, he suggests that “many children are led to hate the subject and lose all confidence in their ability to excel at it. This is an oft repeated cliché but it is, unfortunately, true.” Amit adds, “Not all mathematical teaching in schools is broken; but much of it is, and many naturally talented and curious minds are turned off by the broken parts and face an uphill battle as they seek to nurture their talents and interests.”

Similarly, in 2013 The Daily Riff published an article, “Why Other Countries Do Better in Math,” suggesting among other things, not surprisingly, teachers teach the way they were taught.

The Common Core approach to math is definitely different than what parents and most teachers today grew up with. For example, in February of last year US News & World Report republished from the The Hechinger Report, an article titled “The Common Core Math Standards: Content and Controversy.” In it Jason Zimba, a professor of math and physics at Bennington College in Vermont, says that using pizza to teach about fractions isn’t banned, “but the idea that fractions are actual numbers that fall on the number line—rather than pieces of something larger—is emphasized.”

The Raise Smart Kid website notes that “Math is a skill that takes a lot of brain power to master, and this can be experienced by kids as hard work.” They cite a University of Chicago and Western University 2012 study that found that for some people, doing math is similar to experiencing physical pain! The website says that parents often transmit the message that “math is hard.”

Instead, the site says, “Making math enjoyable helps kids grow to associate math with fun, pleasure and parental love and attention. Instead of being afraid, the kids will be excited about the subject throughout their school years.” 

Definitely, one of the best ways to improve math performance is through lots of playful practice—with parental involvement, too--that helps make working with numbers and math concepts feel fun vs. overwhelming. Software and apps that have a game-like feel to kids can help boost the fun factor. Check out Math 1-2, available as installable software or as a Windows or Mac download.  Its magical math journey includes the game Bean Works Factory, Swamp Hop, and Astrosplat. Also find lots of great math workbooks and flash cards on sale for another 24 hours. They include math workbooks for K-5, created and reviewed by teachers, which meet Common Core standards.