The problems with Math

June 2, 2010

I had a few minutes today waiting in the doctor’s office (actually it was more like a few hours.  Can I charge the doctor for my time?) I was thinking about some of the problems in math instruction and the ones that I am encountering as I explore a redesign of our online courses.

  • Students feel isolated; they cannot get the support they need when they need it.
  • Student cannot achieve manageable milestones.
  • They do not have the prerequisite concepts and skills before they start a math course.
  • Student go too fast through the courses.
  • Do not master a concept before moving on to the next concept.
  • They want a tutor to teach them, not the textbook.
  • Student don’t explore the multimedia resources if it is not integral to the course.
  • Student don’t read  the textbook.

Some of my ideas about how to address these problems are:

Create chat rooms for each concept that is being taught.  If the student needs help, they can join the chat room and discuss the problems with other students who are also grappling with the same problems.  Or have a TA online that the students can call or skype or set up virtual office hours.

Create a milestones in the course that students must meet before them can move on to new material.  Make sure that they understand the concept through some sort of assessment before they can move on to new material.

Move a word problem from the end of the lesson to the beginning of the lesson and use it to start a conversation.  Allow the word problem to drive the instruction and introduce the concepts to be learned. Make the word problem visual


Make math matter

June 2, 2010

I was assigned as the instructional designer for the Independent Study Math portfolio  for both high school and university courses.  As I reviewed the current online courses, I realized that the textbook is the instructor for these courses.  The instructional design of the courses is learning outcomes, discussion material which is usually what is already in the textbook, homework assignment, then a test.   The textbook do not put the concepts in a realistic, relevant context. I am looking at a redesign of the instruction.  Is it possible to design a math course within the context of other disciplines; for example, my husband teaches computer vision and his student have commented that they finally understand calculus as he explains it in the context of computer vision.   I know that I understood English much better after I took a foreign language.  My husband was helping our teenage son  with his geometry homework when my son exclaimed, “this is useless. When am I ever going to use this.” My husband replied “Geometry is very useful in animation.”  Newton, Galileo, daVinci observed phenomena that occurred in the world and they used a language to explain these real world observations.

Here are some of my ideas:

  • Think about how to design a math lesson that incorporates a way to predict students preconceptions, and includes metacognition.  Are there tools? Can we use reciprocal teaching to predict, clarify, question, and summarize as a model for math instruction.
  • Divide the math curriculum into stories.  Think of kindergarten.  Every month is something special. Each week of the month has meaning.  Kindergarten is a a series of projects interspersed with games and challenges.
  • If math is a language, then why not teach it like you would teach a language.  How do students learn language?
  • I know that I learned Spanish by living in the country that spoke Spanish.  Can I take my students where math lives?  Immerse them in that environment.