April 17, 2006

Compare and Contrast

From the article Math comes with its own problems in The Seattle Times we learn about a math student with shaky skills:

Jeremiah Pilkington knows the drill: First the butterflies in the stomach. Then the frustration.

"I sometimes would feel some people are smarter than me," said Pilkington, an eighth-grader at Bellevue's Tillicum Middle School.

The student didn't learn math. He feels anxious, frustrated, and dumb. Clearly, at this point the student doesn't like math much. Feeling dumb, leads to a lack of self esteem and eventually causes a student to act bad instead of look dumb in front of his classmates.

But then ...

But Pilkington, who until recently was behind in math, pulled a near-perfect score on his most recent test. His secret? Breaking problems into pieces to see what was really going on behind the numbers.

"Then I understand," Pilkington said. "It's actually a really cool feeling, because then you know what you are actually doing."

The student then gets taught how to do math properly. Lo and behold he now has a "really cool feeling" about hmself. He likes math now. He is motivated to learn now. And, to boot, he knows more math.

Complete turn around in student motivation. The only difference is better instruction.

So what did we learn:

Students taught math poorly don't like math, feel anxious and frustrated, feel dumb, lack self esteem, and are unmotivated to learn.

Students taught math well like math, feel really cool and smart, have self esteem, and are motivated to learn.

I'm shocked; shocked I tell you, because all I ever hear from teachers is that the reason kids don't learn is because they lack motivation. It's the student's fault she didn't learn.

It's never the instructor's fault for failing to teach. And yet, they want us to treat them like professionals.


Catherine Johnson said...


Catherine Johnson said...

Just caught the reference to Japan & Singapore. We talked to a guy who spent four years in Japan with his family. He said when they got back to the U.S. it was as if they'd been living on a Math Planet and had now moved back to the real world.

His kids were miles ahead of anyone here.