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Patient Problem Solving

Summary #

Dan Meyer argues that current math curricula focus too much on stepping a student through the process without cultivating a patience for problem-solving.

(Video: YouTube)

Commentary #

Meyer's presents a succinct overview of current math education:

[Math teachers] sell a product to a market that doesn't want it, but is forced by law to buy it.

I'm sure many students feel that way about education in general, but somehow math became the favorite subject to hate.

Meyer separates mathematics into two large chunks: computation (number-crunching) and math reasoning (applying mathematical concepts). The former, he argues, is easy to forget, but also easy to re-learn—provided you have mastered the latter. Math reasoning (related to numeracy) is harder to teach.

Meyer's analysis is insightful; he demonstrates how we create a student culture that expects problems to be simple and well-defined. Textbook examples appear to be completely disconnected from the real world. His advice points us towards creating problems that are more realistic and in whose outcomes the students are personally invested. The examples he brings are wonderful, and could provide the missing component to tools like Khan Academy.

See Also #

  • Khan Academy for our discussion of the popular online self-paced education site.

  • dy/dan for Dan Meyer's blog.