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Feb 27

Math Revolutions: How Teaching Math Changed In the Last 50 Years

Posted by abiao at 09:20 | Default | Comments(0) | Reads(1502)

It might seem that, compared to our understanding of biology or physics, not much has changed in math in the last 50 years, therefore math curriculum for elementary schools should be more or less the same. Quite contrary, the more we discover about the child’s development, psychology and cognitive processes, the more eager we are to use these new discoveries to redesign the way we teach math. Math curricula in the United States came and go, many of them were heavily criticized, others did not bring the desired results, however, we keep on improving our methods and it seems that we might be getting closer to our goals
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The old New Math
The first big revolution in teaching math was the New Math curriculum introduced in the 1960s. The new method was adopted in response to the rapid growth in science and technology and the need for more qualified experts. New Math students were very early on introduced to topics such as abstract algebra, symbolic logic and modular arithmetic. The method was almost instantaneously met with a general critique from parents, who did not understand what their children are studying, teachers, who felt that the new curriculum is too far away from everyday experience, and experts, who criticized the fact that children are taught advanced math concepts without having solid foundations to develop new skills. New Math turned out to be a short-lived movement, although it was applied in some schools as an improvement program for gifted students.

Revolting against NCTM
The next big change in teaching math came together with the publication of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics curriculum and evaluation standards in 1989. The document was perceived by many experts as highly controversial and focusing too much on abstract concepts, not allowing children to successfully develop basic math skills. The opposition to NCTM standards led to the development of new math curricula. The most important innovations were Investigations in Number, Data and Space, Everyday Math, Connected Mathematics for grades 6-8 and Mathland, which is no longer in use. Investigations in Number, Data and Space proposed a different approach to math, which is based on constructivism: students are encouraged to construct their own understanding of math procedures as opposed to teaching ready-made algorithms. Investigations methods include math games, journaling and working with concrete representations of numbers. Investigations curriculum did not avoid criticism due to the lack of instructions of standard algorithms. Everyday Math was even more controversial, despite the support of the US government. This method of teaching math for preschool children and elementary school kids contained non-traditional methods of solving arithmetic problems and was heavily criticized for it. After 2005-07 revision, Investigations curriculum is still in use, while Everyday Math is gradually removed from schools.

New wave of math reforms
In the last few years we have seen a steady growth in the number of alternative math curricula and math seminars for elementary teachers. The goal of these new programs, which include among others Singapore Math and JUMP Math, is to develop deeper understanding and passion for math. These programs are adjusted to the Common Core Standards and include new, revolutionary methods, which can be used to help children solve math problems quickly and with a deeper understanding of the underlying principles.

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