TEDx talk on improving mathematics curricula

18Apr10

High school math teacher Dan Meyer recently gave a talk at the TEDxNYED event, where he discussed ways to redesign mathematics education.

Here‘s a link to the video on Dan’s blog.

I think he makes a crucial point in this talk; namely, that teachers aren’t presenting problems in a way that is conducive to student learning. Most problems students are expected to solve are “canned” problems which have little relevance to the real world (an extreme example being ” We know X, Y, Z. The equation for W is W = X + Y + Z. Find W.” OK, not quite that bad…)

What Dan is proposing is to start with a very simple problem (the example he gives is “How long will it take to fill up a jug with water?”), and let students get their hands messy solving it. Instead of proceeding down a list of steps to solve a problem, let students discover the steps for themselves. This messy, “do it yourself” method might seem obvious for introducing a topic, but it is likely alot more efficient (in terms of number of problems solved in a given amount of time) to tell students how to solve a problem. However, by using the “easier” approach, you may be sacrificing the opportunity for the student to gain a deeper understanding of the material, as well as an interest in mathematical reasoning and problem-solving, which is more useful in the long run.

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