Monday, January 11, 2010

A Thought about Math Instruction and Teaching the Gospel

The VAST majority of elementary school teachers in our country are "language arts" people - NOT "mathematics" people. They are more social workers than accountants. Therefore, our schools face two specific problems in regard to math instruction:

1) Most of the teachers subconsciously don't like the topic, and underlying attitudes manifest themselves in the way teachers teach. Think about it: I'll bet most of your favorite teachers were passionate about the topic(s) they were teaching. If a teacher is ambivalent, the students pick up on it and more likely to be ambivalent.

In Church, we face a similar difficulty when teachers don't connect with a particular lesson. It generally is easy to feel when a teacher really believes something - and when they simply are teaching a lesson.

2) Most elementary school teachers don't "get" math intuitively, so they don't "know" math deeply. They can teach how to memorize facts, but they have a hard time explaining the foundation concepts. Therefore, they tend to focus either on rote memorization OR on letting the textbook be the default teacher. Neither is a good model.

In Church, if teachers don't understand a principle deeply it can be hard to explain it in a way that will spark understanding in the students. Feeling the Spirit is important (ultimately most important), but intellectual understanding also is important. It's hard to follow what you don't understand, but it's even harder to share those things with others.

An example, and I don't mean this to be condescending in any way: How many here can explain the concept behind the Pythagorian Theory - not the calculation used, but the reasoning behind the calculation - what the calculation means. How many here can draw a visual representation of it, so that visual learners can "get" it? It's really quite simple once you see what it meant originally, but it can be brutal if you simply have to try to remember which formula applies to which theory. If a teacher can help the students visualize it - if she can "bring it to life" for the students, those students can "get it" in a way that might never leave nor diminish.

That is just as true with regard to theology and religion as it is to math.


Richard Alger said...

I took calculus at Ricks college. It blew my mind when the professor paused during a lesson and described how insignificant the difference between my dad's age and my own as we both approach infinity.

I never though that gospel instruction and math instruction could go together. It really came across because the teacher was passionate about both.

Ryan said...

So true.

I hated history until I took American Heritage at BYU from an awesome teacher, and realized that I actually find history (!= names and dates) fascinating and just hated name-and-date history classes...

... and don't get me started about middle school math education...

In defense of memorization, though, I think it's an important beginner's tool that gives a helpful start when you just don't have enough principles behind you to reason things out yet.

I just ran into this trying to help my daughter to sound out words: most common words in English tend to be phonetic nightmares (are, who, one, would, their, etc). She was downright enthusiastic about picking up some the flash cards instead of trying to remember all the arbitrary exceptions to the equally arbitrary rules of English grammar she'd been learning...

The trouble is finding a teacher who cares, and who knows when to use memorization (or the book) and when to leave it behind.