Which is bigger?

Question markI started a new principal licensure cohort this spring. On the second night of class, I had an awesome discussion with a couple of high school teachers about the perpetual issue of forcing students to learn math that they likely will never use again in their life. We make most (all) students take Algebra 2, for instance, even though most of them rarely (if ever) will use that learning later. Our ‘just in case’ educational model is based on the idea that we don’t know what students will need later in life, which is in stark contrast to many of the ‘just in time’ learning opportunities now available to us if we need to gain new knowledge or acquire a new skill. Our conversation led me to this question:

  • Which is bigger? The number of students who are forced to take math that they never will need or the number of students who, given the choice in high school, might not take the math courses they will need later?

We can come up with a number of these questions, each of which has major implications for leadership behaviors and school support structures:

  • Which is bigger? The number of students who begrudgingly make their way through required world language courses (like my son) or the number of students who learn to love other languages and cultures through those classes (like my sister)?
  • Which is bigger? The number of students who are usually engaged in the learning experiences and tasks that we provide them or the number of students who are bored out of their mind?
  • Which is bigger? The number of teachers who need to turn in lesson plans because they’re struggling with instructional coherence or the number of teachers who don’t?
  • Which is bigger? The number of students who are ‘socially promoted’ despite inadequate academic skills or the number of students who are held back by poor instruction and institutional bias or inequities?
  • Which is bigger? The number of students who are truly helped by our mandated adaptive learning software system for reading or the number of students for whom it has little benefit?
  • Which is bigger? The number of parents who complain loudly about a school decision or initiative or the number of parents who are silently approving or grateful?
  • Which is bigger? The number of students who receive gifted and talented services or the number of students who are equally ready but are denied such services?
  • Which is bigger? The number of teachers who are providing robust ’Tier 1’ instruction or the number of teachers who are not?
  • Which is bigger? The number of students who use technology appropriately in school or the number of students who don’t?
  • Which is bigger? The number of students who really need us to teach this thing to them today versus the number of students who already know it?
  • Which is bigger? The number of teachers who will abuse the opportunity to create their own personalized, self-driven, professional learning opportunities or the number of teachers who will use that chance to really stretch and grow themselves as skilled educators?

And so on…

Seems like we should be making instructional, policy, and resourcing decisions based on our answers to these types of questions, right?

Please add your own ‘Which is bigger?’ scenarios in the comments!

3 Responses to “Which is bigger?”

  1. I’ve been talking with my 8th grade students this year about that learning math isn’t just for learning things you “might” use later, but that it stimulates the brain to do many other things. Here is an article that discusses how our brains react to learning math.
    https://www.theedadvocate.org/examining-the-research-on-how-brains-learn-mathematics/

  2. Which is bigger? The number of teachers teaching math or the number of teachers supervising calculating?

    Math is incredibly important, it truly is. I, as you know, am an IT Director and network administrator. My job is math. I’ve had Calculus three times, Trig twice, Geometry and Algebra since seventh grade and I use virtually none of it. All of those classes were pathologically transfixed on the calculating part of math and wholly ignored the truly important parts. I have seen no detectable change in math classes today.

    Jo Boaler summed up my math experience at 11:57 in her video, “The Nature of 21st Century Mathematics”, on Stanford’s youcubed site: “The high school maths… is just filled with antiquated methods nobody will ever use again.”

    https://www.youcubed.org/resources/the-nature-of-21st-century-mathematics/

  3. It seems to me that subjects like algebra aren’t merely about math skills, but are about reasoning skills. Build a curriculum that’s going to include really, truly challenging diagnostic and puzzle solving skills, and then maybe I’ll be won over that algebra 2 is obsolete.

    But don’t give me the standard “critical thinking” curriculum.

    Languages, again, are a chance to expose students to subjects that challenge their minds in ways they haven’t been challenged before. Everyone should be exposed to that learning experience. Americans are one of the few populations on the planet where it’s acceptable to be monolingual.

    All of these things are building blocks to higher order thinking. I can’t tell you how many community college students I encounter who think that this symbol [4] actually *is* the number 4. When I show them this symbol [iv] or this symbol [////] they start to get it. Learning languages helps us understand so much about our preconceptions and the way we see the world, and how language shapes our thoughts.

    Which is bigger?

    Brian

Leave a Reply