Math: The Universal Language

Let’s face it; math is the same everywhere.  What other subject can say that?

In a very simplistic example the reason for math’s universal nature is easily explained:  one thing is true of all people in all nations of the world.  Barring a freak nuclear reactor incident or in the case of my good friend, Bentley, who lost a finger in a battle with a pig, we all have ten fingers and ten toes.  Our counting system is based upon this number.  Kids the world over are taught to count by raising one finger at a time….watch for it….it doesn’t vary from country to country.  The properties of the geometric shapes are the same the world over.  The fundamental principles for the manipulation of numbers, the order of operations, is an accepted practice throughout the universe.  The words are different, but the math is the same!

So, if all that is true why do we HATE math in America?  It is NOT socially acceptable to be bad at reading ….no one ever says, “I can’t read and I’m doing just fine in life”,  but it is screamed from the mountaintops that people don’t get math, never got math, can’t help their kids in math, hate math, see no reason to spend time doing math, and furthermore,  don’t ever use math!  No one is embarrassed to say these things aloud!  There is no social stigma attached to these statements like there would be if  we were referring to reading.  How has this happened?  We literally have a math pandemic in America and it is hurting us as a nation.

I feel really strongly about the need for teachers to educate themselves in the area of mathematics and the best practices for teaching it to our children.  We, as teachers,  are products of the system of instruction that we lived through. We had math “malpracticed” on us and we (including myself in the early parts of my career) have  carried on the malpractice.   We learned math as isolated skills without connection to other concepts or real-world application and wondered why we were doing it or when we were ever going to use it.  We learned math by memorizing procedures, often without understanding, and then when there got to be too much to memorize, we quit taking the subject.

So what do we do to turn this around?  It’s all up to us: the life-long learners, the people who love working with kids, the idealists who want to make the world a better place to live.  We have  to first recognize in ourselves the need for new information.  We, as professionals, have to be willing to learn new ways to help kids understand math conceptually.  We have to immerse ourselves in math content beyond the grades we teach, so we know where the math we teach leads.  We have to work together with other teachers to develop a cohesive plan of instruction for all grades, based upon research into best practices, a common set of standards and a common vocabulary.

We need kids to believe math is fun!  We need kids to believe math is important!  We need kids to believe math is relevant!  We need kids to believe math is not something to be feared!  In order to make all those things true,  teachers have to believe it first!!!!!!!!

Hi, I am Renee' Smith and I began teaching math in, of all places, a maximum security prison. “I was 21 years old and 99 lbs. soaking wet. Some of my students were convicted murderers and as scary as it sounds, it was incredibly sad. Many of those men had failed in the school system and then turned to crime.” That early experience with public school dropouts, cemented my resolve to help future students understand and succeed in the area of mathematics. To that end I dedicated 16 years to the classroom, teaching 5th grade math through algebra. After obtaining my Masters in Education from Baker University, I joined the ESSDACK team in 2007. I have presented at the local, state, and national levels but my most worthwhile experience at ESSDACK has been working to take the fear out of math for teachers and students alike. Although my primary focus has been providing professional development in mathematics, I also devote time to podcasting and creating materials for teachers to use in their classrooms. My podcasts include, By the Numbers, Just Desserts and Math Snacks. Working at ESSDACK has provided me the opportunity to do many of the things I love. “I have the time to research current educational practices, I get to be creative, collaborative, and I meet tons of new people."

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