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Sunday, March 17, 2019

No sign for improving math education soon.

When browsing the Internet I accidentally stumbled upon this piece from 2018: “We Should Teach Math Like It's a Language”, By Jeannine Diddle Uzzi, the provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Southern Maine (
The author makes a case that math needs to be taught in a way similar to teaching Latin. She appeals to a 2011 article, "An Apology for Latin and Math," by high school Latin teacher Cheryl Lowe.
This is where I see the problem.
The approach to study math as a language has been known for decades.
A simple search can show books (not just articles) on the matter published more than 10 years ago.
And every math teacher who wants to be good at teaching should have read at least elements from Euclid’s “The Elements”.
It starts from a “dictionary”, a.k.a. definitions.
BTW: this approach is not limited to teaching languages or math, it is the fundamental scientific approach essential for teaching any subject, or at least any STEM one (I use it when teach my physics courses, very successfully).
The fact that efficient math teaching strategies have been developed decades ago but math teachers at large still need to be introduced to the very idea of the approach, demonstrates how poor the teacher professional development has been and is – on all levels, K12 and above.
This is the actual issue that needs to be addressed.
But evidently, for decades, it hasn’t.
Hence, I see no indicators that things are going to be much better any soon.
There is a wast amount of research on the state of math education. People use complicated statistical method to prove their point of view. It is a major waste of energy. Do you want to test the quality of the work of math teacher? Ask his or her students - why 2 + 2 = 4? I can assure you the majority will not be able to give an answer. Hence the teacher has not done a good job. Q.E.D. ◾▢
Instead of spending millions on research, NSF needs to invest in rudimentary teacher preparation.

The first slide in this short opinion piece is what I say to my students when we start learning about normal force. All college students taking a physics course have math as a prerequisite. I have taught hundreds, maybe around two thousand of students. A large percentage of them have had very poor math preparation, especially American-born ones.

Two more short pieces on math.

Why Have Hundreds of Millions of Dollars Been Spent on Development the Common Core Math Standards?

Recent tweets on the matter:

In respond to "What's the right age to quit maths?"

Teachers are only as good as the teacher preparation system is. In the U.S. there is no system for teacher preparation. The main reason for that is that education is governed by people who have no deep understanding of what teaching and learning is - politicians and businessmen who think about education only in terms of money and hire superintendents who can satisfy their political agendas.


  1. You may want to correct your question (forgot the equal sign).
    I hate math education research papers and presentations. Where teachers show all the didactic foundations and statistics and no one understands what the activity was!!! In my experience (not proven with research), the objectives of teaching math at school are three: math as a language, math as a tool for reasoning, math as... History? (Methods that other people have discovered and may be useful, or maybe now are not useful anymore). Of course, there are ways to guide students to discover these methods on their own, not as a recipe.

  2. thank you. math as a language, math as a tool for reasoning, math as history - the components of a math "practitioner", and then + communication, child psychology, managing, acting, just being interesting - the components of a "teaching" person. A good math teacher is a very rich person.