Meet Emmet Penney. He is a student at Bennington College, and my son. He is taking a class with a rising young math star (if mathematicians have a star system) Jason Zimba. They are researching alternative ways math can be taught and hope to discover why so many kids struggle with math in America. It’s a bold undertaking. I have asked Emmet to blog about it. He agreed and his first submission follows:
In my math class at Bennington we’re looking to find out why people hate math and what can be done about it. The class is taught by maverick mathematician Jason Zimba. The goal of the class right now is to collect data about the education system and math. Part of the data collection process involves guest speakers to talk with our class. We prepare questions for them to read on our wikipage (link posted below) before they come in and begin a dialogue. Thus far, all guests have been from the Bennington community. 1) Ryan Moran, our first guest and a senior at Bennington, brought up an interesting point that learning computer languages, or “logic languages” is much like learning verbal languages; the more languages you know, the easier it is to absorb more. Ryan’s ideas on why people hate math was broken into two parts: 1) The key events are early in one’s education; 2) It’s due to the teaching methods, which make people computers or in any case don’t engage people in rich thoughts – organic thoughts – thoughts that help people make sense of their life and world – not necessarily concrete or practical thoughts.
Ken Himmelman, the Dean of Admissions at Bennington, came into talk to our class and shared ideas with us on why kids don’t respond well to math: 1) Math education is like a “Math Frat,” with an odd type of hazing, “You have to do it because I had to do it!”; 2) This “hazing” comes in the form of rote memorization of key concepts, similar to how foreign languages are taught. I found the parallels between these points and Ryan’s points very interesting. Our next visitor will be Joe Holt, a computing teacher at Bennington whose popular Code Critique class has an unusual structure. We’ll be asking him about his experience with math education among other things. I’ll keep you posted on our progress.