I recently read two articles that I would like to share with you...
The first is A Mathematician's Lament by Paul Lockhart. This article showed up in my in-box from a student that I had in class last year.
Lockhart begins his article by suggesting that art and music education be mandatory for every student. However, instead of giving them a blank canvas, we will make them sit through lectures and study colors and applicators. The must work their way up the ranks from worksheets on the basics, to pre-paint-by-number, and finally paint-by-number. Only a few exceptional students will be allowed to paint on a blank canvas.
He goes on to say that this is what we are doing in math education. We are killing math. Teachers tell students they have to learn the remedial stuff before they can do the real stuff.
I think he's on to something here. Students need to see why it's important, yes, but they need to see how perfectly beautiful and fun it is too.
The second is The Case Against Algebra II by Nicholson Baker. A few days after I received the first article, this arrived in my inbox from a fellow math teacher.
Baker suggests that schools no longer make Algebra II mandatory. After reading this, I had to ask myself Is Algebra II really necessary? Algebra II curriculum usually includes Complex Numbers, Factoring, Polynomials, and Nonlinear Expressions and Equations. Can a person function in society without knowing these topics?
First, if school districts are going to eliminate the mandate to learn Algebra II, then Algebra I has to be an amazing experience for students. Teachers have to be education rock stars, so that students see the importance and sheer joy of mathematics. Students need to be inspired to take Algebra II, not forced to take it. Refer back to the first article.
Now let's suppose that Algebra II is an elective. The only students in the class are the ones who want to be there. Now Algebra II will truly be Algebra II, unlike many districts where Algebra II is really a repeat of Algebra I will a few extra topics. When we teach every student Algebra II it's not No Child Left Behind, it's Every Motivated Child Held Back.
Let's take a look at the students who want to take Algebra II. They are now in a class that is rarely disrupted or slowed down to meet the needs of those who don't want to be there. They can learn Algebra II in their Algebra II course. They can learn Pre-Calc in the next course (rather than Algebra II again). They can begin Calculus with a review of Limits rather than a review of Algebra I. They can finally compete globally.
So what happens to the students who don't take Algebra II? Will they become utter failures in society? I honestly don't think so. Maybe if students aren't forced to take Algebra II, they won't hate math so much. Maybe if they don't hate math so much, they won't hate school so much. Maybe if they don't hate school so much they won't be absent as often. Maybe if they aren't absent as often they won't drop out of school. Maybe if they don't drop out of school they will become productive members of society. Maybe if they all become productive members of society we will keep more jobs in America. Maybe if we keep more jobs in America our unemployment rate will go down. Maybe if our unemployment rate go down....
You get the idea.
See? You can save the entire country just by making Algebra II an elective.
Seriously though, what are your thoughts?