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Why do American Kids under-perform in Math?

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If teachers will put innovative ideas into practice, there has to be a good system for helping them learn how to do it. In practice, most teachers will need to be adept in teaching children to apply different solution strategies to be able to do well in math. Student memorization of the times table and lack of knowledge on how to apply math to real life situations, keep kids baffled by their outcome in class and leaves parents frustrated.

Education System

Shanghai-China and Singapore have been top performers in math in the PISA test held in 2012. Shanghai-China scored a mean math score of 613 while Singapore scored a mean math score of 573 both scoring above the OECD average of 494. In the 2015 PISA test scores just released on the 6th of December, 2016, Singapore scored a mean math score of 564 above the OECD average of 490 while the United States performance in math was below average, attaining a mean math score of 470 below the OECD average of 490.

The 2015 PISA test just released focused on Science while the 2012 PISA test focused on Math.

Why has these countries maintained this feat and aims to surpass it? After the 2012 PISA test, Mr. Schleicher an OECD education expert says, “Shanghai-China is known for its systematic long-term project to improve education as a way of transforming its economy”.

The survey after the 2012 PISA test shows that, regular feedback between teachers and parents on how their children are coping in school and teachers helping parents improve their parenting are factors that are helping their education system. Their education system is competitive and this means an estimated 80% of students have private tutors.

Most students will do very well in learning math if teachers will radically change the way they taught math. When teachers teach students to learn by memorization without encouraging passionate discussions among students, the outcome is students who do not understand math procedures and cannot uncover proof for themselves.

Students will do well in math if teachers could teach math in schools in a way that mirrors the way kids learn it in real life. Studies of kids in Nigeria who sell on the streets to help support their families show that kids solve complex problems in their head to calculate a balance owed customers after each purchase from road users. When the teacher presents the same problem to the same kids in a classroom domain, they tend to be confused and under-perform. This is the challenge most teachers face when they teach math in schools.

Math teachers and every math tutor in online tutoring websites must learn to tap into what the child already knows to be able to build on it and impart the new. This only reinforces the view that learning proceeds from the known to the new. Children will do well in math if the teacher introduces the kids to the main topic of the day, present them with a problem based on the topic introduced and let the kids ponder over it first on their own. Next, the teacher shifts discussion on the topic to the group level in the class then finally, the whole class discusses the topic. This process helps the kid make sense of the math topic and helps the kid understand why their answers were wrong initially. This process also helps the kid learn better as they talk math together, share ideas together and support one another. The other advantage of this process is found in the fact that teachers observe students who are struggling and seek early intervention for them before frustration sets in.

Teachers need to understand math to be able to teach it to students in a way that is fun and interesting. This will only happen if most teachers have the right kind of training.




Teacher training

The focus on training teachers on how to teach math concepts will be effective in arresting math fears among teachers before they begin actual teaching in the classroom. When students learn math from teachers who are anxious about their math teaching abilities in certain topics, those students tend to develop fear for math.

Most teachers who teach math teach it as though arriving at the correct answer is all there is to math. Radically changing this approach to teaching math and helping the student understand the concepts will benefit the student as it sharpens their thinking abilities and encourages them to learn the process of arriving at the correct answer.

Teachers should de-emphasize the right or wrong answer approach and look at the student’s process of arriving at the correct answer. This will help the student feel justification for their effort and alleviate any anxiety for math they might have.


Effect of Ranking

The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is now the world’s yardstick for rating the quality and efficiency of school education systems. PISA assesses the skills 15-year old’s have acquired in key essential knowledge to be able to fully cope in modern societies. PISA looks to not just what the student knows but, what they can do with the knowledge they have acquired.

Math, science, reading and problem-solving are the primary focus of PISA. After the 2012 PISA test, whose main focus was math, it was discovered that poor performance in math is a factor that can limit people’s access to better paying and fulfilling jobs. The ranking of countries by PISA is a step that seemed simple initially but overtime countries have been working hard and aiming for higher scores. The 2012 PISA test showed the United States scored below the mean score in math and the education system under-performed in math with a higher mean score of low achievers. The 2015 PISA test just released showed a similar trend.


What do we know today?

Teachers teach primarily by recalling what they have been taught. Teachers should focus on mathematical ideas and encourage passionate discussions among students. Encouraging discussions among students in a math class will assist students find and learn different methods for solving math problems. Therein lies the key to mastery of any topic.



Written by Charles Onwugbene of FX-FCTUTOR (@fxfctutor1)


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