Our country has a problem with math. Too many people say they are no good at it, were never any good at it, and never will be any good at it. One study, done by Marilyn Burns of Math Solutions, suggested that about 2/3 of American adults have some kind of math phobia. (Math: An American Phobia, Math Solutions, 1998). I’ve seen this phenomenon first hand. When I tell someone I am the Elementary Mathematics Specialist for the Utah State Office of Education I get mostly negative responses. They range from, “I’m sorry…” to “Oh, I’ve never been good at math.”
There is also a wide spread belief that the ability to learn math is somehow innate. Some people are math people, others are not. The result is many students don’t learn mathematics because they don’t believe they can, because their parents don’t believe they can, and because their teachers don’t believe they can. Educational research is replete with studies on how teacher attitudes effect student achievement.
It is far past time to change these attitudes and beliefs. Part of any vision for mathematics teaching and learning in Utah must include the fact that all students can learn mathematics at a high level. That assertion is not wishful thinking nor empty rhetoric. It is based on research (see, for example, Adding it Up: Helping Children Learn Mathematics, National Research Council, 2001). It is attainable if the conditions, structures, and policies in mathematics education necessary for success exist.
This blog will be focused on those conditions, structures, and policies for the remainder of this school year. These ideas are taken from Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) in 2014. Readers are encouraged to obtain a copy of the book from NCTM and to participate in the Principles to Actions course in the Utah Professional Learning Series. The next course begins in January. Registration is free and will be available soon at http://www.uen.org/pls/. The course is only open to Utah educators.