The M in STEM

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education is a hot topic when discussing  K-12 education reform, but it seems as though some of the categories are getting more attention than others. Science and Technology are especially popular; the White House Science Fair and First Robotics reward innovation in science fields which often involve invention and independent research by students.  However, the excitement over STEM education hasn’t been as effective at popularizing the final category: math. An article by Reuters addressed this issue, and what people, private companies and internet learning sites are doing to combat the “uncoolness” of math.  “America has a cultural problem with math. It’s the subject, more than any other, that we as a country love to hate,” said Glen Whitney, a mathematician who develops algorithms for hedge funds. Whitney has since raised $22 million to build a Museum of Mathematics in New York City, due to open this fall.

The internet has also become proponents of math education. Khan Academy has hundreds of math related videos that cover topics from arithmetic to differential equations. DimensionU and MIT have taken a different route, by encouraging kids to play math games online, they become eligible to win prizes such as a tablet computer or a scholarship.

These recent developments in math education come in response to the lackluster rankings of U.S. high school students in math. While Americans do fairly well in elementary and middle school math, they begin to score below students from countries such as Slovenia and Iceland by age 15. Additionally, many high schools in the United States don’t offer advanced math, so there are fewer opportunities for students to excel.  Math teachers today blame the traditional approach to teaching math: classes aren’t creative enough; they aren’t fun. “It’s as if you took a little kid who really liked music and wanted piano lessons and said, ‘We’re going to have you practice scales and chords for the next 15 years, and then and only then will we teach you music,'” said Kathy Morris, an education professor at Sonoma State University in California.

Initiatives are underway in a few states for a common core curriculum that emphasizes reasoning and puzzle-solving math skills; initiatives that are gaining momentum from major corporations and philanthropies like Google and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Partnerships like these are a key to success: they have pledged to raise $24 million in order to recruit and train 100,000 new math and science teachers in the next ten years.

Posted by: Devon Thorsell

Sources: Reuters, DimensionU, Khan Academy

Photo credit: Calculator and notebook courtesy of flickr user THEMACGIRL*

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