Yale professor envisions a math curriculum that deals with real life
In a speech at Yale last month to a group of students, famed education researcher Marc Bazin, Ph.D., launched a powerful (if boring) refrain: “If every math problem was the same, there would be no intelligence tests or kids testing for everything else.”
The idea is that if kids are presented with a number of different versions of a problem, they’ll be more likely to decide themselves what to answer rather than what the test asks them to. For example, if the test shows the answer to be red, why not make everyone write something that says “red” but never uses the word? Or why not have students print out 3,000 different answers to a math problem, each with an example in red?
“Students are going to have a different opinion than the teacher,” Bazin, a professor of public affairs at Yale, told Stanford Medicine magazine. “And they’re going to create their own solution, which will be better and probably will be less costly and you won’t have to work it through the litany of tests that kids take.”
Bazin’s set of ideas may sound good, but where would teachers be able to force students to find such solutions? Education is a subject fraught with one-size-fits-all standards, grading rules, and tests. And rarely can a teacher actually give or create a whole new question without setting off a firestorm.
Instead, the goal of this free, online math class at Kaplan.com is to bring an element of spontaneity and spontaneousity to the often-cumbersome process of teaching math. So what do these new algebra principles look like?
First, instead of “solving” a problem, students consider the most likely answer in its context and maybe choose one in a different way than the teacher might. Secondly, if students decide that a category of values or behavior is about to expire, they have to provide an example of what would happen if that happened. Often, students have to adopt well-constructed examples of a behavior they would happen to see in their everyday lives, because that helps them apply the math to the real world.
According to the Kaplan site, the online class combines methods that work well with problems for students who want to explore the application of new approaches to the classroom. For example, with a problem that asks students to design a system for figuring out property taxes, the class would engage students by allowing them to immediately calculate the most probable solution that uses two variables: property taxes, and the tax rates for a city of 90,000 people.
If students came up with an example of how property taxes would be affected by a person being 8 feet tall, that would help solve the problem. Instead of writing a solution to a problem, the class asks students to understand, in an initial interaction, why the problem will or won’t be solved that way, then asks students to think about the possibility that it might be solved a different way. After the students figure out the problems in this way, they can brainstorm and offer solutions and suggest key pieces of information.
The goal of the class is to motivate math students to problem solve in unexpected ways, rather than just applying something that is taught in class. Students who feel that their teachers often do this simply aren’t taught, and this lesson is part of the school curriculum—solving the problem with some of these new methods goes with the territory. As a result, however, students are changing how they want to think about math.
Bazin says this method, called the Ultimate Enrichment Class, also provides a cheaper solution for teachers, because there is no set form or way to evaluate the job of the class.
“There’s so much more that teachers can do to use their own creativity to make the math problem come alive and to engage their students,” he says.