# Why We Shouldn’t Teach Math with “Look at the Dinosaurs” Approach

Ed Station — Kindergarten is the age of discovery, from making the transition from nursery school (and toddler to child) to school and learning some real life connections to the outside world. It is the age when children must learn to deal with life-long challenges: from new friends to new school, from parents to teachers, and from technology to math and reading. K-12 education demands a deeper level of educational understanding. School grade EQ is the best indicator of students’ development in regard to vocabulary, writing, reading, spelling, math, as well as concept comprehension and spatial awareness. So, what are the outcomes of better mathematics instruction?

**What Are We Missing with the “Look at the Dinosaurs” Approach?**

Great teachers and gifted students apply rigorous mathematical thinking to common everyday tasks. A great teacher asks questions, like, “Why does this make me hungry? Why don’t I want to eat this piece of fruit? Why do we fall asleep on this chair?” When approached correctly with careful, context-driven logic, students can understand their reasoning and start solving the problem before looking at the problem for the first time. This is how the students gain critical thinking skills, which make them more likely to succeed in math beyond the K-12 level.

But consider how students respond when they are asked simple arithmetic questions from boring textbooks without the context for their reasoning. Instead of viewing arithmetic as an action, they see a dry piece of math that simply says, “Let’s go get this piece of fruit.” K-3 classroom teachers have the problem and the correct ways to do it. And they use arithmetic to learn theory, not to perform the problem for the first time.

**What Does It Take to Teach Students Math in the Real World?**

Although we believe that teaching students mathematics problems that are important is the first step toward practicing theory, advanced mathematics instruction is not all about figuring out how to solve a problem. Simply presenting problems does not teach Theory and Math are not the same thing. Theory is the foundation of the algebra curriculum, which includes fundamental concepts in the addition and subtraction formulas. Math involves recognizing fact patterns, thinking about relationships between number and value, and applying the knowledge acquired to everyday activities. The topics in math textbooks are more focused on the how than the why; the particular number for this algebra equation is important, but the fact patterns alone show how to understand math relationships.

When K-12 math books are replaced with high-quality math materials on one and other brain-centric formats (e.g., a three-dimensional visual program, a competitive multi-sensory program, or a computer-based program that does math questions in a context you can understand) the student will see the connection between the reasoning used in a given math problem and the sense of understanding it creates in the way they feel. In a basic math problem, the classroom teacher may use algebraic equations to explain a graph or figure. A comparative approach to math might start with a figure or graph for arithmetic, develop into theory, and apply that theory to situations that can benefit from graphs, figures and maps. In fact, the curriculum in math textbooks is not designed to teach theory. It is supposed to teach students algebraal equations. But teaching theory is what makes math “real world” teaching.

What Can Schools Do to Get Real World Learning Out of the “Look at the Dinosaurs” Approach?

Changing textbook programs will not work if the teacher approaches each math problem with the focus that she needs to teach Theory. But changing textbooks can only help if the teacher uses the specific material in a simple manner that students can understand.

The principal of a community center has noticed that parents don’t show up at their day care center because it is too hard for children to navigate preschool and Kindergarten. To address this problem, the parent has researched a solution, purchased an online subscription to a learning management system, and integrates that curriculum into her preschool.

If the teacher is not able to do what the parent has done, they should be part of a national effort to change the way that schools produce math textbooks. (Great teacher, bad textbook?)