Why Math Speediness and Memorization aren't the Path to Success

Why Math Speediness and Memorization aren't the Path to Success
Posted on 05/27/2015

Why Math Speediness and Memorization Aren’t the Path to Success


“Memorizers Are the Lowest Achievers and Other Common Core Math Surprises” by Jo Boaler in The Hechinger Report, May 7, 2015, http://bit.ly/1FQUZ4y, spotted in LEAP NewsBlast, May 19, 2015


            “Mathematics classes of the past decade have valued one type of math learner, one who can memorize well and calculate fast,” says Jo Boaler (Stanford University) in the Hechinger Report. “Yet data from the 13 million students who took PISA tests showed that the lowest-achieving students worldwide were those who used a memorization strategy – those who thought of math as a set of methods to remember and who approached math by trying to memorize steps. The highest-achieving students were those who thought of math as a set of connected, big ideas.” The fact that many U.S. classrooms have emphasized memorization and speed explains why our students “are procedurally competent but can’t think their way out of a box” – and why they don’t fare well in international comparisons.

            “Real mathematics is about inquiry, communication, connections, and visual ideas,” says Boaler. “We don’t need students to calculate quickly in math. We need students who can ask good questions, map out pathways, reason about complex solutions, set up models, and communicate in different forms… This broad, multidimensional mathematics is the math that engages many more learners and puts them on a pathway to life-long success.”

That’s why it’s unwise to push students into AP courses and calculus before they have explored previous stages more thoughtfully, she says. Depth, not acceleration, is the best approach. San Francisco is one of the first large districts to take this approach; some of its students still take calculus, but the pathway to high-level courses emphasizes understanding rather than procedures and memorization.

 “New brain science tells us that no one is born with a math gift or a math brain,” concludes Boaler, “and that all students can achieve in math with the right teaching and messages. The classrooms that produce high-achieving students are those in which students work on deep, rich mathematics through tasks that they can take to any level they want. No one is told what level they can reach and no one is held back by narrow questions that limit students’ mathematical development and creativity.”

The good news is that all this is included in the Common Core standards, and many classrooms across the nation are undergoing a sea change in what’s emphasized.

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