In our last blog post, Dr Howard Kea, who works for NASA, shared a story of how he is building his son's relationship with math. He is using simple addition and subtraction questions and when his son comes up with the answers, he beams with pride.
Yesterday, my own child started telling me a similar story based on a 1-year-old's birthday party we attended recently. He said "When I'm 18, Sandra (not real name) will be 12. That's because right now, I'm 7 and she is 1." We talk about and look for addition and subtraction opportunities in simple ways often as they come up in life.
Other parents I know do similar things. For example, one parent using a GPS notes how much time her family has left to travel on the GPS and asks her child, based on the current time, when will they arrive. These regular interactions with math AND the discussion with the child that they are doing math is something that I see with some families and not others.
The early discussion and stimulation of math love, practice and learning is the first step in a journey to math literate society, but we as a society must follow through too by making math simple at higher levels. Since 2015, when I have been speaking almost nonstop to anyone who will listen about math education, I have encountered several people who thought they were great at math and had planned to become engineers or computer scientists. Most recently, I spoke to someone who had done honors math in high schools. Her college experience was so traumatizing, she now considers hereself "not-a-math" person.
Her experience contrasts to students of Donald Saari, who in 2008 gave a talk at Baruch College entitled "Is there a New Isaac Newton in my class?" In this talk, he describes how he teaches calculus by telling stories and getting students to see the value of calculus for themselves. He makes it easy for students to relate to the concepts and students leave confident in the value of the concepts in everyday life.
Our best chance as a society to solve the problems of diseases, environmental challenges, and poverty is to give every student the opportunity to see teachers like Donald Saari, the teachers who make it so easy that people who thought they were not into math discover the joy of their own potential. We need to take the first steps to showing children that math is all around us and we need to follow through and show all students teachers who make math easy.
Dr. Linda Bailey-McWeeney is the Executive Director of Reggae Math Foundation, an economist, and an educator. She has been an Assistant Professor at Baruch College, City University of New York and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Economics at College of Staten Island, City University of New York, Yeshiva University, and Wagner College. She has a Ph.D. in Economics from Michigan State University.