What’s Up With The Math Revolution

The Atlantic has a new piece about the more and more advanced work now studied by middle school and high school students.  This trend is well recognized among those of us who’ve been working with these students for years, although it was interesting to read about it in a publication intended for a general audience!

The article is largely about math beyond what’s typically taught in school.  You might call it high-level math, more challenging math, more abstract math, or maybe STEM Pathway math because it helps kids develop the skills to succeed on that pathway.  Regardless, it basically doesn’t touch at all on what a school math curriculum should be or what math class should be like.  It’s important to keep that in mind; this is math for kids who want more math.

And let me say, it’s wonderful that kids have so much opportunity to challenge themselves with interesting mathematics.  However, there are two big downsides to the current arrangement.  First, some students may feel pressure to advance themselves for the wrong reasons.  Second, those without access are being left ever further behind the top achievers.

I’m honored that BEAM was discussed in the article as an effort to address inequity in access, and that I get to contribute to this conversation, but we’re still quite a ways away from really closing the gap.  In this post, I want to dive into what’s really going on so that we can understand how the next generation of mathematicians and scientists is growing up.

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5 Minute Problems to Five Year Problems

On Saturday, I gave the keynote talk at the Manhattan MATHCOUNTS contest.  I haven’t had so much fun giving a math talk in a long while!

I was never exceptional at math contests, but I love them.  I think they’re fun challenges and they create a vibrant community; used well they are a good tool in mathematics education.  However, most contests also promote bad habits.  They lead students to focus on speed and winning over deep thought.  They encourage students to learn a few tricks well and memorize useless facts.  They further perpetuate the myth that math is about speed, even though real-world problems take days, months, or years to solve.  Hence, my talk was about transitioning to solving “big” problems.  For my own reference later as well as for anyone who is interested, here’s a log of what I said and how I structured the talk.

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