Why Do American Kids Under-Perform in Math?

Lack of passionate discussion among students and over emphasis on memorization are teaching methods some teachers employ whose outcome is lack of understanding of Math. If teachers change the way they teach math, most students will do very well in math.

Education System

Shanghai-China and Singapore have been top performers in math in the PISA test held in 2012. Shanghai-China scored a mean math score of 613 while Singapore scored a mean math score of 573 both scoring above the OECD average of 494. In the 2015 PISA test scores just released on the 6th of December, 2016, Singapore scored a mean math score of 564 above the OECD average of 490 while the United States performance in math was below average, attaining a mean math score of 470 below the OECD average of 490.

The 2015 PISA test just released has a focus on Science while the 2012 PISA test has a focus on Math.

PISA assesses the knowledge that 15-year olds students have acquired and what they do with the knowledge to be able to cope with modern societies. The assessment is primarily focused on reading, mathematics, science and problem-solving.

According to Mr. Schleicher, Director for education and skills in OECD, Shanghai-China is consistently improving its education system as a way of economic transformation. Its education system is competitive. In Shanghai-China, an estimated 80% of students employ the services of private tutors. Mr. Schleicher says that factors helping the education system in Shanghai remains robust and competitive are; regular feedback between teachers and parents on how their kids cope in school and teachers helping parents improve their parenting.

Without a good system for helping teachers learn how to put innovative ideas into practice, teachers will face challenges in meeting the high expectation on them to do so. Most teachers who teach math will need the right training and skills when teaching kids to apply different solution strategies in problem solving so as to help them do well in math.

Lack of the know-how in applying math knowledge to real life circumstances and emphasis on memorization of the times table by teachers, keep kids baffled by their outcome in international tests and leaves parents frustrated.

A study of kids in Nigeria who sell on the streets to help support their families eke out a livelihood show these kids could solve complex problems in their head like, calculating the balance owed customers after each purchase. When these kids are taken to school and the teacher presents the same problem they solved quickly on the street in the classroom setting, they tend to be confused or take longer time to arrive at the answer. This a challenge faced by most teachers when they teach kids math in school. Math teachers will help kids do well in math if they will design math lessons in a way that kids learn it in real life.

Since learning proceeds from the known to the new, math teachers and math tutors in online tutoring websites must learn to tap into what the child has already learnt, build upon it and impart the new.

Kids will do well in understanding math if teachers introduce the main topic to their students, select a problem based on the topic and allow the kids ponder over it for a while. Next, the teacher breaks-up the class into groups and allows the groups discuss the problem together. The teacher finally brings the class together to share ideas and discuss the problem together. This process helps more kids make sense of the math topic, understanding the math topic and understand why their answers were initially wrong. This process helps the kids talk math together, learn math from their peers, share ideas and support one another. Lastly, the process will help teachers’ spot kids who lag behind the pace of the classroom and seek early intervention before frustration sets in.

To teach math to kids, teachers need to understand math. Teaching math to kids in a way that is fun and interesting require most math teachers and tutors have the right kind of training.

Training the Teacher

When kids learn math from teachers who do not have the right kind of training and who are anxious about their abilities, those kids tends to develop math anxiety. To effectively arrest math anxiety amongst teachers before they get into the classroom to teach, the focus should be training math teachers on how to teach math concepts. Most teachers who teach math teach it with the belief or conviction that all there is to math is for kids to arrive at the correct answer

Teachers who put great emphasis on the ‘How’ or steps that leads to the correct answers are radically changing this approach to teaching math and helping the student understand math. This process of arriving at the answer has an added benefit to kids as it sharpens their thinking abilities and encourages them to learn the procedure and processes at arriving at the correct answer. Teachers should emphasize this approach and look critically at the kids’ process of arriving at the correct answer. This will arrest any math anxiety held by the student and make them feel justification for effort.

Ranking Effect

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is now a yardstick for appraising efficiency and quality of school education systems among OECD nations. It is an assessment aimed at testing the skills 15-year olds have acquired in essential knowledge to be able to cope in contemporary societies. It looks to not just what the student knows but what they can do with the knowledge and skills they have acquired.

Math, science, reading and problem-solving are the primary focus of PISA. After the 2012 PISA test, whose main focus was math, it was discovered that poor performance in math is a factor that can limit people’s access to better paying and fulfilling jobs. The ranking of countries by PISA is a step that seemed simple initially but overtime countries have been working hard and aiming for higher scores. The 2012 PISA test showed the United States scored below the mean score in math and the education system under-performed in math with a higher mean score of low achievers. The 2015 PISA test just released showed a similar trend.

What do we know presently?

Teachers should encourage passionate discussions among their students. Since teachers teach by recalling what they have learnt, those with the right training will be better placed in imparting mathematical ideas and concepts in schools. This will be of immense benefit to the student as they will be assisting students learn different methods for solving complex math problems free of any math fear.

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