“Mathematics Revolutionizing Education in Schools”

Ever thought about lifeguards using a new strategy to teach toddlers swimming by letting them dive into the deep end alone, aiming for self-discovery through struggle? Or how about ditching grandma’s recipe book because it limits baking to step-by-step instructions? Perhaps having 16-year-olds figure out driving by themselves or with peers—sound absurd, right?

Teaching math through this “figure it out” approach may seem counterintuitive and risky, but it’s gaining traction in classrooms nationwide, challenging conventional wisdom and research findings.

 

The Educational Shift

Referred to as discovery, experiential, or inquiry-based learning, the constructivist method emphasizes student-centered learning, reducing the teacher’s role, and empowering students to explore prompts autonomously.

Having encountered various pedagogical approaches over the years, especially in math education, it’s evident that these methods are gaining momentum and reshaping the way math is taught.

 

The Rise of Building Thinking Classrooms

This new approach, epitomized by Peter Liljedahl’s book “Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics,” has gained a dedicated following and significant presence in math education circles, with a large online community and widespread adoption in schools across America.

At a recent math teachers’ conference, the movement was a recurrent theme, with educators endorsing its practices and urging others to embrace its principles.

 

Critiques of the Movement

While well-intentioned, proponents of Building Thinking Classrooms and similar constructivist pedagogies—such as Jo Boaler’s impact on California’s math framework—face skepticism and pushback due to the lack of evidence supporting their methodologies.

The insistence on practices like non-mandatory homework, unstructured note-taking, group practice, and subjective grading has raised concerns about their effectiveness and impact on student learning. Research questioning the efficacy of these methods has further fueled criticism and opposition.

 

A Different Approach: Direct Instruction

Contrary to the prevailing trends, direct instruction stands out as a research-backed method that emphasizes systematic and explicit teaching through structured lessons, guided practice, model-based learning, and skill mastery.

With a wealth of evidence supporting its effectiveness, direct instruction has consistently produced significant academic and social-emotional gains, standing in contrast to the limitations of constructivist approaches.

Critics of direct instruction often cite concerns about teacher-centeredness and rote learning, but the empirical evidence speaks volumes about its benefits and transformative impact on student outcomes.

 

Ryan Hooper is a middle school math and reading teacher in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The post The Math Movement Taking Over Our Schools appeared first on Education Next.

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