One aspect of my education that I believe everyone would benefit from, but has lost favor in many educator’s eyes, are classes that stress the rigor of doing math proofs and those that employ the scientific method. Being able to understand and reproduce Math proofs is the best way to develop your ability to think logically even for complex problems like politics that have no set solution. Approaching problems using the scientific method lets you define where you are going and understand where you are when you arrive.
One issue you often hear about in the current discussion on education revolves around Common Core. If Common Core were to make it so that teachers weren’t allowed to show students the standard way to line up addition, subtraction and multiplication problems then I would be against Common Core. On the other hand showing students alternative ways to approach a problem and occasionally insisting on students using alternatives to the way we all grew up lining up problems is good for the student and a useful tool for adults.
One characteristic I often discover when talking with people that advocate only teaching the standard way of approaching the problem is that they often have trouble understanding the basics such as order of operations. This isn’t that difficult a problem:
but many of those most likely to say we have to stick to teaching the way they learned back when they went to school don’t get the right answer. They could use a lesson in alternative methods.
One example I give of a time I used an alternative method successfully was at a gas station during one of our many trips across country. There was a display selling gum and candy that was originally $1.49 each for sale now at 75% off. Yes, I could have gotten out a pencil and paper and multiplied 1.49 times .75 but instead I realized that 75% off 1.00 was .25 cents and 75% off .49 cents was 13 cents so 75% of $1.49 made the price of the candy 38 cents. So when the clerk tried to ring them up at 80 cents each I knew to correct her.
I’m a little concerned when I hear people say that today’s students aren’t allowed to line math problems up and solve the way I learned in school because I believe they should be taught this method as one of the methods to approach a problem. On the other hand, parents should encourage creative ways to approach problems that often show a person has a greater understanding of the world around them.
Tom McMasters for Congress