The Importance of Mathematics

Our superintendent asked me to write a piece on the importance and relevance of mathematics to the math students in our district. The piece appeared in our Annual Report which can be found here. I thought it would be a good idea to share the article on my blog given the 'Annual Report' sometimes does not reach as many patrons as we would hope. Below is the article I wrote.

What will the world look like, 86 years from now, in the year 2100? What did people 86 years ago, in the year 1928, think the world of 2014 would look like? Would they have imagined the Internet? Smart phones? Could they have imagined the dilemmas of today’s world, such as climate change, stem cell research, global economic crises, and biological weaponry? According to the National Center on Teacher Quality, if a teacher’s career is 30 years, and their students live for 70, current teacher education programs are actually preparing teachers for 22nd century learners. What tools will our students need to solve problems in a world which we can’t even imagine?

To prepare our children for the world they will inherit, we must equip our children with effective problem solving strategies, robust critical thinking skills, and the ability to use sequential reasoning to make decisions. Mathematics offers the tools our students need to adapt in a changing world. Mathematics allows students to solve interesting problems with high cognitive demand to better understand the world outside school. Robert Moses writes in Radical Equations the importance of learning math, specifically algebra, in today’s society:

“Before, in the old system… algebra acted as one of the gates through which you entered college… Algebra could not stop you from going to college – not having it could hinder you but it couldn’t stop you. And it was okay to be in college unable to do math. People boasted… ‘Never could do that stuff,’ they said, on the college campus then. But those days are over. It’s not so cool or hip to be completely illiterate in math. The older generation may be able to get away with it, but the younger generation coming up now can’t – not if they’re going to function in the society, have economic viability, be in a position to meaningfully participate, and have some say-so in the decision making that affects their lives. They cannot afford to be completely ignorant of these technological tools and languages. So algebra, once solely in place as the gatekeeper for higher math and the priesthood who gained access to it, now is the gatekeeper for citizenship; and people who don’t have it are like the people who couldn’t read and write in the industrial age.”

45 of 50 states in the U. S. have adopted the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. Nebraska is not one of these states; rather, Nebraska elects to use its own math standards. Our school district will revamp its math textbooks across all grade levels K-12 in the 2014-2015 school year. Our school district personnel understand the need for a rigorous, flexible, dynamic curriculum that will be cost effective regardless of future decisions made by Nebraska state leadership on mathematics curriculum standards. Additionally, our district leadership understands the single most important factor in our students’ mathematics education: the teachers that stand before our students every single day. Significant funds will go towards providing our teachers professional development. Our students need teachers equipped with sound pedagogy and powerful instructional strategies. Research suggests a highly effective teacher can elicit 1.5 years of academic growth in a single academic year. Imagine the possibilities for students with a highly effective mathematics teacher every year of school.

All students in Scottsbluff Public Schools need the best mathematics education available to be competitive in a global job market. According to Linda Gojak, President of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, “the question is no longer if students should take algebra but rather when students should take algebra.” Our teaching staff in SBPS continues to work towards offering rigorous mathematics classes for all students. This means developing an exceptional concept of number and quantity in elementary math students, proportional reasoning in middle school students, and a high school curriculum which provides the opportunity for all students to reach Geometry, Algebra 1, and Algebra 2 at the minimum. Research suggests students successfully completing Algebra 2 are four times more likely to complete a bachelors’ degree program. In a county where only 19% of adults hold a bachelors degree, and the median annual household income is $10,000 below the state average, effective mathematics instruction has the potential to break cycles of poverty and to change life trajectories for our students. It’s an exciting time to be a Bearcat. We thank the community for continued support of our teachers as they continue to find new and innovative ways to serve the students of Scottsbluff Public Schools.

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