Math, too often, gets a bad rap. Many people say it's hard and confusing, that you either "get it" or you don't, and it's so-not-fun.
But it doesn't have to be this way, argues Stanford Graduate School of Education Professor Jo Boaler, who has designed a new program for teachers to help them inspire young learners and engage them more deeply in math.
The program, called the "Week of Inspirational Math," provides teachers with five lessons (one for each school day) to incorporate in their classrooms. The lessons include fun and engaging math problems as well as videos with positive messages about math.
Boaler announced the initiative in her keynote address in Boston, to the annual meeting of the National Council of Supervisors of Math, an organization of math leaders including teachers, school administrators, math specialists and others.
"We want to give kids inspirational math tasks that help them see math as a lovely subject of beautiful patterns and deep inquiry," Boaler said. "And we want teachers to see what happens when kids are really engaged in math."
The lessons address five key areas of math: geometry, algebra, numbers, patterns and connections. The problems are so-called "low floor, high ceiling" tasks that are accessible to all students but can be solved in different ways to challenge those just being introduced to the topics as well as high achievers. They also emphasize different messages: mistakes help you grow, for example, and it's not how fast you complete a task that's important but how deeply you understand it.
The lessons, which will be free to download, are geared toward fifth through ninth graders and are aligned to Common Core standards, which require critical thinking and deeper inquiry.
"Many teachers don’t know how to actively engage kids in math,getting them to problem solve and persist with challenges” said Boaler, author of What's Math Got to Do With It? How Teachers and Parents Can Transform Mathematics Learning and Inspire Success. "They need this now more than ever, for the Common Core and the needs of our society."
The Week of Inspirational Math is the latest initiative from YouCubed at Stanford, which was co-founded by Boaler to make the latest research on math learning accessible to teachers and parents, giving them practical ways to incorporate new and important research ideas in classrooms and homes.
"We're researching and using new brain science to find out how best people learn," said Boaler. "Then, we're giving teachers things they can actually do in their classroom based on this research."
Boaler's goal would be that math teachers kick off their school years in the fall with the week of lessons. Getting kids immediately immersed in math in a positive way, she says, can set the right tone for the rest of the year. But the program can be undertaken at any time. All the materials will be available in May on YouCubed, and those interested can register to receive them now.
Teachers who use the Week’s curriculum will also be able join a network to receive additional support and resources throughout the year.
Boaler said the initiative was modeled after Hour of Code, a movement started by the nonprofit Code.org to encourage and help more kids to learn computer programming.
Less than 2 percent of college graduates earn degrees in math, according to YouCubed, and math is often the reason students, particularly girls, abandon the STEM subjects (sciences, technology, engineering and math).
"We want to encourage kids and teachers with inspirational math but hopefully they will also bring it home. Log on with their parents, siblings and other caregivers. Make math a daily part of their lives," Boaler said.
Go to youcubed.org to find math tasks, online courses, research papers, discussions and more.
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