The Most Valuable Math Resource

March 15, 2019

Exemplary math lessons occur in edifices ranging from brand new to over a century old.  Their windows face cornfields, boarded up storefronts, McMansion developments, and bucolic campus estates.  Although the neighborhoods, economic resources, and standardized test scores vary, these schools are bound by exceptional communities, which produce the elusive educational outcome:  Potential Realized.

I have much to learn about successful academic institutions, but ten years as an elementary mathematics teacher trainer has given me the opportunity to work with over 300 public, private, rural, urban, and suburban schools.  I’ve learned that educational ideology varies greatly from institution to institution, but maximizing each of its students’ academic potential seems to be a universal goal, even if the priorities, philosophies, and methodologies to attain it differ.

Working inside a spectrum of schools has shaped my educational philosophies and – because of the profession’s plasticity – I assume they will continue evolving for as long as I’m teaching students and/or training teachers.  For now, my experiences have led me to conclude:  Great mathematics teaching and learning can take place in most American classrooms, because the nature of the subject is less dependent on economic resources and more reliant on school size, school culture, teacher training, and parenting.

Vast libraries bolster Language Arts and Social Studies, but provide little advantage when learning math.  Superior Science instruction requires laboratories and sophisticated equipment, but pencils, paper, and a few simple manipulatives are more than adequate for meaningful math lessons.  Up-to-date technology enhances most subjects, but often restricts Math instruction (see The Reality of Interactive White Boards).

Human brains, which are abundant in every American classroom, are the central resource of great mathematics instruction and learning.  The challenge facing all schools is how to best develop its latent power.  Doing so is both exciting and necessary.  If cultivated well, mathematics education can be a catalyst for narrowing the achievement gap and in turn creating a more enlightened citizenry and just society.