What Matters about Math 98:365×2

Math is quickly becoming an afterthought at my current school.  During a recent PD for writing we talked about how much time I would be expected to devote to Language Arts instruction during the day.  I thought sure, Language Arts is a pretty comprehensive subject, Math is less so…

Then I thought about that again.  Math is a brain exercise that builds ingenuity.  Much criticism has been levied at the perceived ideals of “Common Core Math” in recent months.  I want to slow that down a minute to say one very important thing: STOP!

While there are problems that arise with the CCSS and some I see with Math as well as ELA, what matters about Math is this: Math enables us to take many paths to the same exact location.  While Language Arts gives us many paths, we all frequently end up in different places through our own interpretations and experiences.  Becoming skilled at Math is to become stilled at identifying the path, not the answer.

Often we are focussed so much on the answers in Math because they are exact, unyielding universals that tell us 27+27=54.  The answer is 54.  But, the path is the amazing thing.  There are several different paths I can take to solve this problem.  (Read that over again out loud) Now think about what you just said, my solution does not have one path, but many.  In the real world solutions are not often single paths upon which we either follow or stray.  The road is winding and though we still aim at the same end, our paths in getting their will often be remarkably different.

Building the skills to create children that can identify the paths and not just the answer, is a very powerful thing.  For our sake, for the sake of our children, teaching math is crucial.  It is not because we may find ourselves in some dire circumstance where we don’t have access to a calculator or phone (as @johnwick puts it, if that is the case I have bigger problems than needing a calculator) but because we need to see the many paths ahead of us.  It is easy to find a divergent path when the end place is less important than the journey.  It is much more difficult to find the varied paths on the way to a fixed location.  Knowing I want to achieve X and then determining the various roads and their pros/cons is why Math is so important.  Don’t short change your students, don’t explain math as something we do just in case we can’t reach our phone!

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