### New Teaching Method Improves Math Skills

#### Posted by Simon Willerton

My attention was grabbed by the following press release from the University of Florida: New Teaching Method Improves Math Skills, Closes Gender Gap in Young Students.

It begins with an overview.

When early elementary math teachers ask students to explain their problem-solving strategies and then tailor instruction to address specific gaps in their understanding, students learn significantly more than those taught using a more traditional approach. This was the conclusion of a yearlong study of nearly 5,000 kindergarten and first-grade students conducted by researchers at Florida State University.

I was rather surprised that trying to figure out what a student does and does not understand counts as a new teaching method.

[The researchers] drew upon research demonstrating that the learning of mathematics is facilitated when teachers gain deeper insights into what their students already know and are able to do as well as what students do not know and are unable to do. Teachers gather these insights through careful observation and by engaging students in discussions of their mathematical thinking.

The question that jumps out here is “If this is a revolutionary insight then what is the more traditional approach to teaching maths?” Well, apparently it’s that

teachers typically rely heavily on a math textbook to guide the planning of day-to-day instruction and often provide students feedback only on whether their answers are correct.

I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised by this as, thinking closer to home, this ‘traditional approach’ can also be found at higher levels and I often encounter a perception that maths is just about getting the right answer.

The system that has been developed is called the Mathematics Formative Assessment System (MFAS) and details are available on the MFAS website. I can only wish good luck to the people involved in this.

Posted at September 19, 2013 12:48 PM UTC
## Re: New Teaching Method Improves Math Skills

The problem being tackled may be that the many of the school teachers have, themselves, the idea that maths is just about getting the `right’ answer and their own perception of mathematics is very stunted. They do not understand mathematics and, moreover, do not have an idea as to what it means to understand mathematics. (I think that there are several subjects other that maths for which the same is true.)

The real shame is that this is thought of as being a new teaching method!