Among Industrialized Nations, US Teens Lag Far Behind in Math Concepts

A University of Arizona professor says the United States can do better at teaching children math and teaching them how to solve real-life math problems.

Fifteen-year-olds in America performed below the international average in math literacy and problem-solving. That's according to the latest results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), whose report compares the performance of the students' peers from 38 other developed countries in specific content such as space and shape, change and relationships, quantity, and uncertainty.

The three nations whose 15-year-olds scored highest in problem-solving were Korea, Finland, and Japan. Those same three countries were joined at the top by the Netherlands in the area of math literacy. University of Arizona math professor William McCallum says the results point to a need for higher standards and a higher-quality teaching force in the subject as it is taught in America.

“There's a debate at the moment in mathematics education between what the best approach is,” the instructor explains. “My attitude is that everybody who has an idea for how to make math education better should give it a go — as long as we pay attention to how it's going and make sure that it's not making things worse. I think it's worth trying lots of different things.”

McCallum says teachers need to give their students some understanding of the underlying ideas of mathematics, and also teach them to perform procedures of mathematics.

“Some people focus too much on lots of exercises developing understanding, but they never get to teaching kids how to do some of the basic procedures,” he says. “Other teachers do the opposite of that — they focus too much on lots of memorization of procedures. So kids learn how to do those but they don't understand what they're doing.”

According to the international survey, male 15-year-olds outperformed female 15-year-olds in mathematics literacy in the US.

(This article courtesy of Agape Press).

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