Movie Review: Why are America’s Students Failing at Math?

It is not a difficult question to answer, a lot of students hate math. I know “hate” is a strong word, but when some children are asked about math, they start to sweat, shut down, and avoid math at all costs, due to negative experiences in the past. Traditionally math has been taught as a stressful environment, with a 600 page textbook (a quarter of which seems to get covered during the term), lecture format, difficult textbook assignments, even harder tests, and a letter grade at the end of the term. Not only does this method of teaching math sound frightening to most, it is ineffective. Currently, the U.S. ranks near rock bottom in worldwide math test scores.
The movie, “The Biggest Story Problem,” written and directed by Scott Laidlaw and Jennifer Lightwood, is determined to focus on ineffective math education in the U.S. and provide solutions to get the U.S. back on track. The movie features teachers from around the country, from Roots and Wings Community School in New Mexico to Florida Virtual School in Florida, the first virtual school in the U.S. These teachers are determined to find alternative ways to engage their students in math and turn their attention to countries that excel in math education, like Finland. A turning point in the film comes during a teacher development retreat, when the group of teachers commit to making math more engaging, deeper learning process through the use of interactive computer games in the classroom.
The schools featured in the film, adopt a software platform called Ko’s Journey, created by Scott Laidlaw. Scott, with the help of his team, created the computer game, seeking to bring his creative in-class math games to other poor and underperforming schools across the nation. With the help of the Hewlett and Gates Foundations, Scott received a grant and has been working hard to get these school equipped with their technology. The new technology has mixed results from the beginning, but the teachers in these low income schools are determined to change the way math is taught.
“The Biggest Story Problem is an independent documentary film examining the sudden drop in math scores and competency seen as students in the U.S. transition from primary to secondary schools. From a global perspective, American students typically score above average in elementary school, yet the United States ranks in the bottom tier of math scores for 15 year-old students. This dramatic drop in competency has been attributed to a “crowded curriculum” that’s “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Yet, despite these concerns, middle school math curriculum has yet to truly change,” ( Please see the video clip below for a preview of the film or click here for more information.


Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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