Developing a Deep Understanding of Math

“All students should develop a deep understanding of mathematics,” said Matthew Peterson, CEO of MIND Research Institute, “and when they do we’ll see problem solving and innovation at levels that we can’t imagine today.”

MIND hosted a STEM conference in Phoenix yesterday (#AZSTEM) kicked off by former AZ senator and WY chief Rich Crandall. Amy Wang of the Arizona Republic moderated the event.

“There are two different subjects taught in our schools, both called mathematics, said Ted Coe, Director of Math at Achieve. Coe provided animated examples of the real problem solving we do every day and the memorization of procedures common in many classrooms.

“Heard of the zone of proximal development?” said Peterson, “It’s wrong.” He argued that rather than smooth and easy progressions it’s important to periodically give students something “that is way too hard for them, problems they are not equipped to solve.” Peterson said, “In a supported environment students learn from their mistakes,” and when they succeed, “it’s better than fun, it’s exhilaration.”

Peterson said rules and procedures (e.g., righty tighty, lefty loosey) may be useful to memorize and right most of the time but teaching math is more about understanding concepts than memorizing rules. “Learning by doing” said Peterson, “is part of an action-perception cycle.” The goal, he said, is for “students to develop a deep understanding in math.”

The learning-by-doing theme was reinforced by Dr. Jo Anne Vasquez of the Phoenix-based Helios Education Foundation.

Peterson demonstrated the critical thinking and supported hypothesis testing embedded in game-based ST Math. He modeled the importance of learning through failure.

 While there are thousands of teachers promoting deep understanding, the challenge, according to Peterson is creating ways to promote deeper learning at scale.

Tom Vander Ark said that STEM education benefits from teachers and leaders that embrace an innovation mindset. He gave examples of district leadership efforts that combine vision and empowerment–leadership from the top and full engagement of teacher leaders. 

Peterson said that hosting a fun family math night was a great way to build a positive problem-solving STEM culture.


MIND Research Institute is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner

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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