I feel fairly passionate about mathematics and what instruction should look like in our elementary classrooms. I just read an opinion article titled, "Make Your Daughter Practice Math. She'll Thank You Later" and I'm fairly sure that I disagree with the author's opinion. The author, Barbara Oakley, asserts that boys and girls are equally talented at mathematics. She said that girls, on the one hand, have an edge in English Language Arts and that due to this edge, they begin to think that their math is weak. This is not the case. It is just that ELA comes easily and math requires a little more work. Boys, on the other hand, feel that their math is the stronger of their two subjects and they are willing to work hard at it because they feel confident in their abilities. I'm okay with all of this. Fine.
I begin to disagree when she writes that, "Unfortunately, the way math is generally taught in the United States — which often downplays practice in favor of emphasizing conceptual understanding — can make this vicious circle even worse for girls."
I truly believe that deep conceptual understanding is at the core of all learning. To suggest that girls should practice, practice, practice in the absence of understanding rubs me the wrong way. Now I know, she didn't quite say it that way. I inferred that she thinks understanding concepts should be downplayed more and practice should be emphasized more. Hmmm.
I believe an education that emphasizes drill and practice does not respect a student's ability to make sense of math. This is insulting because it implies that students should simply memorize facts and procedures and that understanding the concepts is less important. I value a student's ability to think. Developing this ability is a priority in my classroom. In addition, why should I spend their precious learning time teaching them to memorize procedures that can be easily carried out by using the tech tools. that are intuitive to them? This author also criticizes a focus on fun. Fun in math class is not frivolous. It can come from solving meaningful problems, struggling in a way that is productive, and enjoying the satisfaction that comes with sticking to it and making meaning. Also, game play can achieve the same results as drill without the nasty side effect...loathing math. Fact fluency, which is different than memorization, is the goal I hold for my students. I want my students to be able to quickly and efficiently access their facts. I want them to have a conceptual understanding. I want them to be able to decompose numbers and to recognize relationships in mathematics. I want them to represent their thinking with models and to be able to make connections between their models and other effective models. This is a loftier goal than memorization.
I'm happy that Barbara Oakley found a path to success and that she is enjoying a career in engineering. I just don't think that her path is what is best for most students and I certainly don't think that it is best for girls. Girls are capable. Girls are smart. Girls can make sense of math. Girls deserve better.
But you should form your own opinion. Read Barbara Oakley's opinion here.