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Math = Boring? Maybe Not.

Math = Boring? Maybe NotA new article in the New York Times this week pointed out a staggering statistic:

Nearly 90 percent of high school graduates say they’re not interested in a career or a college major involving science, technology, engineering or math, known collectively as STEM, according to a survey of more than a million students who take the ACT test. 

And as the NYT continues on to mention, the drop in students interested in STEM coincides with a time when the need for workers in STEM is soaring. Not a great thing for industries (like manufacturing) where workers with STEM skills are always needed.

A lot of this has to do with the fact that many students think that math is boring. Teachers who aren’t passionate about math teach students outdated curricula, creating a viscous cycle where far fewer students are interested in STEM than society requires.

So how can we help students succeed in STEM?

Here are a few recommendations for showing students that math doesn’t have to be boring:

  • Update the curricula. Easily the biggest problem with the way that math and STEM are taught today is the curricula being used in educational institutions all around the country. Outdated methods (many of which are still in use across the United States) don’t help as much as they should, and even with the rise of new methods of teaching, not nearly enough schools actually implement new methods of teaching that have been shown to be successful. This will likely be the most difficult hurdle to overcome, but if we really want to future-proof our educational system, updating curricula is the first place we should start.
  • Bring in teachers who are passionate about STEM. Joel Parkes, an educator from Los Angeles, said the following in response to the NYT article mention in our intro: “As a teacher in secondary school, I see math being taught in outmoded ways by teachers who are not passionate about teaching it.” We can’t expect students to be passionate about a subject that their teachers don’t care about. This is very closely tied to national curricula, but instead of relying on teachers with little passion for math and STEM to instill an educational foundation in young students, we need to bring in people who actually care about math. The things we learn at a young age stick with us for a very long time, so creating a good first impression is essential.
  • Tie in teaching to real-world examples. Also related to the way math is taught today, instead of dealing solely in hypotheticals and other uninteresting fictional examples, we should instead focus on tying math into real-world examples. Architecture, computers/technology, music, and other creative mediums are all great ways to tie math into ‘cool,’ exciting real-life examples, which is essential if we want students to believe and know that math has value outside of the classroom.
  • Push extracurricular programs which place an emphasis on STEM. One of the best ways to stress math and STEM skills (and show that they’re not boring) actually takes place outside of the classroom. From science and technology clubs in school to programs like the Maker initiative, which encourages students to complete projects that help hone STEM skills, math doesn’t have to be confined just to the classroom. Such programs are again a way to show that math has ties to real life–and what better way to learn about physics than creating a trebuchet and launching eggs?

Obviously, some of these solutions for showing that math and other STEM skills aren’t actually boring are easier than others. It’s much easier to focus on extracurricular activities for students than it is to change curricula nationwide, for example.

But that doesn’t mean that we should give up.

At a time where there are hundreds of thousands of job openings in manufacturing (not to mention the many other industries where STEM skills are a necessity), shifting our focus more towards STEM education is absolutely essential. Math doesn’t have to be boring, and we all have to stop acting like it is.

While we may have a long ways to go, this is certainly a goal that we should all be pursuing. Not only for the future of our economy, but also just because STEM and math can be absolutely awesome when taught in the right circumstances. And who could disagree with that?

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

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