In the movie “Stop and get it,“Teacher Jaime Escalante tells his students with a majority minority and low income:“ You already have two blows against you: your name and the color of your face. Because of these two strikes, there are people in this world who think you know less than you know. ”
He added encouraging words that still sound today: “Mathematics is a great equalizer.”
Unfortunately, this concept did not live up to its promise for many students from blacks, Hispanics and Indigenous people. Although young children have a natural instinct for mathematics, poor learning experiences hinder the development of their abilities and impair their ability to pursue a STEM-oriented career.
The problem begins in elementary school, with math content does not allow children to see mathematical connections and consistency. And these early experiences become a major barrier, preventing students from learning more advanced math in senior classes. Another factor is the lack of opportunities for primary school mathematics teachers to deepen their understanding of the content they teach.
Our ability to ensure that “math is a great equalizer” depends on what changes we make in elementary school
The problem is not the lack of programs and policy initiatives aimed at increasing the talent of blacks, Hispanics and Indigenous people in the STEM workforce; it is something that few programs recognize that the problem begins in elementary school with these fragmented mathematical ideas.
As an example we will take fractions. Young children will not learn that fractions are points on a number line, just like integers. They don’t learn that fractions are also numbers and that everything they learn about integers is one hundred percent carried over to the study of fractions.
So instead of making money on the young children’s mathematical instincts and by giving them the opportunity to appreciate the beauty and power of how mathematical ideas relate to each other, we teach them to treat fractions as a completely different “animal” from integers.
Similarly, elementary school children do not have the ability to see that if we use a symbol (whether a, b, c or x, y, z) to denote a number, we can do the same with the symbols as we did with the numbers. Symbolic expressions extend mathematical thinking from arithmetic (specific examples) to algebra (general).
When these children move on to learning more advanced math in the senior grades, this poor math base in elementary school often causes a vicious circle in which poor preparation leads to poor performance, which in turn negatively affects self-confidence and self-esteem. and causes self-doubt, which can eventually lead to a complete loss of interest in mathematics.
If we want to develop the talent of blacks, Hispanics and Indigenous people for the STEM workforce, we need to start early. The mathematical content that feeds young children should be rigorous and create equipment for mathematical ideas from arithmetic to algebra.
First, teacher training and education programs should be systematically focused on elementary school math content instead of enrolling college-level math courses as training content.
Second, professional development should deepen the understanding of content and enable teachers to work with real students in real classrooms.
Third, mathematical content must be both rigorous and accessible to school-age children. Key elementary school math ideas need to connect and build on each other as children go through each class, as the author Hong Xi Wu points out in his new book: “Understanding elementary school math numbers.”
These three proposed solutions will only be possible with the support of the research community of mathematics education and government policymakers who regulate accreditation requirements. These groups need to make sure that the requirements for elementary school math teachers focus on the content they will actually be teaching.
This means asking math education researchers to emphasize the link between elementary school math education and the ability of students in the future to build STEM-oriented careers.
Researchers in math education and politics have a huge responsibility to ensure that children of blacks, Hispanics and Indigenous people receive a high-quality math education. Our ability to ensure that “math is a great equalizer” depends on what changes we make in elementary school – followed by a growing demand for advanced math and science courses in middle and / or middle schools for black, Hispanic and Native students. .
And once we’ve solved the problems in K-12, we need to keep going. We also need to reduce the number of black, Hispanic and Native students in development courses or remedial math courses in college, and we need to encourage more black, Hispanic and Native students to earn STEM majors and eventually enter the STEM workforce.
A STEM career offers the fastest way to increase social mobility. Let’s make sure that children of blacks, Hispanics and Indigenous people get a quality math education in primary school so that they have an equal chance of participating in a STEM career.
Xiaosia Newton is an associate professor at Cato College of Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
This piece is about elementary school mathematics was produced Hechinger’s report, a non-profit independent information organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Subscribe to Hechinger Bulletin.