By the year 2020, 5 million technology jobs in the US alone will go unfilled. This means that a child who is interested in science, technology, education, and mathematics will have a much better chance at working in a lucrative career than one who studies more general subjects
Mathematics: A Universal Language
While it is possible to point to tangible evidence of the application of science, engineering, or technology in the real world, mathematics is abstract. It’s hard to pin down the value of precision, and harder to romanticise numbers and make them interesting for children.
Yet, mathematics is the closest thing we have to a universal language. A student who solves an Order of Operations problem in China will get the same answer as a student in Brazil.
The Middle School Years
In Middle School, children are developing independent thinking, experiencing strong emotions, and forming strong social connections. It is the perfect time to get them interested in math.
Independent Critical Thinking
Middle School is a time of growing confidence because children are developing critical thinking about new situations and contexts.
Preadolescence appears to be a time of emotional extremes, where everything is either loved or hated and where everything is judged as either good or bad. At this developmental stage, feelings are strong for everything, including math. Since it’s a transitional age when children are nervously trying to cope with change, parents and teachers should cultivate a growth mindset that connects math to real life. Now is a good opportunity to take advantage of an “all or nothing” attitude.
This is a time when the opinion of peers takes on great importance. In the desire to feel part of the crowd, children will either accept or reject character values that will help or hurt them in later life. It’s a good time for a child to connect with a community of peers interested in math.
Why the Common Core was Necessary
Educators developed the Common Core because US students are doing poorly in a number of subjects, especially in mathematics, compared to other countries around the world.
Unfortunately, the statistics are rather grim. Out of 100 middle school students, 93 are interested in going to college, but only 70 will graduate from high school. Then, out of these high school graduates, only 44 will enroll in college, and out of these college students, only 26 will earn a degree.
In past eras, success in life and a college education were not necessarily correlated. Character and hard work could often make up the difference, but now we are entering a knowledge era. Consequently, those who are less educated will earn far less than those who are well-educated.
However, not all education is equal. Those who have a good grasp of mathematical and scientific thinking will number among those who prosper in the coming decades.
The reason why the common core curriculum was developed was because of this grim educational scenario. While firms like edulastic.com are making it easier to embrace this new initiative, parents and teachers also have to do their part in encouraging a growth mindset — and middle school appears to be the best time to do it.
Why Most People Dislike Math
Mathematics is not a popular subject. Ironically, this much-maligned subject is no more difficult than any other subject. You rarely see its value championed anywhere, yet plenty of antagonism for it. The reason for this is that as a culture, we see quality and talk about it, but view quantity as less interesting.
We often have little to say about quantitative values, as quality is something that lends itself to ample description. Quality can be vivified in all sorts of ways. Consequently, most educational, entertainment and commercial messages focus on the qualitative elements of something, rather than its qualitative side.
While developing an appreciation for the qualitative value of things is important, of course, this does not mean that quantity is not important.
How to Interest Children in Maths
One way to interest children in quantity is to show them the relationship between quantity and their favorite sports heroes.
Here are two examples:
Michael Jordan is often reckoned to be the greatest basketball player to have ever lived. However, this is not because of the artistry of his air shots but because of his mind-boggling sports statistics. It is his filmed air shots that capture our attention rather than a long-drawn out review of his statistics.
Similarly, after watching several Olympics, we consider Usain Bolt a better runner than Tyson Gay. Again, this is simply because of the mathematics of the sports. It is the look of ecstasy that Bolt has when passing his rivals that freezes in our imagination rather than a full appreciation of the mathematics of how he is the fastest man on earth.
Highlighting the value of math in these contexts will bring about a greater appreciation for numbers in children.