Math Literacy - Why it is so Important to Our Children
As parents, we try to imagine our children in the future and we hope they will have rich and productive lives. We work hard to help them develop the tools and skills they will need to be happy, confident, productive adults. But if we consider how much the world has changed since we were kids, it's hard to imagine what it will be like when they are grown. How can we ensure they'll be equipped to thrive in that world?
In this new century, math literacy is the door to a wide range of critical jobs in science, engineering, medicine, technology — any field that's impacted by innovation and change. A survey of Fortune 500 companies conducted ten years ago found that the job skills most valued were teamwork, problem solving, interpersonal skills, and listening skills. These were more valued than basic knowledge skills such as reading and computation!
The New Math Basics
Changes in the workplace have created changes in education. Math teaching is increasingly focused on problem-solving. This doesn't mean that the old basics like memorizing math facts and learning standard methods of computation are no longer important — they are still key building blocks of math. But by themselves they aren't sufficient to prepare our students for a changing world. Our children will need to be able to adapt quickly to a dynamic environment, with the skills, flexibility, and logical thinking that will help them to compete in a global market.
When taught as problem solving, math can help children develop the critical thinking that's essential for a successful, productive life. That's because learning how to problem solve develops children's mental flexibility, independence of thought, self-esteem, and the ability to persevere. For example, when struggling to solve a problem, we'd want our child to say, "This strategy doesn't work; let me try a different way." Or "This is hard work, but I know I can solve it if I stick with it because I've solved problems before." Or "This is hard, but I'm not going to give up!" A child who has confidence in her own ideas might say, "It's okay if I don't agree with the group; there's more than one way to solve a problem."
Although mathematics is a specific area of knowledge, the kind of thinking developed in mathematics can be applied in all facets of life. Math teaching now emphasizes problem solving, developing and evaluating mathematical arguments, and being able to communicate one's ideas.1 One might think of these as the new basics, the critical tools needed in the 21st century.
The Teachers at DreamBox Learning
1. National Council of Teacher of Mathematics. 2000. Principles and Standards for School mathematics. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
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