“You can’t just memorize your way through math anymore,” said Yancey, who’s given up the traditional “talk and chalk” lecture approach to teaching math. Students in her classroom are required to work in teams, where they often discover there’s more than one way to solve a problem.
“They can watch me do a procedure on the board and do the exact same thing, but that’s not learning,” Yancey said. “That’s like telling them to watch me dismantle a bomb under a car, then expecting them to do it by themselves.”
The need for such solutions is more widespread than the campuses of IUPUI and Ivy Tech. High school students throughout the United States are struggling in math compared to their counterparts in other developed nations, according to a report just released by the Program for International Student Assessment. American students were close to average in science in reading but ranked 26th — among students in 34 countries — in math.
Berkopes, at IUPUI’s math center, groans at such reports.
“In the U.S., we think math skills are genetic,” he said. “You hear people joke, ‘I’m not a math person’ or ‘I can’t do math’ or ‘I can’t balance my checkbook.’ But you don’t hear the same people making jokes about how ‘I can’t read’ or ‘I don’t read too well.’”
“Math is a cultural thing here, where it’s okay to be bad at it,” he said. “I don’t know how that got started.”
The barrier is ingrained, indeed. A poll conducted for the non-profit Change the Equation, an organization funded by large U.S. corporations to boost the nation’s math skills, found that nearly a third of Americans say they would rather clean the bathroom than solve a math problem.