Boston — As any ninth-grader knows, math teachers are not to be trifled with. And math teachers, rather quiet since the introduction of a new math curriculum in the 1960s, are once again beginning to stir. They are issuing press releases, using such words as "urgent" and "crisis."
It may astound some junior and senior high schoolers, as well as many fifth-graders meeting fractions for the first time, to discover that math teachers don't think the math being taught in US schools is hard enough. These intrepid teachers don't think students take enough math or spend enough time in the classes.
If the National council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) has its way, and it probably will in college-preparatory programs in both public and private schools , there will be much more teaching of math using calculators and computers.
And more math will be problem-related. True, students will still probably have to add, subtract, multiply, and divide with some degree of accuracy and speed, but the general feeling among math teachers is that the problems that students work with should be "real" ones and not just practice exercises.
While the latest information from the NCTM mentions the need for "more effective and efficient" teachers of mathematics, little is said about the depths of the problem.
If rote learning is to be further pushed aside, and if students are to be encouraged to think through problems of some complexity, then clearly the teachers of such students must be able to do similar analytic thinking using advanced mathematical concepts.
In other words, teachers should be able to do more than assign word problems, correcting them with the use of the answer book. To quote from the math teachers' group:
"Since there are usually multiple approaches to all but the most trivial problems, not all students should be expected to proceed in the same way. Value should be placed on a thoughtful and productive approach, not solely on a single correct answer."
Further, the council is calling for a minimum of three years of math in secondary school, instead of the two now generally required.
The council recommendations call for fundamental changes in teaching ability, textbook material, course design, and the use of computing devices. Finally, to keep teachers of math in the schools and out of industry, the NCTM recommends incentive pay boosts.
Watch out, ninth-graders, your math teacher may be on the warpath.