Math isn't hard, it's just a language  Randy Palisoc  TEDxManhattanBeach

0:14  0:1826% on the nation's report card,

0:18  0:21that's the percentage
of U.S. 12th graders 
0:21  0:24who are proficient in Math.

0:24  0:28In America, we pride ourselves
as being an exceptional country. 
0:28  0:32But does 26% sound exceptional to you?

0:33  0:37Raise your hand if you think as a country
we need to do way better than this. 
0:38  0:41I'm with you.

0:41  0:44We all need Math, but why
are so many kids confused by it? 
0:45  0:48Is it because only 26% of people
are hardwired for Math, 
0:48  0:52while 74% are not?

0:52  0:55After working with thousands of kids,
I can tell you, 
0:55  0:57this isn't the case at all.

0:57  0:59Kids don't understand Math

0:59  1:03because we've been teaching it
as a dehumanized subject. 
1:03  1:07But if we make Math human again,
it will start to make sense again. 
1:08  1:10You're probably wondering:

1:10  1:12"How was Math ever human
in the first place?" 
1:12  1:14So, think about it.

1:14  1:15(Laughter)

1:15  1:20Math is a human language,
just like English, Spanish or Chinese, 
1:20  1:23because it allows people
to communicate with each other. 
1:23  1:27Even in ancient times,
people needed the language of Math 
1:27  1:30to conduct trade, to build monuments,

1:30  1:33and to measure the land for farming.

1:33  1:36This idea of Math as a language
isn't exactly new. 
1:37  1:39A great philosopher once said:

1:40  1:44"The laws of nature are written
in the language of mathematics." 
1:44  1:48So you see?
Even Galileo agrees with me. 
1:48  1:49(Laughter)

1:49  1:51But somewhere along the line,

1:51  1:53we've taken this language of math,

1:53  1:55which is about the real world around us,

1:55  1:57and we've abstracted it
beyond recognition. 
1:57  1:59And that's why kids are confused.

1:59  2:02Let me show you what I mean.

2:02  2:06Read this 3rd grade
California Math Standard 
2:06  2:09and see if it would make sense
to an eight yearold. 
2:09  2:13"Understand a fraction 1/b
as the quantity formed by 1 part 
2:13  2:16when a whole is partitioned
into b equal parts." 
2:16  2:19Understand the fraction a/b

2:19  2:22as the quantity formed
by a parts of size 1/b. 
2:22  2:24(Laughter)

2:24  2:27And if you gave this description
to an 8 yearold, 
2:27  2:30you'd probably get a reaction...
like this. 
2:30  2:34(Laughter)

2:34  2:38To a Math expert,
this standard makes sense, 
2:38  2:43But to a kid, it's absolute torture.

2:43  2:45I chose this example
specifically because fractions 
2:45  2:50are fundational to algebra,
trigonometry and even calculus. 
2:50  2:54So if kids don't understand fractions
in elementary and middle school, 
2:54  2:57they have a tough road
ahead of them in highschool 
2:57  3:04But is there a way to make fractions
simple and easy for kids to understand? 
3:04  3:05Yes!

3:05  3:09Just remember that Math is a language
and use that to your advantage. 
3:10  3:14For example, when I teach 5th graders
how to add and subtract fractions, 
3:14  3:17I start with the apples + apples lesson.

3:17  3:21First I ask,
"What's 1 apple plus 1 apple?" 
3:21  3:24And kids will often say 2,
which is partially correct. 
3:25  3:28Have them include the words as well
since math is a language. 
3:28  3:32So it's not just 2, it's 2 apples.

3:32  3:36Next is 3 pencils plus 2 pencils.

3:36  3:39You all know that pencils + pencils
give you pencils, 
3:39  3:41so everyone, how many pencils?

3:41  3:43Audience: 5 pencils.

3:43  3:455 pencils is right.

3:45  3:48And the key is you included the words.

3:48  3:51I tried this lesson
with my 5yearold niece once. 
3:51  3:54After she added pencils and pencils,
I asked her, 
3:54  3:58"What's 4 billion plus 1 billion?"

3:58  4:02And my aunt overheard this
and she scolded me and said, 
4:02  4:04"Are you crazy? She's in kindergarten!

4:04  4:08How's she supposed to know
4 billion plus 1 billion?!" 
4:08  4:09(Laughter)

4:09  4:13Undaunted, my niece finishes counting,
looks up and says: 
4:13  4:14"5 billion?"

4:14  4:19And I said:
"That is right, it is 5 billion." 
4:19  4:21My aunt just shook her head and laughed

4:21  4:23because she did not expect that
from a 5yearold. 
4:23  4:26But all you have to do
is take a language approach 
4:26  4:29and Math becomes intuitive
and easy to understand. 
4:30  4:32Then I asked her a question

4:32  4:36that kindergartners
are definitely not supposed to know: 
4:36  4:39"What's one third plus one third?"

4:39  4:42And immediately she answered:
"2 thirds". 
4:42  4:47So if you're wondering
how could she possibly know that 
4:47  4:50when she doesn't know about
numerators and denominators yet? 
4:50  4:54You see, she wasn't thinking
about numerators and denominators. 
4:54  4:57She thought of the problem this way.

4:57  5:01And she used 1 apple + 1 apple
as her analogy 
5:01  5:05to understand 1 third plus 1 third.

5:05  5:08So if even a kidergartner
can add fractions, 
5:08  5:12you better believe that
every 5th grader can do it as well. 
5:12  5:19(Applause)

5:19  5:23Just for fun, I asked her
a highschool algebra question: 
5:23  5:27What's 7 x² plus 2 x²?

5:27  5:30And this little 5yearold girl
correctly answered, 
5:30  5:329 x².

5:32  5:37And she didn't need any exponent rules
to figure that out. 
5:37  5:41So when people say that we are
either hardwired for math or not, 
5:41  5:42it's not true.

5:42  5:45Math is a human language,

5:45  5:48so we all have the ability
to understand it. 
5:48  5:52(Laughter)

5:52  5:54We need to take a language
approach to math urgently 
5:54  5:58because too many kids are lost
and are anxious about math 
5:58  6:00and it doesn't have to be that way!

6:00  6:04I worked with an angry,
frustrated highschool student once 
6:04  6:06who couldn't pass algebra

6:06  6:10because she only knew 44%
of her multiplication facts. 
6:10  6:12I told her,

6:12  6:17"That's like trying to read
and only knowing 44% of the alphabet. 
6:17  6:18It's holding you back."

6:18  6:24She couldn't factor or solve equations
and she had no confidence in Math. 
6:24  6:28As a result, this teenager
had no confidence in herself. 
6:28  6:32I told her,
"We have to start with multiplication 
6:32  6:35because once you know all your facts
by heart, everything gets easier, 
6:35  6:39and it'll be like having a fast pass
to every ride of Disneyland." 
6:39  6:40(Laughter)

6:40  6:41What do you think?"

6:41  6:43And she said "Ok."

6:43  6:48So she systematically learned
her times tables in 4 weeks 
6:48  6:52and yes, even multiplication
has language embedded in it. 
6:52  6:57You'd be surprised how many kids
don't realize 7 times 3 
6:57  7:01can be spelled out as "seven times" 3,

7:01  7:05which just means 3 seven times,
just like this. 
7:05  7:08So when kids see it this way,

7:08  7:12they quickly realize
that repeated addition 
7:12  7:15is slow and inconvenient,

7:15  7:20so they gladly memorize
that 3 seven times always gives you 21. 
7:21  7:25So for this teenager
who was at risk of dropping out, 
7:25  7:28becoming fluent
and confident in multiplication 
7:28  7:30was a game changer.

7:30  7:34Because for the first time
she could focus on problem solving 
7:34  7:37instead of counting on her fingers.

7:37  7:39I knew she had turned the corner

7:39  7:42when she figured out
that a 2year car lease 
7:42  7:48at $445 a month
would cost you $10,680 
7:49  7:51and she looked at me disapprovingly
and said: 
7:51  7:54"Mr Polisoc, that's expensive!"

7:54  7:58(Laughter)

7:58  8:03At that moment, math was no longer
causing problems for her, 
8:03  8:09but she was using math to solve problems
as a responsible adult would. 
8:09  8:14As an educator, it's my duty
to challenge kids to reach higher, 
8:14  8:18so I leave you with this challenge.

8:18  8:23Our country is stuck at 26% proficiency,

8:23  8:26and I challenge you
to push that number higher. 
8:26  8:31This is important because mathematical
thinking not only builds young minds, 
8:31  8:37but our kids need it to imagine
and build a future that doesn't yet exist. 
8:37  8:43Meeting this challenge can be
as simple as apples + apples. 
8:43  8:46Insist that we teach Math
as a human language 
8:46  8:50and we will get there sooner,
rather than later. 
8:50  8:51Thank you!

8:51  8:53(Applause)
 Title:
 Math isn't hard, it's just a language  Randy Palisoc  TEDxManhattanBeach
 Description:

This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences.
Randy Palisoc is a passionate educator, known for making math easy. He shares his solution: teach math as a language. Putting words back into math lessons enables even the youngest schoolage minds to grasp complex concepts such as fractions.  Video Language:
 English
 Team:
 TED
 Project:
 TEDxTalks
 Duration:
 08:55
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