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

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Showing Revision 13 created 12/12/2014 by Ariana Bleau Lugo.

  1. 26% on the nation's report card,

  2. that's the percentage
    of U.S. 12th graders
  3. who are proficient in Math.
  4. In America, we pride ourselves
    as being an exceptional country.
  5. But does 26% sound exceptional to you?
  6. Raise your hand if you think as a country
    we need to do way better than this.
  7. I'm with you.
  8. We all need Math, but why
    are so many kids confused by it?
  9. Is it because only 26% of people
    are hardwired for Math,
  10. while 74% are not?
  11. After working with thousands of kids,
    I can tell you,
  12. this isn't the case at all.
  13. Kids don't understand Math
  14. because we've been teaching it
    as a dehumanized subject.
  15. But if we make Math human again,
    it will start to make sense again.
  16. You're probably wondering:
  17. "How was Math ever human
    in the first place?"
  18. So, think about it.
  19. (Laughter)
  20. Math is a human language,
    just like English, Spanish or Chinese,
  21. because it allows people
    to communicate with each other.
  22. Even in ancient times,
    people needed the language of Math
  23. to conduct trade, to build monuments,
  24. and to measure the land for farming.
  25. This idea of Math as a language
    isn't exactly new.
  26. A great philosopher once said:
  27. "The laws of nature are written
    in the language of mathematics."
  28. So you see?
    Even Galileo agrees with me.
  29. (Laughter)
  30. But somewhere along the line,
  31. we've taken this language of math,
  32. which is about the real world around us,
  33. and we've abstracted it
    beyond recognition.
  34. And that's why kids are confused.
  35. Let me show you what I mean.
  36. Read this 3rd grade
    California Math Standard
  37. and see if it would make sense
    to an eight year-old.
  38. "Understand a fraction 1/b
    as the quantity formed by 1 part
  39. when a whole is partitioned
    into b equal parts."
  40. Understand the fraction a/b
  41. as the quantity formed
    by a parts of size 1/b.
  42. (Laughter)
  43. And if you gave this description
    to an 8 year-old,
  44. you'd probably get a reaction...
    like this.
  45. (Laughter)
  46. To a Math expert,
    this standard makes sense,
  47. But to a kid, it's absolute torture.
  48. I chose this example
    specifically because fractions
  49. are fundational to algebra,
    trigonometry and even calculus.
  50. So if kids don't understand fractions
    in elementary and middle school,
  51. they have a tough road
    ahead of them in high-school
  52. But is there a way to make fractions
    simple and easy for kids to understand?
  53. Yes!
  54. Just remember that Math is a language
    and use that to your advantage.
  55. For example, when I teach 5th graders
    how to add and subtract fractions,
  56. I start with the apples + apples lesson.
  57. First I ask,
    "What's 1 apple plus 1 apple?"
  58. And kids will often say 2,
    which is partially correct.
  59. Have them include the words as well
    since math is a language.
  60. So it's not just 2, it's 2 apples.
  61. Next is 3 pencils plus 2 pencils.
  62. You all know that pencils + pencils
    give you pencils,
  63. so everyone, how many pencils?
  64. Audience: 5 pencils.
  65. 5 pencils is right.
  66. And the key is you included the words.
  67. I tried this lesson
    with my 5-year-old niece once.
  68. After she added pencils and pencils,
    I asked her,
  69. "What's 4 billion plus 1 billion?"
  70. And my aunt overheard this
    and she scolded me and said,
  71. "Are you crazy? She's in kindergarten!
  72. How's she supposed to know
    4 billion plus 1 billion?!"
  73. (Laughter)
  74. Undaunted, my niece finishes counting,
    looks up and says:
  75. "5 billion?"
  76. And I said:
    "That is right, it is 5 billion."
  77. My aunt just shook her head and laughed
  78. because she did not expect that
    from a 5-year-old.
  79. But all you have to do
    is take a language approach
  80. and Math becomes intuitive
    and easy to understand.
  81. Then I asked her a question
  82. that kindergartners
    are definitely not supposed to know:
  83. "What's one third plus one third?"
  84. And immediately she answered:
    "2 thirds".
  85. So if you're wondering
    how could she possibly know that
  86. when she doesn't know about
    numerators and denominators yet?
  87. You see, she wasn't thinking
    about numerators and denominators.
  88. She thought of the problem this way.
  89. And she used 1 apple + 1 apple
    as her analogy
  90. to understand 1 third plus 1 third.
  91. So if even a kidergartner
    can add fractions,
  92. you better believe that
    every 5th grader can do it as well.
  93. (Applause)
  94. Just for fun, I asked her
    a high-school algebra question:
  95. What's 7 x² plus 2 x²?
  96. And this little 5-year-old girl
    correctly answered,
  97. 9 x².
  98. And she didn't need any exponent rules
    to figure that out.
  99. So when people say that we are
    either hardwired for math or not,
  100. it's not true.
  101. Math is a human language,
  102. so we all have the ability
    to understand it.
  103. (Laughter)
  104. We need to take a language
    approach to math urgently
  105. because too many kids are lost
    and are anxious about math
  106. and it doesn't have to be that way!
  107. I worked with an angry,
    frustrated high-school student once
  108. who couldn't pass algebra
  109. because she only knew 44%
    of her multiplication facts.
  110. I told her,
  111. "That's like trying to read
    and only knowing 44% of the alphabet.
  112. It's holding you back."
  113. She couldn't factor or solve equations
    and she had no confidence in Math.
  114. As a result, this teenager
    had no confidence in herself.
  115. I told her,
    "We have to start with multiplication
  116. because once you know all your facts
    by heart, everything gets easier,
  117. and it'll be like having a fast pass
    to every ride of Disneyland."
  118. (Laughter)
  119. What do you think?"
  120. And she said "Ok."
  121. So she systematically learned
    her times tables in 4 weeks
  122. and yes, even multiplication
    has language embedded in it.
  123. You'd be surprised how many kids
    don't realize 7 times 3
  124. can be spelled out as "seven times" 3,
  125. which just means 3 seven times,
    just like this.
  126. So when kids see it this way,
  127. they quickly realize
    that repeated addition
  128. is slow and inconvenient,
  129. so they gladly memorize
    that 3 seven times always gives you 21.
  130. So for this teenager
    who was at risk of dropping out,
  131. becoming fluent
    and confident in multiplication
  132. was a game changer.
  133. Because for the first time
    she could focus on problem solving
  134. instead of counting on her fingers.
  135. I knew she had turned the corner
  136. when she figured out
    that a 2-year car lease
  137. at $445 a month
    would cost you $10,680
  138. and she looked at me disapprovingly
    and said:
  139. "Mr Polisoc, that's expensive!"
  140. (Laughter)
  141. At that moment, math was no longer
    causing problems for her,
  142. but she was using math to solve problems
    as a responsible adult would.
  143. As an educator, it's my duty
    to challenge kids to reach higher,
  144. so I leave you with this challenge.
  145. Our country is stuck at 26% proficiency,
  146. and I challenge you
    to push that number higher.
  147. This is important because mathematical
    thinking not only builds young minds,
  148. but our kids need it to imagine
    and build a future that doesn't yet exist.
  149. Meeting this challenge can be
    as simple as apples + apples.
  150. Insist that we teach Math
    as a human language
  151. and we will get there sooner,
    rather than later.
  152. Thank you!
  153. (Applause)