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

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    26% on the nation's report card,
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    that's the percentage
    of U.S. 12th graders
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    who are proficient in Math.
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    In America, we pride ourselves
    as being an exceptional country.
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    But does 26% sound exceptional to you?
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    Raise your hand if you think as a country
    we need to do way better than this.
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    I'm with you.
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    We all need Math, but why
    are so many kids confused by it?
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    Is it because only 26% of people
    are hardwired for Math,
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    while 74% are not?
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    After working with thousands of kids,
    I can tell you,
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    this isn't the case at all.
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    Kids don't understand Math
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    because we've been teaching it
    as a dehumanized subject.
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    But if we make Math human again,
    it will start to make sense again.
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    You're probably wondering:
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    "How was Math ever human
    in the first place?"
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    So, think about it.
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    (Laughter)
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    Math is a human language,
    just like English, Spanish or Chinese,
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    because it allows people
    to communicate with each other.
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    Even in ancient times,
    people needed the language of Math
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    to conduct trade, to build monuments,
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    and to measure the land for farming.
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    This idea of Math as a language
    isn't exactly new.
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    A great philosopher once said:
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    "The laws of nature are written
    in the language of mathematics."
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    So you see?
    Even Galileo agrees with me.
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    (Laughter)
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    But somewhere along the line,
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    we've taken this language of math,
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    which is about the real world around us,
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    and we've abstracted it
    beyond recognition.
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    And that's why kids are confused.
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    Let me show you what I mean.
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    Read this 3rd grade
    California Math Standard
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    and see if it would make sense
    to an eight year-old.
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    "Understand a fraction 1/b
    as the quantity formed by 1 part
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    when a whole is partitioned
    into b equal parts."
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    Understand the fraction a/b
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    as the quantity formed
    by a parts of size 1/b.
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    (Laughter)
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    And if you gave this description
    to an 8 year-old,
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    you'd probably get a reaction...
    like this.
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    (Laughter)
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    To a Math expert,
    this standard makes sense,
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    But to a kid, it's absolute torture.
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    I chose this example
    specifically because fractions
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    are fundational to algebra,
    trigonometry and even calculus.
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    So if kids don't understand fractions
    in elementary and middle school,
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    they have a tough road
    ahead of them in high-school
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    But is there a way to make fractions
    simple and easy for kids to understand?
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    Yes!
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    Just remember that Math is a language
    and use that to your advantage.
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    For example, when I teach 5th graders
    how to add and subtract fractions,
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    I start with the apples + apples lesson.
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    First I ask,
    "What's 1 apple plus 1 apple?"
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    And kids will often say 2,
    which is partially correct.
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    Have them include the words as well
    since math is a language.
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    So it's not just 2, it's 2 apples.
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    Next is 3 pencils plus 2 pencils.
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    You all know that pencils + pencils
    give you pencils,
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    so everyone, how many pencils?
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    Audience: 5 pencils.
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    5 pencils is right.
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    And the key is you included the words.
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    I tried this lesson
    with my 5-year-old niece once.
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    After she added pencils and pencils,
    I asked her,
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    "What's 4 billion plus 1 billion?"
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    And my aunt overheard this
    and she scolded me and said,
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    "Are you crazy? She's in kindergarten!
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    How's she supposed to know
    4 billion plus 1 billion?!"
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    (Laughter)
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    Undaunted, my niece finishes counting,
    looks up and says:
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    "5 billion?"
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    And I said:
    "That is right, it is 5 billion."
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    My aunt just shook her head and laughed
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    because she did not expect that
    from a 5-year-old.
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    But all you have to do
    is take a language approach
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    and Math becomes intuitive
    and easy to understand.
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    Then I asked her a question
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    that kindergartners
    are definitely not supposed to know:
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    "What's one third plus one third?"
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    And immediately she answered:
    "2 thirds".
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    So if you're wondering
    how could she possibly know that
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    when she doesn't know about
    numerators and denominators yet?
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    You see, she wasn't thinking
    about numerators and denominators.
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    She thought of the problem this way.
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    And she used 1 apple + 1 apple
    as her analogy
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    to understand 1 third plus 1 third.
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    So if even a kidergartner
    can add fractions,
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    you better believe that
    every 5th grader can do it as well.
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    (Applause)
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    Just for fun, I asked her
    a high-school algebra question:
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    What's 7 x² plus 2 x²?
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    And this little 5-year-old girl
    correctly answered,
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    9 x².
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    And she didn't need any exponent rules
    to figure that out.
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    So when people say that we are
    either hardwired for math or not,
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    it's not true.
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    Math is a human language,
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    so we all have the ability
    to understand it.
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    (Laughter)
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    We need to take a language
    approach to math urgently
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    because too many kids are lost
    and are anxious about math
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    and it doesn't have to be that way!
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    I worked with an angry,
    frustrated high-school student once
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    who couldn't pass algebra
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    because she only knew 44%
    of her multiplication facts.
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    I told her,
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    "That's like trying to read
    and only knowing 44% of the alphabet.
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    It's holding you back."
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    She couldn't factor or solve equations
    and she had no confidence in Math.
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    As a result, this teenager
    had no confidence in herself.
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    I told her,
    "We have to start with multiplication
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    because once you know all your facts
    by heart, everything gets easier,
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    and it'll be like having a fast pass
    to every ride of Disneyland."
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    (Laughter)
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    What do you think?"
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    And she said "Ok."
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    So she systematically learned
    her times tables in 4 weeks
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    and yes, even multiplication
    has language embedded in it.
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    You'd be surprised how many kids
    don't realize 7 times 3
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    can be spelled out as "seven times" 3,
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    which just means 3 seven times,
    just like this.
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    So when kids see it this way,
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    they quickly realize
    that repeated addition
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    is slow and inconvenient,
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    so they gladly memorize
    that 3 seven times always gives you 21.
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    So for this teenager
    who was at risk of dropping out,
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    becoming fluent
    and confident in multiplication
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    was a game changer.
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    Because for the first time
    she could focus on problem solving
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    instead of counting on her fingers.
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    I knew she had turned the corner
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    when she figured out
    that a 2-year car lease
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    at $445 a month
    would cost you $10,680
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    and she looked at me disapprovingly
    and said:
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    "Mr Polisoc, that's expensive!"
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    (Laughter)
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    At that moment, math was no longer
    causing problems for her,
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    but she was using math to solve problems
    as a responsible adult would.
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    As an educator, it's my duty
    to challenge kids to reach higher,
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    so I leave you with this challenge.
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    Our country is stuck at 26% proficiency,
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    and I challenge you
    to push that number higher.
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    This is important because mathematical
    thinking not only builds young minds,
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    but our kids need it to imagine
    and build a future that doesn't yet exist.
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    Meeting this challenge can be
    as simple as apples + apples.
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    Insist that we teach Math
    as a human language
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    and we will get there sooner,
    rather than later.
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    Thank you!
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    (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 school-age minds to grasp complex concepts such as fractions.

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDxTalks
Duration:
08:55

English subtitles

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