In the movie “Stand and Deliver”, teacher Jaime Escalante tells his minority and low-income students: “There are already two strikes against you: your name and your color. Because of these two attacks, there are people in this world who will assume you are better than you.” You know less. “
He added encouraging words that resonate today: “Mathematics is the great equivalent.”
Unfortunately, though, this concept did not live up to its promise for many black, Latino, and Indigenous students. Although young children have a natural inclination toward mathematics, poor learning experience is hindering their ability development and impairing their chances of pursuing STEM-based careers.
The problem begins in elementary school, with mathematical content that does not enable children to see mathematical connections and coordinates. And those early experiences become a serious obstacle, preventing students from learning more advanced math in higher grades. Another reason is that elementary school math teachers lack the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the content they teach.
Our ability to make sure that “math is the great equivalent” depends on what we change in elementary school
The problem is not the lack of programs and policy initiatives aimed at increasing the number of black, Latino and Indigenous talents in the STEM workforce; It is one of the few programs that acknowledges that the problem starts with those fragmented mathematical concepts in elementary schools.
Take fractions as an example. Young children do not learn that fractions are the point of a number line, just like whole numbers. What they don’t learn is that fractions also transfer one hundred percent of what they have learned about numbers and integers to learn fractions.
So instead of capitalizing on the mathematical instincts of young children and enabling them to realize the beauty and power of how mathematical concepts connect with each other, we teach them to consider fractions as completely different “animals” from whole numbers.
Similarly, elementary school children are not given the opportunity to see that if we use a symbol (a, b, c, or x, y, z) to stand for a number, we can do the same things as we did with the number. . Symbolic expressions extend mathematical thinking from arithmetic (specific examples) to algebra (general).
When these children progress to higher advanced maths in higher grades, this poor mathematical foundation in primary school often initiates a vicious cycle, where poor preparation leads to poor performance, which in turn, negatively affects confidence and self-esteem. And creates self-doubt which can eventually lead to a complete loss of interest in mathematics.
Related: To attract more students to the STEM field in college, advocates call for starting from sixth grade
If we want to develop black, Latino and Indigenous talents for the STEM workforce, we need to start early. The mathematical content fed to young children must be rigorous and create a scaffold for mathematical concepts from arithmetic to algebra.
First, teacher preparation and training programs should have a systematic focus on elementary school mathematics content, rather than counting college-level math courses as content training.
Second, there should be an in-depth understanding of that content of professional development and teachers should be able to work with real students in the actual classroom.
Third, the mathematical content must be rigorous and educational for school-age children. The basic elementary school mathematical concepts must be interconnected and intertwined as children progress through each grade, the author Hung-si Wu noted in his new book, Understanding the Numbers of Primary School Mathematics.
These three proposed solutions will only be possible with the support of the mathematics education research community and state policymakers who handle the recognition requirements. It is up to this group to make sure that the requirements of elementary school math teachers focus on the content they will actually teach.
This means asking math education researchers to emphasize the connection between students’ future abilities to pursue elementary school math education and STEM-based careers.
Mathematics education researchers and policy makers have a huge responsibility to ensure that black, Latino and Indigenous children receive high quality mathematics education at an early stage. Our ability to make sure that “math is the great equivalent” depends on what we change in elementary school – then the demand for advanced math and science courses in middle and / or high school among black, Latino and indigenous students increases.
And once we’ve solved the problems in K-12, we have to move on. We must reduce the number of black, Latino, and Indigenous students in college developmental or remedial math courses, and we must encourage more black, Latino, and Indigenous students to follow the STEM majors and eventually enter the STEM workforce.
STEM careers offer the fastest way to improve one’s social mobility. Let’s make sure that black, Latino, and Indigenous children are provided with a high-quality elementary school math education so that they have equal opportunities to participate in the STEM career.
Xiaoxia Newton is an associate professor at the Cato College of Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Elementary school is produced by this piece about mathematics Hatchinger report, A non-profit, independent news organization focusing on inequality and innovation in education. For registration Hatchinger’s newsletter.