The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Day: July 11, 2011

New meme: If we taught _____ like we teach math, _____

There is a new meme out there, suggested by @r_w_wright. "If we taught _____ like we teach math, kids would _____."

Here are some examples people have posted so far.

If we taught construction like we teach math, kids would bang nails into boards but never actually build anything. ~ @davidwees

I’ve frequently said similar about statistics: "We show kids the screwdriver, but never show them a screw." ~ @heyprofbow

If we taught driver’s ed like we teach math, students would feel no shame in announcing "I can’t drive" ~ @datadiva

…and as we integrate technology, let’s be sure kids aren’t just banging virtual nails into virtual boards ~ @ChrisHunter36

If we taught English the way we teach Math, students would be able to punctuate a sentence but have no appreciation of literature. ~ @ChrisHunter36

What if we taught math like Umbridge teaches defense against the dark arts? Oh wait, we do. ~ @rjallain

If we taught mathematics the way we taught music, everyone over 11 would have 1:1 tuition outside school… oh wait… ~ @ColinTGraham

If we taught teaching the way we teach math, then most teachers would only teach the way they were taught…oh wait…  ~ @mathhombre

If we taught science the way we teach math, then people would think it’s only for the smart kids…oh wait… ~ @mathhombre

If we taught music the way we teach math, then most people would not be able to play an instrument…oh wait…  ~ @mathhombre..

If we taught videogames… wait, we don’t teach videogames? Why do so many people play? ~ @mathhombre



Want to add your own examples? Add them either here as comments, blog about them, or post them to Twitter with the #ifwetaught hashtag.

If we taught carpentry like we teach math

Your instructor brings you a board. Before you can use the board and play with it yourself, she tells you how to properly line it up on your table. Next, you practice this over and over again with everyone in your class practicing the same number of times regardless of when they master the skill. When you line it up in creative or fun ways, you get scolded, and sometimes even have your board taken away from you. You look around the room and notice that everyone’s boards all look the same.

Finally, after you are considered to have mastered the skill of lining a board up, your instructor takes your board away and gives you a nail. She shows you for 10 minutes all of the various ways you can line up a nail, but never shows you how this relates to the board, or any other possible tools. You want a chance to practice lining up the nail properly, but your instructor says that time is up, and assigns it for homework, and takes away the nail. "You’ll have to find your own nail to do this for homework," she says. You wonder if that is fair for the students who don’t have nails at home.

The next day, your instructor checks to see that all of you have practiced lining up the nail. She then gives you a chance to practice with the nail for a few minutes, before she again takes away the nail and gives you a hammer. You spend some time learning about the history of the hammer, and finally you learn some of the possible uses of the hammer. You ask if you can play with the hammer, but your teacher says, "That’s much too dangerous for you now, you’ll learn more about hammers when you are older, and then you can use them."

You never get a chance to see how the board, the nail, and the hammer relate to each other before the unit finishes. You don’t really understand how to use a board, and you’ve forgotten how a nail works by the time the test is given and so you fail the final assessment. You want a chance to practice some more with these skills your teacher says are "vitally important" but she moves onto another unit.

"Okay class, in our next unit we are going to learn about sanding wood. Everyone take out their boards and practice lining them up again…"

At no point in your learning of carpentry do you ever find out why people might want to use carpentry, how beautiful some works of carpentry look, or how to put it all together and make your own buildings.


You might think that this would be a ridiculous way to teach, but this is exactly how we teach mathematics today. Each unit is separated from one another and the connections between the units, and often the lessons, are virtually never taught. Students almost never have the opportunity to play with mathematics, and never get a chance to use some mathematics once they have mastered it. If we even connect mathematics to the real world, we do it in arbitrary and often nonsensical ways. We teach mathematics as a bunch of discrete tools and not as a holistic study of patterns and our world. In fact, we don’t even really have a consensus as to what mathematics actually is!

It’s no wonder kids usually hate mathematics. They say, "Math makes no sense," and they are right.

I am a feminist

"Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women." Source:

Under this definition of feminism, I am a feminist. I hope that many educators would count themselves as feminists under this definition. However, we still have many issues around gender equality in our education system which we need to fix.

When we spend unequal amounts of money on our sports teams, and promote the boys’ sports more than the girls’ sports, we send the message to our girls that what they do is unimportant.

When we call on the boys in our class more than the girls and encourage reflection and deeper thinking from the boys, we are implicitly telling the girls that what they think is unimportant.

When we hire disproportionally more male administrators in schools than female administrators, we tell girls that they aren’t supposed to be in charge. In BC, for example, female teachers outnumber male teachers by a 2 to 1 ratio, but are nearly evenly split at the administrative level. While this is changing, we have a long way to go. Can anyone tell me why female teachers make, on average, $4000 a year less than their male counterparts in British Columbia?

When our prescribed learning outcomes do not specifically talk about the role of media in defining gender for our society, there is little hope that we can counteract the effect of media. Fortunately, gender is discussed in our curriculum in British Columbia, all of 14 times.

It is critical that each of us who are educators, who are helping shape the role of gender in our society, publicly identify ourselves as feminists. We must actively work to break down the rigid gender roles our society defines, because one of the places change happens in our society is in education, and if the inequality between the genders persists, it will be at least partially because of our inaction.