Skip to main content
Search IntMath

Friday math movie - Math education, a university view

By Murray Bourne, 14 Dec 2007

Mathematics lecturers are always complaining about the math abilities of their students.

This video is by Prof Cliff Mass from University of Washington.

Mass complains about the fact that he needed to "dumb down" his atmospheric sciences course because of the poor level of his students.

There is a trend where foreigners (Chinese?) are gaining entry to his courses because of their superior math abilties.

He rails against the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' "fuzzy math" approach. I have a problem with his criticism of the 'discovery approach' to mathematics. Designed properly and mixed with didactic approaches, the discovery method (or a problem-based approach) can be an effective way of getting students to see the point of the mathematics they are learning.

He also criticises the use of calculators rather than using 'long division'. Hmmm - these are not absolutes. There are many times when it is insane to use a paper-based long division (but I'm not saying it should be thrown out altogether.)

However, I agree with most of what he says.

Anyway, I'll let Prof Mass say his bit.

Reactions, anyone?

Update: The video comes from, whose mission is:

To ensure that all Washington State students have an equal opportunity to compete successfully in the international economy by aligning Washington State standards, assessments and curricula to those of top performing nations in the world.

Sounds good to me.

See the 8 Comments below.

8 Comments on “Friday math movie - Math education, a university view”

  1. Peter says:

    I know this one, it's been around, and I have a lot to say about it

    there's something seriously wrong with the curriculum, but the video-maker has no solutions to the problems, only complaints

  2. Murray says:

    yes, I thought you would have a lot to say about it!

  3. Peter says:

    this was part of a national "math war" in the US. I was involved in an initiative that removed a similar lousy curriculum from 20 schools.

  4. Murray says:

    There are 2 critical issues: (1) The curriculum and (2) How it is taught. Seems to me that a lot of the wars are really about confusion between the 2. I believe you can change the way it is taught without dumbing it down.

  5. Peter says:

    These curricula generally require highly math-knowledgeable teachers.

    I used one (had to if I was on point for getting rid of it), and found that I could work with it but our teachers in this country are not, on the whole, able to do this so that is one problem.

    moreover, to make it work I had to put in tons of extra effort, beyond what a traditional program would have provided, and without much extra benefit

    all that being said, I strongly support doing the sorts of 'extras' that these curricula presuppose

    I am a non-traditional teacher who strongly advocates using a traditional math program, and then bringing all sorts of "modern" supplements...

  6. Murray says:

    I guess I am much the same - traditional but with modern enhancements.

    Thanks for your input, Peter!

  7. Becky says:

    I run an after school tutoring program in a WA state HS where one of the greatest hindrances to getting students up to par in math is that about half the students we see do not know simple mathematical operations, such as multiplication facts, fractions, and decimals. Until students come up to the high school knowing these basic facts, we will be backtracking and playing catch up until we can finally get to the Algebra and Geometry. It's very frustrating!
    We are finally switching away from Integrated Math in our school district. I've seen the mess it has created and could not be happier to see it go...

  8. Murray says:

    Thanks for your input, Becky.

    Actually, it's not only at high school level that you come across students with such challenges. Happens in universities, too!

Leave a comment

Comment Preview

HTML: You can use simple tags like <b>, <a href="...">, etc.

To enter math, you can can either:

  1. Use simple calculator-like input in the following format (surround your math in backticks, or qq on tablet or phone):
    `a^2 = sqrt(b^2 + c^2)`
    (See more on ASCIIMath syntax); or
  2. Use simple LaTeX in the following format. Surround your math with \( and \).
    \( \int g dx = \sqrt{\frac{a}{b}} \)
    (This is standard simple LaTeX.)

NOTE: You can mix both types of math entry in your comment.


Tips, tricks, lessons, and tutoring to help reduce test anxiety and move to the top of the class.