Why we need to make math relevant to kids
Plus, 5 ideas to use at home to get kids thinking numerically.
December 12, 2016, 3:43 p.m.

In recent years, STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) has become a key focus in K-12 education. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, STEM jobs are projected to grow to more than 9 million between 2012 and 2022, and students prepared for these disciplines will benefit in related careers — which is why the National Science Foundation calls for all students to have a strong STEM foundation to be able to participate in the 21st-century economy.

But American teens remain behind their international peers in math, at least on the 2015 results of the Program for International School Assessment (PISA), released on Dec. 6. American 15-year-olds scored near the bottom of the pack of 35 industrialized countries, and experts are positing why. In a webinar on the results, Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), observes that American students’ proficiency declines as they move into higher grades, and they have trouble working out the more complex layers of a problem.

A recent pilot study out of Australia, whose students also lag in math, found that students were more engaged when math was made relevant to their lives. They did better on projects that used real money and real-world financial concepts such as lending, interest rates, mortgages, profit and loss and loans.

A friend of mine who teaches first-year math at a university and commonly sees students flounder through the content, says her students prefer formulas and quick answers over deep problem-solving from a variety of angles. But college math requires creativity and persistence, she says, and without these traits, students hit a wall. Many wash out of STEM degrees.

So how do we teach kids to get beyond formulas and dig in deeper? To help kids see the relevance of math, it’s important to make it a part of everyday life from a young age just as we promote reading. Using it to problem solve real-world math riddles promotes grit and imagination.

Here are a few ideas to use at home to get kids thinking numerically.


Games. … Chess teaches patience, creative thinking, how to break a problem into smaller parts and how to plan ahead.

More here.

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