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The Problem With Math Problems: We’re Solving Them Wrong

The following question, from a mother concerned about her daughter’s math education, landed in my email box recently:

My husband and I talked to our daughter’s pre-calculus teacher about her poor grades. He said that many students hit a wall at this point in math, moving from memorization — apply this theorem to this problem — to more abstract how-can-I-solve-this-problem thinking. I accepted that because that’s what is happening for her. What I thought later was that why can’t we find a way to help these many students get over that wall, instead of using it as a tool to weed out less developed brains? I really feel I have no way to have an impact on this teacher’s blind spot since it is shared by all math teachers and so many other teachers: If you don’t understand, it’s your fault.