By Brit Seward, School Improvement Specialist, Mathematics
“Why do we have to learn math for 12 years when we will never use it?” As an educator, statements like these should make us wonder why students see no connection between mathematics and their future. Most curriculums are full of “real-world problems,” but often as teachers, we rely too heavily on the curriculum to do the work rather than figuring out how to bring it to life (Levy, 2015). How might mathematical modeling improve the mathematics experience for students who do not see the point of mathematics, and how can it help teachers deliver exciting and engaging lessons?
Ohio’s Learning Standards (2017) outline eight practices for working with mathematics. Standard 4: Model with mathematics, and Standard 8: Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning. In 2019, schools in the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation (BCHF) portfolio showed that 46% of students met the standards for Modeling and Reasoning, but now it has dropped to 29%. The overall Performance Index, which shows how well students grasp math, decreased from 60 to 48 (Nicol, 2023). This decrease in performance index means more than half of the students struggle with basic math concepts. As a result, the overall mathematics goal for BCHF schools is to: “Increase the number of students in each grade performing at or above in the sub-scored area of modeling and reasoning on the Ohio State Test (OST) by 20 percentage points by the end of the 2023-24 school year.”
What is MMR?
Mathematical modeling is like building a pretend world with numbers and rules to understand how real-world things work. It involves simplifying a real-life situation in a pretend math world using math tools to describe and predict what could happen. Mathematical reasoning, on the other hand, is how we use our thinking skills to solve math problems and understand math concepts. It involves thinking logically and step by step to determine solutions or explanations. While some only see MMR as a critical aspect of high-stakes tests, the reality is that it has immense potential to make learning math more engaging and understandable. MMR teaches problem-solving skills, connects math to real-life situations, and encourages creativity and critical thinking.
Challenges and Solutions
Students and teachers face several challenges in mastering these skills. For students, these challenges include abstraction, complex problem-solving, critical thinking, depth of understanding, transfer of knowledge, abstract nature of reasoning, lack of confidence, multidisciplinary skills, lack of context, and perseverance. For teachers, challenges include complexity of concepts, diverse learning styles, need for real-world context, shifting from traditional methods, addressing misconceptions, time constraints, encouraging critical thinking, individualized attention, overcoming student resistance, limited resources, and assessment difficulties.
Improving students’ success with mathematical modeling and reasoning is a collaborative effort. To overcome these challenges, administrators, teachers, students, and parents must work together to create a supportive environment that values experimentation, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Achieving collaboration will include:
- Administrators who provide professional development, curriculum design, resource allocation, and a supportive environment.
- Teachers who use effective teaching strategies, differentiated instruction, feedback and assessment, and collaboration.
- Students who engage, be curious, develop a problem-solving mindset, and seek help.
- Parents who communicate, support at home, foster a positive attitude, and partner with teachers.
- Community partners who conduct workshops and events and showcase student success.
Addressing challenges requires a growth mindset, effective teaching strategies, practice, patience, and collaboration.
Levy, R. (2015, May 15). 5 Reasons to Teach Mathematical Modeling. American Scientist. 5 Reasons to Teach Mathematical Modeling | American Scientist
Nicol, S. (2023). Spring Ohio State Testing Data Results.
Ohio Department of Education (2017, February). Standards for mathematical practice. Retrieved from Standards for Mathematical Practice (ohio.gov)