TechBuzz Flash Survey: Modernizing Math
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Too often we think of math like a pole in the ground: there’s only one way for a vine to grow up the pole. In reality, math is like a trellis: as a vine, you can find your way up at multiple places where the trellis meets the ground, and you can grow in multiple directions along the trellis. Francis Su, Mathematics for Human Flourishing.
If math is a trellis, Utah State Board of Education member Lindsey Henderson is its most avid gardener: committed to helping Utah school kids find their hold and flourish for a lifetime. Plant metaphors aside, Henderson is passionate about enrichment and achievement—equipping students for both their personal education today and the technology-driven job markets of tomorrow.
After congratulating her on her award by the Women Tech Council, TechBuzz sat down with Henderson to explore how our respective organizations might collaborate on the critical issue of math instruction in Utah. First on Henderson’s wishlist: she and her team are endeavoring to reimagine the K-12 standards, and as such seeks to poll Utah tech companies about their mathematics needs. Which math skills are important to Utah's technology sector, she asks? Should the state rethink how math is being taught in schools? How important are data science, machine learning, statistics, AI, and other related topics? These are some of the topics Henderson would like to ask Utah's tech companies.
One of Henderson’s chief interests is the future of data science, both as a field of study and an area of expertise in Utah’s tech sector. Those employed in the field typically specialize in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, working as programming professionals, data architects and analysts, and data scientists. In its purest form, data science is being inquisitive about data and extracting knowledge to make decisions.
While teaching data science to 4th graders may seem a daunting task, Henderson believes all teachers are capable of encouraging their students to interact with data sets and use critical thinking skills to make evidence-based decisions.
Henderson is inspired by K-12 educational researcher Richard Dufour's four questions that are 'crucial to drive work from the community:'
- What do we want all students to know and be able to do?
- How will we know if they learn it?
- How will we respond when some students do not learn?
- How will we extend the learning for students who are already proficient?
According to Henderson, students today need data science more than ever. "In the past, mathematic skills were used to compute and determine correct answers to equations. With the evolution of society, it is imperative that mathematics evolve as well. Students can now use calculators, the internet or simply 'ask Alexa' for help with square roots. What we need are students who can understand what a square root means and why it matters."
News and media influence has also had a profound impact on students' research and critical thinking skills, as they often mistake opinion-based texts as fact. Henderson asserts, "The practice of data science in secondary grades allows students to investigate a data set and glean information. It prepares them to critically analyze and understand if said information is presenting the data in a biased way. These kinds of data-driven learning experiences allow students to develop what the Utah State Board of Education’s Portrait of Graduate identifies as ideal characteristics."
Henderson concedes that a renewed focus on data science does not come without its limitations and barriers. “The holder of the math culture esteems Calculus as the ultimate secondary mathematics course," she says. "This can be seen in teacher preparation programs: In the state of Utah, teachers are required to take 4 Calculus classes, but only 2 Statistics classes and 1 Linear Algebra class.” She continues, “Secondary mathematics educators seem to feel comfortable teaching Calculus OR Statistics—rarely do you get a crossover. We need to change these systems so that teachers are comfortable and prepared to teach all maths, including Calculus. I’d love to buoy teacher’s confidence in building statistical reasoning by giving them more exposure to data science.”
Looking to Utah's tech community, Henderson and her team would like to engage local business leaders, and CTOs in particular, with questions on how mathematics should be taught in K-12 public schools. She has prepared a Qualtrics survey for Utah's technology companies to share their opinions, priorities and suggestions on mathematics—an unprecedented opportunity for the industry.
TechBuzz encourages readers to weigh in. Henderson's survey is a rare opportunity for the tech community to offer support, guidance and insight on Utah's K-12 math instruction—in particular standards that give students important technical and analytical skills for postsecondary jobs. Now is the time to invest in a future of excellence.
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For more information or suggestions contact:
Lindsey Henderson at email@example.com, currently serving as the Secondary Mathematics Specialist for the Utah State Board of Education. In addition, we thank Syd Tesch (firstname.lastname@example.org) who contributed to this article. She assists in the Student Support Department at the Utah State Board of Education.