Washington, 17 May (ONA) --- A typical 8th grade math textbook includes just a handful of real-world problems for students to solve, finds a new international study.
And that’s not enough, according to William Schmidt, distinguished professor at Michigan State University. “It’s not enough anymore to just teach the kids the fundamental skills, but to move toward being able to reason with those to solve real-world examples,” he said, “because the textbooks simply do not provide enough opportunities for students to actually practice applying mathematics in real-world applications. And I think that now is a major issue confronting American education in math.”
Schmidt led the analysis of 50,000 math exercises from the 8th grade textbooks of 19 countries, including the United States, by researchers working on behalf of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Future of Education and Skills 2030 project. The researchers found less than 150 student tasks in all dealt with higher-order, real-world applications of math. In the United States, such problems accounted for just over half a percent of all problems, or seven.
The Mathematics Curriculum Document Analysis study follows up a similar study in 1995, which looked at the content and coherence of topics covered in grades 1-12 in the math standards of more than 40 countries that participate in the Trends in International Math and Science Study.
The 2022 audit focused on textbooks because prior studies found that while teachers do add their own lessons, the majority are overwhelmingly likely to follow the content of the textbook—and this was particularly true during remote instruction, Schmidt said.
The United States, like other countries, has increased its coverage of statistics, geometric, and algorithmic reasoning, higher-order real-world applications, and 21st century competencies such as communications and creativity in math.
But the study also looked at the kind of exercises that were included: purely computational, either in numbers or standard word problems; higher-order math problems that require identifying a problem and logical progression; and real-world higher-order problems, that situate those higher-order problems in realistic contexts.
As part of an international analysis of math textbooks, researchers coded individual exercises for both the topics they covered and the kind of skills they required of students. For example, a computational problem might ask students to multiply or divide, but not reason out a problem, and a standard word problem would do the same in text form. Countries' textbooks provided very few opportunities for students to tackle exercises that required them to identify and apply mathematical reasoning, particularly in real-world contexts.
Worldwide, 85 percent of textbook exercises were purely computational, checking students’ ability to multiply, divide, and so on.
More-realistic math problems offer the opportunity for more class involvement, too, Schmidt argued, the Education Week news reported.