Do today's students have better math skills than their parents?'s Teacher Poll of the Week
Do today's students have better math skills than their parents?

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Mathematics. Some of us shudder when we say the word. Math is one of those subjects that you either love or hate. If you ask the average person not too many of them are ambivalent to the subject. It's definitely a love it or leave it kind of thing. Yet basic mathematics is essential to so many daily activities. Calculating which brand of toothpaste is the better deal or how much tax will be on the new pair of shoes you want to buy are pretty basic everyday uses for math.

With the advent of calculators many years ago and the newer addition of the computer to our repertoire of daily tech toys you would think that math skills would have gone by the wayside. If the calculator, computer or cash register gives you the information you need, why bother remembering how to do the math? The results of this poll are very close so it is difficult to see tell if technology is having an effect.

A slight majority of teacher believe that students today have worse math skills than their parents. The parents didn't have all the fancy mathematical aids that students today have, so does that mean technology is bad? The teaching of math has changed greatly in the last 20-30 years. Gone are the days of rote memorization where the multiplication tables were drilled into your head. Memorization of basic math facts is still important but more emphasis today is placed on understanding concepts in math.

There is an old adage that says: if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for life. This same philosophy can be transferred to mathematics. Perhaps learning the concepts, not just memorizing the steps involved in mathematical equations, makes a lifelong difference in understanding. However, assessing math skills does often involve the math facts that are best learned through memorization. Are assessment tests skewing the results away from conceptual math?

Perhaps with all the computer games and other distractions available to kids nowadays, they simply aren't putting in the time that previous generations did on school work. Even adults spend more time in front of the television or playing games than they used to. Can we expect anything else from our students? Whatever the reason, the thought that this generation has worse math skills is very discouraging. By identifying the problem perhaps we can turn this around.