People who know the subject should teach?


Andrew Leigh links to an article about a program called “Math for America”, whose goal is to improve the quality of maths teachers in US;

“Math for America started over a game of poker. In 2003, Simons was in Berkeley, Calif., raising money in a charity poker tournament, playing against other heavyweights from the New York investment world. When he looked around the room, it struck him that the assembled brainpower and capital could be used for greater good. Chatting with a few other former mathematicians, Simons put forth an idea to improve the state of math education in America. It was a notion he'd unsuccessfully tried to publish as a New York Times editorial a few years before: Have the people who know the subject teach the subject, and provide them with the money, training, and support they need to do so.

Math for America addresses a simple, but profound problem: Nearly 40 percent of all public high school math teachers do not have a degree in math or a related field. Even the best curriculum in the world, the reasoning goes, isn't going to inspire students if unqualified individuals are teaching them. (In a recent round of testing, the U.S. placed 24th out of 29 nations in math proficiency.) If knowledgeable teachers exude passion for the subject, they stand a greater chance of pushing students toward careers in math in science that are the technical backbone of the country's economy.”

It’s an interesting idea but I’m not sure whether it will be that successful. People who know the subject are not necessarily the best teachers.

Interview with James Simons- founder of Math for America;

How much of your success is pure luck and how much is the math, science, and minds?
Let's suppose you have a coin that is 70/30 heads. Well, if you get to bet heads, you are going to win 7 times out of 10. Three times out ten you are going to lose, and that's bad luck. So you need a measure of good luck to avoid a long run of tails when you have a 70/30 coin that's heads. At a certain point the luck evens out. Of course there's luck in our business, but so far we've had a nice edge.”

Miracle Math; A successful program from Singapore tests the limits of school reform in the suburbs

An A-Maze-ing Approach To Math

Teach for America


So, people who kow a subject don't necessarily make the best teachers? I agree that teaching is a skill different from plain old knowledge. But who, as a group, is going to make better teachers: Those who have knowledge and no teaching education or those who can teach but have no knowledge? ie grads of ed schools.

Think of the quality of teaching you got in high school vs the quality of teaching you got at university. Which, generally, was better? I would be willing to be that unless you studied at an ed school, none of your professors had any formal training in teaching methods.

Bring on the experts. I think enthusiam and knowledge counts for a lot. Much more than an ed school education. I speak as one who has both an MA in Industrial Management as well as an MS in education. I also speak as one who has been adjunct teaching at the graduate and undergrad level (business school and engineering school) for 24 years.

John Henry

As someone who's both a math nerd (Finance prof at a university) and a teacher, let me put my 1/50th of a dollar in:

There's a big difference between a person who really knows his math but doesn't have teaching skills and a person with a teaching background but without great math chops. the untrained math nerd can acquire the teaching skills much easier than the teacher can get the math skills. Teaching is teachable much eaiser than math is.

The teacher may (maybe) have a slight advantage at the grade lower levels. But once the focus shifts more to cobnceptual thinking, I'll take the math guy hands down. And this is wothout taking the effect of a passionate teacher into account.

We took a one semester teaching methods seminar in grad school. It probably could have been compressed to a half-semester and we'd still have gotten about 90-95% of the benefit. And even that small amount of training made us better than most of our perrs in the classroom. So, it doesn't take much to get passable teaching skills. Having a care about getting your topic "right" and figuring how to present it as clearly as possible IMO is much more important than having a raft of teaching pedagogical techniques. And the technically trained person is more likely to get it "right".

And on that note, remember that there are only 10 kinds of people in the world -- those who understand binary and those who don't.

A friend of mine who's doing a masters at a top US university told me that the selection for undergraduate teaching (for tutorials probably) is done by through a lottery. He brushes up the notes before he goes to conduct the class- totally unrelated to what he's studying. I don't know whether this's typical


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This page contains a single entry by Paul published on November 26, 2006 5:45 AM.

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