Mathematics Learning: A Journey not a Race
In teaching mathematics there are many teachers facing a challenge on how they make the subject easy to understand but still many of the students have hard time to have a deep understanding on the different concepts. There were students who want to skip the math subject because of that reason. However, Should we support acceleration? This question, like many questions in mathematics education, does not have a binary answer. The answer is “it depends.” Sometimes acceleration is appropriate and sometimes it isn’t. What does the answer depend on? Here the answer is clearer: it depends on the student’s demonstrated significant depth of understanding of all the content that would skipped. If a student demonstrates significant depth of understanding of some but not all the content that would be skipped, then this is more appropriately an opportunity for enrichment rather than acceleration. In this situation there are some institution argues that “when considering opportunities for acceleration in mathematics, care must be taken to ensure that opportunities are available to each and every prepared student and that no critical concepts are rushed or skipped, that students have multiple opportunities to investigate topics of interest in depth and that students continue to take mathematics courses while still in high school and beyond.”
At the elementary level, and even in the secondary school, Speed completing computational tasks or carrying out of routine symbolic manipulations cannot be the basis of acceleration. Too many parents, and others for that matter, still have a narrow definition of mathematics as computation and symbolic manipulation.
We must emphasize to parents, teachers, counselors, administrators, and students that the goals of learning mathematics are multidimensional and balanced: students must develop a deep conceptual understanding (why), coupled with procedural fluency (how), but in addition they also need the ability to reason and apply mathematics (when), and all while developing a positive mathematics identity and high sense of agency. All four goals are critical components of what it means to be mathematically literate in the 21st century.
There is evidence that students who speed through content without developing depth of understanding are the very ones who tend to drop of mathematics when they have the chance (Boaler 2016). Acceleration potentially decreases student access to STEM careers if it results in students dropping mathematics as quickly as possible, rather than cultivating and developing the joy of doing and understanding mathematics. This is important to point out to parents, as dropping out of mathematics is clearly not an outcome parents want to encourage.
Mathematics should be taught deeply and in a balanced way, with the equal attention paid to procedural fluency, conceptual understanding, reasoning and problem solving and the development of a positive mathematics identity. When these goal are achieved, students will benefit from mathematics learning that will serve them for their entire life.