*The Math Gene*(Basic Books, 2000). I also provide an explanation of why those same people, when presented with the very same mathematical challenges in a traditional paper-and-pencil classroom fashion, perform at a lowly 37 percent level. The evidence is clear. It"s not that people cannot think mathematically. It"s that they have enormous trouble doing it in a de-contextualized, abstract setting. So why the continued focus on skills? Because many people, even those in positions of power and influence, not only are totally unaware of the findings I just mentioned, they don"t even understand what mathematics is and how it works. All they see are the skills, and they think, wrongly, that is what mathematics is about. Given that for most people, their last close encounter with mathematics was a skills-based school math class, it is not hard to see how this misconception arises. But to confuse mathematics with mastery of skills is the same as thinking architecture is about bricklaying, or confusing music with mastering the musical scale. Of course basic skills are important. But they are merely the tools for mathematical thinking. In the pre-computer era, an industrial society like the United States needed a large workforce of people with mastery of basic math skills who could carry out tasks assigned to them by others. But in today"s workplace, the coin of the realm is creative problem solving, usually in collaborative groups, making use of mathematical thinking when it is required. How well are we preparing today"s students for life in that environment? How do we compare with our competitor nations? The answer is, not well. In an international survey conducted in 2003, students from forty countries were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement: "When I study math, I try to learn the answers to the problems off by heart." Across all students, an average of 65 percent disagreed with this statement - which is encouraging since it is a hopeless way to learn math - but 67 percent of American children agreed with it!

### The school by the tracks

Over a four-year period, Boaler followed the progress of seven hundred students through their high school careers at three high schools. One of the three was "Railside High". Not its real name, this school was in an urban setting, close by a railway line. She first visited the school in 1999, having heard that they seemed to be achieving remarkable results, despite the poor location and run-down appearance of the school buildings. A number of features singled out Railside. First, the students were completely untracked, with everyone taking algebra as their first course, not just the higher attaining students. Second, instead of teaching a series of methods, such as factoring polynomials or solving inequalities, the school organized the curriculum around larger themes, such as "What is a linear function?" The students learned to make use of different kinds of representation, words, diagrams, tables symbols, objects, and graphs. They worked together in mixed ability groups, with higher attainers collaborating with lower performers, and they were expected and encouraged to explain their work to one another.### The Brits make the same mistake

Prior to coming to Stanford, while she was still working in her native UK, Boaler had begun a similar longitudinal study, comparing two very different schools that she called Phoenix Park (in a working class area) and Amber Hill (located in a more affluent neighborhood). The former adopted a collaborative, project-based approach, similar to Railside, the latter a more traditional pedagogy.You are watching: Maths moves u

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Welcome to life in the global knowledge economy of the twenty-first century. Do you want to stay in the game, America?If you want to know more about Boaler"s research see her book I have been quoting from and her award winning previous book Experiencing School Mathematics.