Keeping Me Up At Night


If you’ve got a dozen well-trained educators on this blog asking double the amount of critical questions about this cute little NAEP Excel doppleganger, most of which questions completely debunk not nuanced “implications,” but the very parameters of one’s x (math curriculum being assessed) and y (use of technology) values– I mean, come on. The *X and Y* values?!? Doesn’t that indicate on its face that we should throw out the whole damn graph?

She’s right, though the questions undergirding this sketchy data still intrigue me:

  1. What constitutes computing use in fourth-grade math? Rote repetitive drill software? Number Crunchers?
  2. What elements of math’s 12-year plan are outmoded, concessions to universities and textbook publishers? Does it lack coursework? Does it comprise too much coursework?
I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. While I have no idea on #1, #2 has been bothering me. I’m teaching trig to seniors. Every day I question why we’re doing what we’re doing. Do they really need to be able to use the sum and difference formulas to find exact trig values? Why? If they’re in a profession where they’re using it, I’m sure they won’t be doing so by hand. Heck, I don’t do it by hand.

    Will they need it for calculus? I’m not sure how many of them will ever take calculus. So then, why?

  2. JackieB, I think these questions devolve into “why teach them any of this? can’t they use calculators for the rest of their lives?” And, if we’re honest, we use calculators much more often than we sum by hand. We’re never without access to a calculator. There must be some other reason for learning math, beyond its practical application. Same with poetry. Same with music. Same with history.

    But but but… these questions are valid. I’m personally used to contrasting technology instruction versus math by relying on the math progression as a comfortable bedrock of known skills and topics, where we really are out on a new limb with the technology stuff. It’s nice to see people thinking about what happens when we mash it all together and asking where we’re really trying to go. This conversation keeps us vital and engaged as adults. Of course, it’s also frustrating and difficult to know what we’d do even if we did reach a conclusion.

    And now, back to your regularly scheduled program…

  3. It keeps me up at night, too. We have two classes of people – those with access to sciences and engineering, and those without. The big door is math (even for psychology and other soft sciences statistics is a huge necessity).

    Calculus is beautiful, and there is no way you could understand it without a solid grounding in algebra. And there’s no way you could do physics, or engineering of a variety of different sorts without calculus.

    Our presumption is that we can send everyone to college, that we can teach everyone calculus, and that letting anyone give up before their 18th birthday is a sin.

    That, of course, is silly. It’s just as silly to suppose, though, that someone at 13 is capable of making an informed decision about whether that intense effort will be worth it another lifetime later. Hell, I have a 26 year old friend who just PhD’d in math who can’t decide if it was worth it.

    So the real question is, I think, not whether we need an alternative math track, but where you draw the line on who follows which path.

  4. Ben – I’m not saying not to teach it nor am I saying just to give them a calculator. I’m talking about students who are having problems factoring the difference of squares (as seniors). Student’s who still don’t get the relationship between a table of values, the equation, and the graph. I’m just not sure that trig is what they need to be “learning” right now. Identity proofs – why?