If math were a color, it would probably be math-colored

The Everyday Math curriculum has been rejected in the state of Texas. I’ve blogged about Everyday Math and how it attempts to teach multiplication before. But I didn’t know that it had activities like this:

A. If math were a color, it would be –, because –.

B. If it were a food, it would be –, because –.

C. If it were weather, it would be –, because –.

I’m not sure exactly what the point of an exercise like this is — perhaps the curriculum is just trying very studiously not to get too deep into mathematics itself, thereby teaching math without the social stigma of being very enthusiastic about it. Or maybe the idea is to get kids to see math from a different point of view, as a sort of oblique path through math anxiety.

Either way, it’s the wrong approach. The only way to come to terms with math, conquer math anxiety, and appreciate (and learn) the subject is… to get good at it. And that only comes by doing, lots and lots of doing. You replace practice with long division for this stuff, you’re not doing what you ought to be doing. To paraphrase what somebody said a couple of thousand years ago to a similarly math-disaffected person, there is no royal road to understanding arithmetic or algebra, no cutesy affective end-arounds to get out of the hard work of learning.

I think there could be an enormous market in coming years for “alternative” at-home math curricula to counteract the sloppy mess of “modern”, usually NSF-funded, math curricula — and those “alternatives” would look awfully similar to the math texts of the 50’s and early 60’s.


Filed under Education, High school, Math, Teaching, Textbooks

9 responses to “If math were a color, it would probably be math-colored

  1. elementaryteacher

    Actually, the title of your post has grabbed my attention because today I have been talking to a three people in our school with synesthesia. Two of them have it with numbers. Numbers appear in certain colors to them.

    I wondered just today how many mathematicians have/have had synesthesia–particularly among the type of mathematicians shown on the TV show “Numbers,” who can look at something and immediately see patterns? Perhaps the numbers in the patterns are all different colors, giving them an ability above the average person.

    I wondered how many mathemeticians working on formulas, computers, or conceptual problems might have this ability.

    Do you know anything about this?

    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas (in the Middle East)

  2. mozey

    – if math was a color it would be something COMPLETELY off of the spectrum recognizable by man. LIke, dark infrared, because its HARD TO COMPREHEND, yet, applicable in SOO many areas.
    – if math was food, it would be soy, because its simple, plan, but USEFUL and blends into ANYTHING.
    – if math was weather, it would be good weather, because its almost IMPOSSIBLE to archive in its perfect form, but we all see a little bit of it each day.

  3. Eileen – Honestly I had never heard of that concept until you mentioned it. But clearly the great mathematicians in history can see something that ordinary people can’t.

  4. lynn

    Our local district has used Everyday Math for several years. I’ve heard pretty consistent complaints from teachers I know. I can see why.

  5. It has been difficult defending a middle ground. But that’s what I do. Those pre-Sputnik texts, I have some laying around, no great bargain. And they were in the days of lower graduation rates (there were reasonable options to finishing high school).

    I prefer my texts to lean to the traditional, but I bring in lighter stuff as well.

    Among the elementary programs, Everyday Math is second worst. (TERC is number 1)

  6. As someone who teaches one of those “NSF” curricula, I have to say there are parts of it I quite like. Do we supplement with practice questions? Yep. Are there some assignments we skip? Yep. I have found that it has improved our students problem solving skills and their willingness to work on extended problems.

  7. OldFogey

    As a former 8-9th grade math teacher, as I never used it, I have no comment on Everyday Math. I would like to put in a plug for the “innovative” math program that I used as a high school student 4 decades ago: UICSM, a.k.a. Max Beberman’s Illinois Math program. The emphasis on proofs from 9th grade on turned me from a word person into a number person. Exposure to the associative and distributive proofs, by showing me the structure behind computation, helped me in estimating answers. I still find it easier to estimate in my head than use a calculator for most rudimentary calculations. I realize that Illinois Math didn’t work for everyone, but it did work for me

  8. Ugh, Everyday Math. I’ve heard a bunch of terrible stuff about that program. Our district uses other fuzzy-math curricula like TERC, Connected Math and Core-Plus Mathematics. They just don’t work. I tutor students who have fuzzy-math backgrounds, and they are completely unprepared for calculus. I am filled with a sense of panic just thinking about the millions of children growing more innumerate by the day.


    If math were a color, it would be red. I’ve always associated math with red.
    If math were a food, it would be bread.
    If math were weather, it would be very windy.

    (For the record, I like math, red, bread, and wind. And I’m not a synesthete, although I do try.)

  9. As luck would have it, I got a call from my sister yesterday, for homework help for her 4th grader. Cause? Poorly worded everyday math question. On top of it, the homework and lessons did not seem properly aligned. Would have figured with her suburban taxes her district would have sprung for something better…

    (problem gave average rainfall for 10 cities, and then asked for the minimum of these averages, but phrased it to read minimum average in such a way that any normal reader would have assumed a mathematical operation called ‘minimum averaging.’