Make yourself more interested in the sense that your students are making rather than the sense they aren’t making. Celebrate and build on that sense.
Hi. I’m Dan Meyer. I taught high school math to students who didn’t like high school math. I have advocated for better math instruction here and on CNN, Good Morning America, Everyday With Rachel Ray, and TED.com. I earned my doctorate from Stanford University in math education and I’m currently the Chief Academic Officer at Desmos where I explore the future of math, technology, and learning. I have worked with teachers internationally and in all fifty United States. I was named one of Tech & Learning’s 30 Leaders of the Future. I live in Oakland, CA.
Once we had zero, we have negative numbers. Zero helps us understand that we can use math to think about things that have no counterpart in a physical lived experience; imaginary numbers don’t exist but are crucial to understanding electrical systems. Zero also helps us understand its antithesis, infinity, in all of its extreme weirdness.
The first is a just having the simple sensory experience of stimulus going on and off. This is the simple ability to notice a light flickering on and off. Or a noise turning on and off.
The second is behavioral understanding. At this stage, not only can animals recognize a lack of a stimulus, they can react to it. When an individual has run out of food, they know to go and find more.
The third stage is recognizing that zero, or an empty container, is a value less than one. This is tricky, though a surprising number of animals, including honey bees and monkeys, can recognize this fact. It’s understanding “that nothing has a quantitative category,” Nieder says.
The fourth stage is taking the absence of a stimulus and treating as it as a symbol and a logical tool to solve problems. No animal outside of humans, he says, “no matter how smart,” understands that zero can be a symbol.
Whatever our thoughts are on the matter, the conclusions are clear:
when we investigate nothing, we’re bound to find something.
One way to boost achievement in math, researchers say, is to avoid mention of innate skill and stress that math can be learned. Another is to expose children to adults with different areas of expertise, and offer a wide variety of activities and books. Gaps are smaller when extracurricular activities are less dominated by one gender.