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The Math Plague

ISBN 0978165802 135 pages, b&w illustrations Price: CDN$15.95 (Currently Unavailable for Purchase)  
Book Description Every year, hundreds of graduates from Newfoundland schools who are admitted to Memorial University with acceptable grades in mathematics, have a math skill of Grade 6 or below. The Math Plague is not written for mathematical gurus. It's written for underachievers who feel disconnected from mathematics. Themes of The Math Plague include atheltics, literature, the visual and performing arts, lifestyle issues, leadership and more. While The Math Plague acknowledges problems in the school system, the focus is on how the individual can adapt his/her learning strategies to counteract these stumbling blocks. PREFACE I am writing this book for frustrated students, teachers and parents who are frustrated with the current state of mathematics. This work has been inspired by the countless inquiries I have received as Director of the Mathematics Learning Centre. The content of this book is the amalgamation of what I have learned from all the courageous individuals I have worked with for the past eighteen years who have honored me with their trust. It is to all these individuals that I dedicate this work. The book is divided into thirtyeight small sections, each containing a confirmed principle for the effective learning of mathematics. Each section is introduced with a quotation, most of which are by wellknown public figures. This book is applicable to students of mathematics of all ages. Whether or not the book is read in its entirety, the reader will relate to situations described and find concrete suggestions for enhancing the learning experience in all situations. If any of the principles and practices are adopted, success in the learning of useful mathematics will improve. This does not happen by trying to make the learning of mathematics more enjoyable or easier. Rather it happens by increasing the learner’s willingness to focus on the difficult material, and therefore making whatever time a student spends studying mathematics as productive as possible. INTRODUCTION I have called this book “The Math Plague” because that is exactly how underachievers in mathematics feel about the subject. It is neither enjoyable nor gratifying in any way. Rather it is an unavoidable frustrating and disagreeable experience, and with its torments and vexations can be likened to the black plague or a plague of insects. Figuratively and emotionally, this is not an exaggerated metaphor. Being forced to do school mathematics year after year with little success and seemingly little hope for a brighter experience in subsequent grades, can be an almost souldestroying experience for many. Indeed for these individuals, who comprise about 80% of the population, mathematics and its pervasiveness in today’s world accounts for many educational dropouts. In the affluent post World War II era in North America, it has been thought that education is the panacea to all social problems. This has meant that social policies have been structured as much as possible to keep youth in the educational stream as long as possible. Making more education financially available to students was one aspect of this social agenda that had to be addressed, but having students successfully complete academic programs was also a huge problem. It is the latter of these two issues that I will address in this book. There are basically two ways to achieve higher completion rates in educational programs. The easiest way is to lower academic standards. The hardest way is to seek an understanding of why students underachieve and then develop teaching/learning strategies to address these issues. There is also a potentially dangerous “middleground” which provides new, alternate educational programs. This is a sound strategy if it is based on the latter premise above; it is not a sound strategy if it is merely a lower standard academic program with a different name. Academic standards that have survived the test of time have done so for a reason – they are based on providing an educational experience that turns out to be useful. Formal educational attainment that does not provide the individual with any ability to be more productive in the work force or more enriched in their personal life is a waste of everybody’s time and money. Illusions such as these belong only in amusement parks and on the entertainment stage, not in our educational system. Paramount to my work at the Mathematics Learning Centre in developing and employing teaching/learning strategies, has been my involvement with athletic coaches. This is for two reasons. Firstly, there are many analogies between learning to play a sport well and learning to do mathematics well. Secondly, coaching clinics tend to be far more inspirational to coaches than teacher inservices are to teachers. My brother, Don, is both an inspirational high school physics teacher and football and curling coach. We have spent many hours talking about the relationship between the two. We have done joint presentations at academic gatherings about these issues in mathematics education. We now firmly believe that for teacher inservices to be effective, they must be conducted in a manner similar to coaching clinics  there must be an appeal to the passion which lies within us all. And then as educators we must reflect this passion to our students when we work with them. About the Author Sherry Mantyka's diverse background makes her uniquely qualified to write a book called The Math Plague. Besides holding an academic appointment in Mathematics and Statistics at a university, she has worked as a nathematical consultant to government and industry. She has attended and contributed to various teacher inservices and has worked as a community liason for the university with government, social policy groups, school boards, teachers, parents and students. 
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