Math is a Tool to Understand Our World - It Should be Working for All Students

05/22/2015 02:37 pm ET | Updated May 21, 2016

In the last national math assessments, just 20 percent of eighth-graders from low-income families were proficient in math appropriate for their grade level. That means millions of kids aren't on a path to gain access to the many job and life opportunities which require a solid math foundation, or learn the unique ways math can expand our critical thinking and problem solving skills.

At Teach For America, we believe that all students deserve access to the many doors math can open for them, from a college degree in computer science to creating the technology necessary for the ultimate home entertainment experience. Math is a tool for understanding the world--one which should be working for all students in all communities.

That's why we're proud to be working in partnership with DIRECTV to expand access to excellent math instruction to students in high-need communities, and develop resources that will inspire students to love math. In the coming year we'll be recruiting, training, and supporting new math educators in classrooms across the country. And in California, Colorado, and Oklahoma we'll be hosting a series of MATHx events, where educators and leaders in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industries will share their stories of exploring innovation, exciting trends, and achievement in math education.

Giving students a solid foundation in math helps them navigate our complex world--and understand their own role in it. We're encouraged that in classrooms across the country, innovative teachers are using math to empower their students.

In Houston, Texas, Brandee Davis taught her geometry students about congruent triangles using simple mock-ups of the levees that protect New Orleans. Her students were able to successfully apply the Third Angle Theorem, but just as importantly, they developed mastery of a math concept as a means to understand Hurricane Katrina and its disproportionate effects on people of color. Brandee isn't assigning her students a litany of problems from the textbook and expecting her students to love math as a result. Instead, she's showing them that math can be found everywhere, and they're beginning to use it as a tool to analyze their own lived experience in northeast Houston.

In Byhalia, Mississippi, Megan Lonsdale's students analyzed the pros and cons of lotteries to understand gambling behavior in their community, and draw conclusions about its merits. Just like in the real world, there is no neat answer in this math classroom. Nor is the teacher the holder of knowledge. Students are using math to justify different conclusions about the lottery's effect on their community--an approach that emphasizes flexibility and student ownership of critical thinking. Mathematics is the kindling that ignites the flame of student ingenuity.

These teachers and students are expanding our traditional notions of what math education looks like, and challenging the common mindset that it's okay to simply "not be a math person." Fifty percent of the U.S. population describes having some level of "math anxiety." It can start as early as age 5, and by middle school a student's perception of their own academic strengths and weaknesses start to solidify, leading to a lifetime of avoiding math. When the stakes are this high--when their ability to navigate our world hangs in the balance--we have to do our utmost to ensure more students receive instruction that helps foster an existing love for math or builds a new connection to the subject.

DIRECTV and Teach For America are committed to helping make that a reality, but to move math education forward for all kids, it will take a cooperative effort of teachers, parents and our communities--emphasizing the importance of math education, and helping to discover new ways of sharing a love of math with our children. Working together, we can give rise to a generation of leaders with more doors of opportunity open to them, and more tools to help improve their lives, and the lives of others.