Math acceleration speeds to new levels

April 1, 2018 — by Nitya Marimuthu

Pressures for speed contribute to students not learning the subject

Imagine this: It’s a bright, sunny day with a pleasant breeze, and your PE teacher takes your class out to run the mile. Unfortunately, you slipped on a banana peel yesterday, and bruised your leg, so you sit this one out. The class lines up at the telltale patch of grass that is the starting line, and your PE teacher shouts “Go!” bringing the quick race to a start.

Watching them, you observe the natural tendencies of the class during the mile. Out in front is the fastest runner who is always a lap or two ahead, sprinting the whole mile because they truly enjoy running. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the student bringing up the rear of the pack, who finishes the mile slowly, but steadily. The rest of the class arranges itself into periodical mobs. Mob of runners here…. yards of gap…. another mob of runners … gap… and so on so forth.

Each person has their own pace, and they’re all perfectly fine with running at that speed. The fastest one in the class doesn’t slow down for the slowest one, and the slowest doesn’t try to keep up with the fastest.

Running a mile and the logic of math acceleration: two totally different activities, but many aspects between are incredibly similar. In running, each person has a pace, and in math their pace is the speed in which they pick up concepts. Some students pick up new concepts quicker than others and finish the “mile” faster than others, but everyone eventually finishes the “mile” no matter their pace.

Math acceleration was created to suit the needs of each student. Rather than making the student adjust their paces for each other, classes were created to match different people’s learning speeds.

Now, however, kids are accelerating to appear exceptional for colleges or resumes rather than to match their comfort or ability level. Each math class became just a checkpoint to get to the next. The faster you could get through the checklist, the better colleges would like you.

The mindset has become that math classes in school hold students back; grades are just an inconvenience. Who cares if I got a ‘D’ in Algebra as long as I’m two years ahead of everyone else? Who cares if I understand the material as long as I finish the class? School becomes a performance where students show off all the skills their math enrichment class or their private tutor taught them.

School no longer has a point if students are just going to learn the same subjects in outside classes. Would it make sense for a runner to sprint the mile before the PE teacher shouted “Go!” so he/she could get a head start over everyone else?

Not really. The same logic should apply to math. Sprinting before the race has started doesn’t help you. Similarly, accelerating before you are ready doesn’t aid you down the road.

Of course, if you love math, then by all means, accelerate. Sprint the “mile” because you truly love doing it, not because someone is telling you that others will be impressed by it.

It’s always fine to be a little “slower” than everyone else. Each person learns differently, and if your learning style is slow and steady, that’s fine. As long as you grasp the required information, what does it matter how fast you do it?

Math acceleration is becoming superficial, and we don’t want to be the school that sacrifices quality for quantity. Keep in mind what math acceleration is really about. It’s about giving each person an opportunity to work at the pace that best suits them. So the next time you have a choice of class selection, choose what truly suits you, not what looks the best or gets you the furthest ahead.