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Educators and experts gather to discuss the state of math education and how to keep students invested in STEM

math-techChanging the way math content is presented to students and ensuring teachers feel empowered in their math instruction are two important steps to elevating math education in the U.S., according to a panel of educators and experts who gathered for a Discovery Education thought leadership event to launch Discovery’s Math Techbook.

“There is no more important job in America than the job of a schoolteacher,” said Tom Perez, U.S. Secretary of Labor, during the event. “It’s about showing endless possibilities. It’s about recognizing that different people learn differently, and learning by doing is such an important component of that.”

Career and technical education has somehow been devalued in the nation, Perez said, and focusing on STEM education is one way to elevate that career path.

“There are multiple pathways to the middle class. As we redouble our efforts in the STEM context, to repair this leaky pipeline, [we have to realize] we’re losing too many kids at an early age,” he said. “So, we must start with the notion that every child is gifted and talented.”

(Next page: Highlights from the panel discussion about math education)

The panel, moderated by Aaron Gilchrist, NBC4 Today Anchor, NBC Washington, included:

  • Dr. Mark Edwards, Superintendent, Mooresville Graded School District (NC)
  • Dr. Francis “Skip” Fennell, Professor of Education, McDaniel College
  • Danica McKellar, Actress and Author
  • Michele Weslander-Quaid, Chief Innovation Evangelist, Google
  • Portia Wu, Assistant Secretary of Employment and Training Administration, United States Department of Labor

Following are highlights from the panel discussion:

“I think we’re recognizing a deficiency [in math],” Edwards said. “[We’re] illuminating math in different ways, and students and teachers are both saying, ‘Yes, we can.’ I believe we’re on the cusp of taking a giant leap forward with math in this country.”

Changing the culture around math education is one way to encourage students to pursue math-related interests, panelists said.

“Part of what we need to address is the culture of this country, and why this culture encourages kids to not want to excel, and to shy away from wanting to seem like a nerd,” McKellar said. “Breaking stereotypes is just as important as changing the way the content is presented.”

“[We have] technology that has the potential to grab kids,” said Fennell. “Along the way, we don’t want to lose the notion that skills are important. The ability for kids to understand that if a problem is good, it’s going to take a little while to solve–that’s OK. That’s good.”

Helping children connect the dots between classroom math and how those lessons are applicable in the real world can sustain their interest in STEM subjects.

“It’s important that we’re coming together as a larger community to show students how math is relevant to them,” Wu said.

“What’s wonderful is to see programs showing kids context,” Weslander-Quaid said. “Even if you’re not going to go into a STEM field, the analytical thinking, the critical thinking–you need that for life. And that will help them regardless of what they do in their career.”

“We need to consider that kids need different paths than we needed. The times are different; learning is different,” Fennell said. “We want to position ourselves to take kids right now, these kids that are different than many of us, and make sure that path is up to their needs so they can really value this subject. We want people to value the subject. Not everybody’s going to be a mathematician, not everybody is going to use math every day, but please value it.”

The newly-launched Math Techbook features interactives, videos, digital tools, and game-like activities aimed at increasing students’ motivation to learn math. Student tools including a graphing calculator, geometry tool, whiteboard tool, and matrix solver are embedded into each Techbook.

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