Student Happiness Overrated?

I always liked math – I was even on the math team in high school (although only for the cookies!), but I admit to having tortured geometry and trig teachers with the ever popular question:

“What does this have to do with real life?”

As a student I felt that the classes I took should be relevant to life. And I really appreciated teachers that made the materials engaging and fun. But did any of this really make my education better??

A recent study compared 8th grade math students across the world and found that countries that ranked in the top 10 in terms of math enjoyment all scored below average in math skills, while countries that ranked in the bottom 10 on the enjoyment level all excelled in skill level.

Read the above paragraph again: the study found that across countries math enjoyment is inversely related to performance.

“Countries with more confident students who enjoy the subject matter – and with teachers who strive to make mathematics relevant to students’ daily lives – do not do as well as countries that rank lower on the indices of confidence, enjoyment, and relevance” (page 14 of the study).

The study (How Well Are American Students Learning?) was done by the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy and analyzed data from the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics – a test taken by 4th and 8th graders across the world. Students answered math questions and rated their enjoyment of math, level of confidence, etc.

The authors point out that within a given country, the students with more confidence tend to outscore those with low confidence. They also point out that this study does not give cause and effect – nevertheless, it raises some interesting questions. Not least of which is:

Is it more important in the long run that students have a positive educational experience or that they learn the material???

Feel free to share your opinion.

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