Why don't professional mathematicians defend their math?

Lack of knowledge of high school graduates : Mathematicians demand more subject teaching

All pupils have to be taught maths for at least four hours a week without interruption - and this exclusively by professionally trained specialist teachers. Schools and universities should “coordinate precisely and bindingly” about the mathematical knowledge that first-year students in particular need. These are the key points of the "19 measures for a constructive transition from school to university" that three large specialist societies want to discuss with the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK) on Monday in Berlin.

Too many school leavers who want to study a subject related to mathematics have difficulties transitioning to university, complains Wolfram Koepf, spokesman for the joint mathematics commission of the mathematicians' association DMV, the didactic society GDM and the association for MINT teaching MNU . In addition to mathematics, the subjects for which math lessons in school should prepare better in the future include computer science, natural sciences, technical and economic subjects.

Response to the 2017 fire letter

The background to the initiative is that despite all the image campaigns for STEM subjects and all teaching reforms such as SINUS, mathematics remains a painful topic in German educational policy. In the international Pisa test, the math performance of the 15-year-olds stagnated after a temporary upswing. There are big differences in math performance between the German federal states: the east, the south and the south-west are leading, the city-states remain at the bottom.

Two years ago, 130 professors and teachers wrote a fire letter complaining about the inability to study among high school graduates. Responsible for the lack of basic knowledge of fractions, power and square root calculations or binomial formulas are above all the common educational standards of the countries. However, these were defended by the mathematical specialist societies in the discussion about the fire letter. The educational standards are just not binding enough and are sometimes vaguely worded.

Only subject teachers in elementary school? Unrealistic

The three major associations now state that the mathematical knowledge and skills of the new students are “diverse and often inadequate”. The deficits are caused, among other things, by differences in the number of hours, in the school types and by federal state. To change that requires “a joint effort by the federal and state governments”, emphasizes Wolfram Koepf.

Mathematicians' associations consider the quality of teaching to be decisive - and thus the qualification of teachers. Even in elementary school, only mathematicians who have studied should teach. In view of the shortage of teachers at primary level, however, this is an almost utopian requirement. Another recommendation could also help lateral entrants: "All teachers regularly and systematically further qualify themselves for subject-specific and didactic content." This should also apply to university lecturers. The reality in schools and universities is still a long way from this.

"Flexible introductory phase" to catch up on math

An additional central mathematics test "as a binding part of the examinations for (technical) higher education entrance qualification" is intended to ensure that at least the learning material from elementary school and secondary school up to the Abitur or Fachabitur is really right. It is not intended to replace the Abitur examination in mathematics, in which the subject continues to be tested up to the 12th or 13th grade. Schoolchildren who are interested in studying MINT should increasingly complete preliminary or trial studies at neighboring universities.

The existing mathematics bridging courses for first-year students and other support measures in the current semester are to be expanded. To this end, the associations are even calling for “flexible introductory study phases” that enable “studying at different speeds”. So if you want to study a MINT subject, but still have deficits in the fundamentals of university mathematics, you should be able to concentrate in the first semesters on primarily closing the math gaps.

Educational standards should become applicable

"School and university" would have to agree precisely and bindingly on which material is required at the university or at the FH. This will have an impact on the KMK's educational standards, which are often criticized as too abstract and difficult to implement. The associations demand that these be made more concrete in such a way that they offer teachers and students concrete “learning opportunities”. For mathematics, this means that the educational standards should provide guidance on “basic argumentation and strategies for justification and proof” - for example, on the content of elementary number theory (divisibility of natural numbers). The professional associations want to be much more involved than before in the further development of the educational standards, which are to become mandatory country curricula.

And since one learns not least for life, the associations demand that the university mathematics curricula should take into account not only the academic but also the “professional and social requirements”.

Reforms in the interests of mathematicians' associations were announced in Hamburg at the end of last year.

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