Maine Needs an All-out Effort on Learning Math

This past week, the Maine Department of Education released a summary of the results of the annual assessments given to every third, eighth and eleventh grader in Maine schools.

Hello, I am Matt Pouliot of State Senate District 15.

These results show a disturbing trend in math, which saw scores drop for the fourth straight year, and last year’s drop was greater than that of previous years. Only about one-third of Maine’s K-12 students demonstrated basic math skills “at or above state expectations.” Not only is our youngsters’ knowledge of math declining, that decline is accelerating.

This is not a new problem. For years it has been the subject of a blame game rather than a real search for answers and solutions.

Frankly, I don’t give a square root whose fault it is. I only care about fixing this incredibly important problem.

Our world is becoming more and more dependent on technology every day, and anyone who has strange conversations in their home with some unseen woman named Alexa can attest to this. From the Internet, to the microwave, to programming our phone in our car, technology touches, even controls, everything we do.

Understanding and succeeding in this future dominated by technology requires a mastery of mathematics. The doors that technology can open tomorrow for the young people in our K-12 classrooms today are vast and exciting. And technology doesn’t discriminate against states whose winters are colder, whose budgets are smaller, or whose population is older.

There is no geographic or demographic boundary that separates Maine from the greatest opportunities in the world when it comes to learning math and technology. In fact, the technological resources that Maine has invested in over the last two decades has given us an advantage over most other states when it comes to digital infrastructure in our schools.

Maine is poised to jump out in front of the rest of the nation in learning math and technology but it will require a laser-focus, really an obsession with finding every conceivable way to break down the resistance to math as boring and dull, and instead excite our students about the power of technology.

We have invested millions wiring our classrooms and making sure our students have access to laptops and tablets for learning. But statistics show that 80% of the activity that students engage in on these devices is social media and word processing. Neither of these is cutting edge learning.

State government needs to find the best learning content in the world for these devices and provide it to our schools at no cost so that students can take advantage of the best math and technology learning available anywhere, much of which is already just a download away.

By partnering with organizations that create educational tools and provide learning content and experiences through which students approach math in a way that is more familiar to them as fun, rather than schoolwork, Maine can create exciting opportunities for our young people and make them a model of learning for the world to follow.

For every young person whose cashier job is eliminated by the new ordering kiosks at McDonalds, for example, there are at least two jobs somewhere in the industry that designs, builds, installs, and services those kiosks. And these jobs pay more, include better benefits, and can lead to a far more rewarding lifelong career.

We need to bring more of these younger, low-earning Mainers out from behind the counter and open up a world of new opportunities for them, but to do so, they need to master mathematics. To help accomplish this, we need to provide our schools with state-of-the-art learning tools that are engaging, effective, and fun.

Maine already has one of the nation’s best high schools in the Maine Academy of Science and Mathematics in Limestone. We have one of the nation’s leading colleges in Maine Maritime Academy in tiny Castine. These great institutions have proven that there are no insurmountable barriers to excellence in learning here in our state.

With our already wired schools statewide, and teachers and students who have now been using laptops and tablets in the classroom for decades now, we can engage our students in the next generation of learning. We can bring the world home to our young people so that after graduation, they can take on the world from right here in Maine.

Again, I am Matt Pouliot of State Senate District 15. Wishing you an algorithmic weekend.

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