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A Critique of the Structure of U.S. Elementary School Mathematics


"An expert argues that the 'strands' of structure used in mathematics education have significantly weakened the effectiveness of US school mathematics.

In this article, Liping Ma notes that, in many countries where students do well in mathematics, elementary mathematics has school arithmetic as its main organizing structure. School arithmetic is developed as a self-contained subject consisting of whole numbers and fractions, with the whole numbers forming the basis for understanding of fractions. Other components of elementary mathematics, such as measurement or geometry, are not presented as self-contained subjects but are taught in relation to the main subject of school arithmetic.

In the U.S., by contrast, the organizing structure for elementary mathematics has no self-contained structure at its core but rather consists of several strands that are juxtaposed but not explicitly connected. Over the decades, the strands have been given different names -- such as 'strands,' 'content areas,' or 'standards' -- and their number, form, and content have varied many times."


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