Innovation Isn't Easy

Last week an interesting letter to the editor (below) appeared in USA Today. I didn't catch the original commentary, but apparently there's a discussion about why kids hate math and what to do about it.  The author of letter, Blake Nielsen, thinks banning calculators in the classroom could help.

Wait ONE second!  I ONLY liked math when I HAD a calculator.  Hmmm.

So I may not be sold on the solution, but the letter struck me for a couple of other reasons.  Have a look and gather your thoughts...

usa clip
usa clip

Did you notice anything?  Here's where my mind went (in sequential order...)

  1. Do 25 year old guys actually read NEWSPAPERS? He must have caught the story on Twitter, right? (My brain often goes to frivolous thoughts first.)
  2. Isn't grasping complex math equations the GOAL of math? Why do you need to worry about long division?
  3. Should you use your parents and grandparents as an argument for modeling education practices today? Is that realistic?
  4. Will banning calculators make kids MORE excited about math? Is the solution that simple?

Banning new technologies is NOT an innovative approach to creating a math fever in the next generation.  I'm not trying to pick on Blake.   If you're like me, you may approach problems in a similar way.  Innovation has many enemies, and this example illustrates at least three.

  • When there is  an ill-defined goal, innovation dies.
  • If you focus on resetting the clock to the "good old days," innovation can't grow.
  • If you don't deal with the realistically with the complexities of a problem, you leave no room for new or creative solutions.

When you facing a challenge that requires creative problem solving, you would do well to remember what we see in this tale:

  • Make your goals clear.
  • Don't waste energy trying to rewind what's already happened, but look forward to what COULD be done in the future.
  • Give yourself time to work through the complexities of a problem so the solution is adequate to the scope of the challenge.

Feel free to use a calculator if it helps.