Batman, Superman, Wonderwoman, and Edward Frenkel





Are you wondering if this is a puzzle where you have to figure out which one doesn’t belong?

Well, it’s not a puzzle and all of the names do have something in common…. They’re all Superheroes!  Never heard of Edward Frenkel? Until recently, neither did I – but nonetheless, Edward Frenkel is now MY personal superhero.

Mr. Frenkel is an inspiring mathematician; one who recognizes that the way math is frequently taught in the classroom is creating a generation of children who think they are really “bad” at math. A tenured professor at the University of California at Berkley where his work includes research in algebraic geometry and mathematical physics, Mr. Frenkel was recently profiled in an article in The Wall Street Journal. Referring to what he sees as a deficiency in elementary math instruction, he is quoted as saying,

“It’s like teaching an art class where they only tell you how to paint a fence but they never show you Picasso.” He goes on to say “People say, ‘I’m bad at math,’ but what they’re really saying is ‘I was bad at painting the fence.’ ”

So, as educators and parents, how can we teach our children that there is more to mathematics than simply “painting the fence” or rote memorization of multiplication facts? Posnack teachers are following a pedagogical approach commonly referred to as the Socratic Method of teaching. Utilizing this approach, teachers continually ask questions of the students, facilitate discussion, and eventually reach a class consensus as to the correct answers. Students are also encouraged to produce and explain their own methods of thinking and problem solving in order to show that there is more than one way to reach the “right” answer.  This process of discovery not only results in a classroom where students are more engaged, but it requires the development of higher-order thinking skills. Both of these traits are vital to a student’s success in all academic subject areas, not only in mathematics.

Last May, in a well-publicized conference call, a senior IRS official announced that she was “not good in math” when unsure as to the answer for “one fourth of 300.” Political correctness aside, this statement reinforces the need for a change in our attitudes regarding math.

At Posnack, we are focused on being the catalyst for this change with new instructional methods being introduced into all classrooms. Obviously this change will not happen overnight, but if we can eliminate the “I’m not good at math” from our vocabulary, your child may one day join the ranks of Superman and Frenkel and be regarded as YOUR Math Superhero!

To see the Wall Street Journal article, please click here.

2 responses »

  1. Hi Joanie,

    Thanks for sending. I looked at the article and watched a little of his lecture on multivariable mathematics. Does he have a lecture where he talks about teaching math to elementary and middle school students.

    Also, and you may already know, talmud study which is the physics of Judaism (analyzing the what, how, when, where, who and why of a particualr mitzvah) is all via the Socratic menthod.


  2. Thank you, Rabbi. I was not aware that talmud study is conducted using this method but it makes perfect sense. Regarding Frenkel teaching math to younger children, I will do a little investigating and let you know if I find anything. What struck me about the article was his reference to people thinking they are “bad” in math. I hear that comment almost everyday and find it upsetting that a child would think they are “bad” at anything. We’re hoping to change the perception that excellence in math is only available to a few.

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