Process Or Product?

I imagine that every one of us can remember from our very earliest years in school the following statement from a math teacher:

“The answer is important but you also need need to show your work.”

As a student, I felt the reasoning behind “showing your work” was so I could still get partial marks if I had the wrong answer due to a computation error. I am sure that we have students at our schools who feel the same way but there are probably just as many who have said “I got the right answer; that should be all that matters”.

As a preparatory school for post-secondary education, we want to ensure that our students are ready for what lies ahead so the Mentor HS mathematics department head Mr. Sulpizi asked his alma mater (University of Toronto) what they expected of a first-year mathematics student. The associate chair of the department wrote back and said that “entry-level students are often under the misconception that getting the correct answer to a problem is quite enough, while proper justification of the answer is undervalued.” He went on to explain that university math students will find that the “proper presentation of mathematical arguments is important” and that for math majors, this “fluency in mathematical language is crucial”. In other words, the other 5000 first-year math students at U of T (this is the associate chair’s figure!) are just as capable of finding the correct answer but understanding the theory behind it what sets students apart from each other.

So if your child is learning how to add two-digit numbers, starting long division, being introduced to BEDMAS or plotting advanced functions, your school is emphasizing that how they get to the answer is just as important as the result itself. It is critical because that is what the next level of education is recommending. After that, I wonder if the theory relates to the practical or “real world”. Hit “reply” and let me know what you find in your line of work. Is the process as important or more important than the final answer or everything based on results?

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College / TEAM School

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