Math is not linear!

by Tyler Clark

Some time ago I came across Prezi, a rather neat presentation software. Its effects go beyond that of Microsoft PowerPoint. They have a search feature on their website and I of course (being a math junkie) searched for “mathematics.” One of the presentations I found that I really enjoyed was created by Alison Blank and is titled “Math is Not Linear.” It is mainly geared towards high school teachers, but it has a lot of thought provoking ideas that we could all use as a learning tool. You can view it at

In her presentation, Blank talks about teaching math in hierarchical steps. She notes that,

A background of certain skills can be helpful before you set out exploring.

She suggests that it is the common belief that “…mastery of one subject is a prerequisite for dabbling another…” She goes on to say that this is a complete fallacy. She presents five arguments for not teaching math in a linear order. These arguments are,

  1. It’s not motivating.
  2. It prevents students from being exposed to topics they might enjoy.
  3. It fosters anxiety by turning mathematics into a race.
  4. It hinders understanding by obscuring the big picture.
  5. It spreads misunderstanding about what mathematics is.

Blank goes on to describe ways that teachers can change their teaching techniques to better help students. These suggestions are,

  1. Go on tangents.
  2. Foreshadow.
  3. Relate material back to previous classes.
  4. Be less helpful! Let students tell you what they need to know.
  5. Teach an elective.

I have just given an outline of her ideas. View her presentation for the full scope of her thoughts. I would love to hear what you think about Blank’s ideas. Also, if you know of any other good online presentations about mathematics, please share them with us.

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