KOLD Curriculum: Killing the Darlings in Math

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings”

—Stephen King, On Writing

Fiction writers have heard this advice: “Kill your [little] darlings.” I realized (at a wonderful lunch yesterday with colleagues who are planning a revolution) how this might apply to reinventing math curriculum.

The problem is that it’s really hard to imagine a math course without some of our favorite parts of math. We all have things we despise (one of mine is factoring trinomials) but every one of these things is someone other teacher’s fave, the thing where they suddenly got how cool math was. And if we have that meeting where we decide what to throw out in order to put modeling in, we’ll keep everything. It would be like writing science standards in the 90s.

It’s a values/positions thing. We need to figure out carefully what each darling (ours and the others’) really means and see where the meat of it fits. Maybe we really can get at it with a modeling approach. Maybe it needs to remain the way it is. Or maybe it’s just later in the sequence.

And it’s not a zero-sum game (thanks, Mariel!). Ideally, kids get everything, using the best tools, always appropriately, in the most efficient imaginable sequence. But we will, occasionally, have to Kill Our Little Darlings. KOLD, but necessary.

Just for fun, I list a few of mine. Okay, some are not darlings, but I want to kill them off. So my lesson in collaboration may be letting them live…

  • Factoring trinomials (but recognize squares!)
  • Obscure trig identities (but keep Pythagoras, double angle, etc.)
  • Remainder Theorem
  • Integration by partial fractions

What are yours? And what can’t you give up?

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Published by

Tim Erickson

Math-science ed freelancer and sometime math teacher. In 2014–15, at Mills College in Oakland, California.

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