Monday, September 25, 2006

ABC News Inadvertently Shows What's Wrong With Math Education

I was just watching ABC's World News and saw a report about middle schoolers--and the academic difficulties that seem to strike at that age. There was also mention of a lack of Title I money going to middle schools, and the fact that teachers are often trained for elementary or high school but not specifically for middle school.

If I recall correctly (I haven't yet found the story on their web site--hopefully it will be up soon), 33% of middle schoolers in the US are at grade level in reading, 32% in science, and 28% in math.

Then what did I see? During the report there was video of a middle school in New York State, and a math teacher was correcting a student for a mistake he seemed to be making on a graphing calculator.

What math could a middle school class be covering that necessitates the use of a calculator, much less a graphing calculator? With the exception of square roots--which don't require a graphing calculator-- I'm at a loss.

Update, 9/26/06: EdWonks (see blogroll at left) posted a link to the video here, although I haven't watched to see if it's the same as I saw on tv last night.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

LOL

Anonymous said...

i'm almost certain that you can do square roots on scientific ones, too :)

Darren said...

Perhaps I wasn't clear enough.

The reason I think it was a *graphing* calculator was because the teacher was looking at a large display and said something like, "Your x and y aren't the same." Those are what led me to believe it was definitely a graphing calculator.

Brook Stevens said...

Well since I skipped pre algebra so i was in geometry by 8th grade we had some days throughout the year that was soley devoted to graphing calculators and we even had a class set of Texas instrument graphing calculators but in any other math class graph calculators are definitely not needed

Darren said...

Why on God's green earth would anyone need a graphing calculator in a geometry class?

rightwingprof said...

Way back in the Dark Ages when I was in high school, geometry had two purposes: preparation for trigonometry, and learning logic (proofs). Neither requires any kind of calculator.

Nick Lopez said...

Remind me to talk to you about my brother's school. Becuse he is in "advanced math" (get your "oo"s and "ah"s out now), his teacher requires that he has a graphing calculator. He's taking algebra 1.

It's so ridiculous.

carol said...

Geez I had to DRAW MY GRAPHS BY HAND in my college Functions class (eons ago)! Why do students need these at ALL in K-12? It takes all of a week or two to figure out how to use one later on, when you're doing some heavy applied math in another discipline.

So call me a Luddite.

Anonymous said...

It takes more than a week to learn how to use a TI83 or 89.

Cameron said...

I used a graphic calculator in Algebra 2 to check my graphs when the problems weren't in the back of the book. And to play Tetris.

Anonymous said...

I use graphing calculators when I teach my year 8 classes to graph linear equations. While graphing by hand is what we teach and assess, I do lend my students a graphing calculator to conduct investigations which would otherwise be too cumbersome. Usually, after 20 minutes of specific exercises and a class discussion, we arrive at conclusions regarding the effect of changing the gradient of the line. For instance, they discover that lines with the same gradient are parallel.
By the way, which grades are defined as "middle school". I teach in Australia, where students go from primary to secondary school. We refers to grades 5-9 as the "middle years".

Chris said...

Graphing calculators (TI-84?) are basically required in our local school system starting in Middle School (6th - 8th grades). It's total insanity.

I remember a factorial homework problem my daughter had that if you actually used REAL "number sense" could easily be reducted by hand to something like (8*7*6)/(3*2*1). However, if you did it using a calcuator, the numerator yielded scientific notation, which of course the students hadn't learned yet or at least didn't recognize the results on the calculator.

If a math educator uses a phrase like "number sense", beware.

Darren said...

Really? I'm all about number sense. I want students to develop it--and the way to develop it is to work with lots of numbers with your head, not with a calculator.

Chris said...

Darren, I want you to be for number sense. In the school system my daughters attend, number sense is a code phrase used by constructivist math teachers and is a talent that can't possibly be learned by students taught by traditional methods.

I don't think I'm making my point well, I'm feeling under the weather at the moment, but I'm 110% for true number sense.