Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Being Good At Being Bad

I like this observation from a story at Joanne's site (see blogroll at left):

The teachers in both videos were extremely good at what they were doing, which brought home an unsettling realization to me: You can be very good at doing something that is absolutely horrible.

So what was going on that was horrible? Discovery learning, in which teachers spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get students to "discover", or figure out, what it took the best minds the human race has to offer several centuries to figure out.

An in another indictment of ed schools:

Mr. NCTM moved on to the next comment from another woman who in all seriousness and with no sarcasm intended said “The teacher was very good at not answering the students’ questions.” There was unanimous agreement.

The mind boggles.


Robert said...

I have to disagree with you on this one Darren. Discovery learning is not, just by definition, "horrible". It can be done horribly; it can be horribly out of context (i.e. used in a classroom unsuited for it). But a properly-designed discovery learning exericise will use class time efficiently and provide students with an experience of an important idea that will go deeper and last longer than just hearing it.

It is a tool -- a kind of teaching -- that works very well in some cases and not very well in others. It's neither altogether good or bad in all situations. Blanket ridicule of it is just as bad as blanket acceptance.

Even the paragraph you quoted about not answering questions requires more context to know whether it's ridiculous or not. Sometimes the most appropriate way to answer a student's question is to pose another, better-formed question for the student to answer.

carol said...

I've read a lot on *progressive* trends in education, including Hirsch. But can anyone tell me why we went down this path, with respect to math specifically? What was wrong back in the 1950s before the first round of new math? What needed "fixing"?

In my political campaign I've been arguing, as a principle, that math-science-English ed should be *turnkey* so the average kid can learn it on his own, without help or special coaching or tutoring, since so many disadvantaged pupils just don't have that. To be turnkey requires traditional math with no calculators or fuzzy teaching methodology.

I guess I make that argument because that's how I learned back in the 50s, with little or no help from my (single) mom.

Is it realistic?

Darren said...

Carol, we're going down this road because people think minorities are too stupid to learn traditional math. Hence, we give them fuzzy math courses--in effect teaching them no math--so that they (and we!) can feel good about their not learning math.

And yes, while that's very simplified, I believe it to be the truth. I've written a few times about "ethnomathematics", as if there's a best way to teach black kids that's different from the best way to teach Asian kids.

While there *are* cultural differences between peoples, I'll stake a paycheck that the best algebra class that's taught in Japan, and the best algebra class that's taught in sub-Saharan Africa, share common attributes of "direct instruction", "watch, then do", and a complete and total lack of "discovery learning".

I like your description of learning math as necessarily being "turnkey". If you can't do it, no keys are turned--and no doors are opened.