Sunday, November 09, 2008

Cutting To The Chase Regarding Math Education

I love reading an article that puts "the bottom line up front", as this article does:

Here are two of the clues to America's current mathematics problem:

1."Student-centered" learning (or "constructivism")
2.Insufficient practice of basic skills

I also like that the article mentions Mathematically Correct, an organization with which I've been affiliated for many years now:

Meanwhile, anti-reform advocacy group Mathematically Correct provides an amusing take on constructivism ("What Is," 1996):

"This notion holds that students will learn math better if they are left to discover the rules and methods of mathematics for themselves, rather than being taught by teachers or textbooks. This is not unlike the Socratic method, minus Socrates."

Hear hear.


Ellen K said...

Here's what I wish. I wish math teachers would stop using games and tricks to teach math. Some things, like multiplication tables, simply have to be learned over a long period of time. Instead, teachers in my kids' district taught them as a three week unit. Now as a college freshman, my son struggles. He knows how to do the higher math, but without a calculator, he can't multiply or divide worth a flip. I was one of the New Math guinea pigs and I can do both those functions pretty much in my head. And I think this goes for all core classes. We have to get out of the entertainment business and somehow make kids and parents realize that school isn't supposed to be entertaining. Engaging, interesting, challenging-sure-but we've sacrificed the work ethic to be popular.

Darren said...

I could not agree more. I could try, but I would fail.

Ellen K said...

It's always amusing when kids get into my art class with the illusion of elementary glitter and paste projects in their heads. They are first shocked and then appalled that I require frequent visits to the library and computer lab for research on various topics from contemporary architecture to art history. I sometimes get the "but this is art..." whiny argument. But then I remind them that THEY chose it, and that I get to teach it the way I want. And do you know what, even the kids who don't take higher level classes come back and tell me how their knowledge of MS Publisher or research or MLA citations or even just the ability to write a decent criticism have helped them in other core classes. I guess what I want to know is why am I, an art teacher, the one teaching these concepts? (Note: One of my favorite incidents happened right after our art history unit. A student, who whined through the course about having to do anything besides just sitting there, came out of the AP American History test giggling. It seems that there were five questions about the Hudson River School and Manifest Destiny. We covered that in my class....and people say art is a frill.....)

mazenko said...

Math instruction in Japan is as creative as anything I've encountered in educational research, yet their results don't suffer. That said, I remember my "one-minute quizzes" on basic skills, and to this day I'm thankful. I throw a hissy-fit in class when students (even honors level juniors) take out a calculator to figure out their percentage on for a 25/30 on a quiz. I rant and rave and tell the whole class I won't record a single grade for the class and will enter zeroes unless they all figure out their percentage long-hand. The groans are shocking, but it rarely happens in the same class twice.

Anonymous said...

Throwing a "hissy-fit?" Do you realize how such a turn of phrase undermines your credibility?

Darren said...

I don't think it detracts from his point.

Anonymous said...

Communities get the schools they want. If American parents were really interested in seeing their kids get a good education, I believe the social fabric would support education to a greater degree. They would demand better results, too.

When people cite Asian (read: Taiwan-Japan-Korea) achievements in comparative assessments, Asian pedagogy, etc., they are often ignorant of the social fabric in Asian countries and the role it plays in educational achievement.

I'll give an example. About ten years ago, I visited Seoul to see family and friends. I met the son of a friend who was studying to get into university. He wanted to major in art. I asked him how many hours per week he spent studying mathematics. He told me that in addition to being in math class (six days per week), that he probably spent a minimum of 14 hours per week studying mathematics. He had ancillary texts in addition to his school textbook that he was studying, and he worked problems from those books in addition to doing his homework for school. At that time, the Korean Educational Broadcasting Service (EBS) ran programs where high school teachers, etc., would appear and solve select problems from these nationally-published ancillary texts on television.

Why so many hours devoted to the study of mathematics? Because this kid knew if he did not earn a high score on the Korean national uni exam, he would have a very hard time gaining admission to the programs of choice, where he would then be able to study art without ever having to take another required mathematics course.

This is why kids from those countries routinely shame American students in comparative assessments. It's not because they are smarter, it's because they work harder.

This is an example of the social fabric in Korea.

Of course there are costs that such a system imposes, and I'm not suggesting that we need to ape their system in every respect. But the average American student spends a fraction of the time studying, and it should be no surprise, because American society as it currently exists would never support even a shadow of the Asian system.

Ellen K said...

Hissy fit is a good old fashioned term. So is the politically incorrect term "having a come to Jesus meeting."