Monday, October 28, 2013

When We Shoot Ourselves In The Foot

Only educators could say something so stupid with a straight face because they want to believe it:
Scary: Only 57% of college freshman could solve the simple division problem above (231 / 7 = 33) without a calculator (using old-fashioned long division) based on a math assessment test given by Professor Cliff Mass in his Atmospheric Sciences 101 class at the University of Washington. Here’s a hint why – according to a math teacher quoted in the NY Times, “We don’t teach long division…. it stifles students’ creativity.” 
And today I'm told that students have to be able to write about math or else they don't understand it, or they need to explain how and why something is true or else they don't have a deep understanding of it (a la Common Core).  My reply is always the same:  "Can you do long division?  (I assume that every adult can.)  Explain to me why the algorithm works."  Yet we can all do long division till the cows come home....


momof4 said...

I'm certainly not a mathy type, but that problem is so simple that I don't need a paper and pencil. Given 15-20 minutes of instruction and practice, my mathy second-grade grandson could do it - probably without pen and paper. In my book, these HS-grad types who can't add simple purchases, add sales tax and figure change (with or without a calculator) have ZERO understanding. At my local bakery, during a power outage, none of the four workers could calculate how much I owed for six rolls ($.50 each) with 6% sales tax. It took me 10 minutes to explain how and they proceeded to ask the next customer for $16 for a $10 purchase. You can't convince me that they (1) understand the concepts involved (2) have any number sense or (3) have any useful real-world skills. Innumerate is the word. I see the remedy as direct, explicit instruction, memorization of basic facts and algorithms and practice, practice and practice - starting in kindergarten.

Allan Folz said...

Apologies, this is going to sound like spam, but I really am a long-time reader.

A buddy and I have started a company making math apps. Ours is an old school, Common Core unaligned, practice makes perfect style that I think parents appreciate. We're parents ourselves, so it comes naturally. Our app has students practice long division, and never ask anyone to explain why it works. Not that there's anything wrong with that. :) It should be perfect for that other 43% of college freshmen.

It sounds like your students are well past basic whole number and decimal arithmetic, but if it comes up in conversation with other teachers or parents, please feel free to name drop "Blackboard Math."

We're only on Android right now, which I recall is, wisely, your mobile OS of choice. (Hey, this proves I'm not a spammer. ;) ) Here's a quick link to us on Amazon:
Blackboard Math

Thanks. And kudos on a really good blog. I too am right on the left coast, though a few hundred miles to your north.

Ellen K said...

Here's my theory of technology-you shouldn't touch a calculator until you can do basic math functions on your own. In a similar manner, you shouldn't touch a computer until you can read and write legibly. We are getting kids who skip the reading of text in order to jump ahead and do a hit or miss spin through the electronically generated multiple choice questions. I have high school seniors who do not know how to look up information in the index of a book. I have sophomores who cannot write or read cursive. While technology is a good tool, it is just that, a tool. What is scary is that my district is giving IPAD's, fully functional and internet ready, to kindergartners. At a time when they should be developing basic fine motor skills by writing and drawing, they are dragging and dropping. I think this is an experiment where "someone" has promised rosy outcomes that are never going to develop. Ten years down the road, we will have huge problems bringing these little ones up to speed. I will be retired by then, but I pity these kids who are be raised to be ADD. We should know better. Look up Joe Kraus' "Slow Tech" on Youtube.

PeggyU said...

I wonder if any of these students took Algebra II or Precalculus? I once had a student who, when faced with polynomial division, admitted he had never learned long division. That's kind of an impediment, wouldn't you say? Fortunately, he was a pretty quick learner, and it didn't take much time to fix that knowledge deficit.

The fact that these students couldn't do that division without a calculator also tells me that they never learned to factor and simplify division that way. They also must not have been taught some of the division "rules" (such as, if the sum of the digits is a multiple of 3, the number is divisible by 3). There's more of a "gap" there than the inability to do long division.