"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Do You Understand the Math Your Children are Learning?

How can a student "think like a mathematician" if the student doesn't understand mathematical facts?

Barry Garelick writes in The Atlantic about math reform and the need for a revolution in how it's taught in public education classrooms.  From It's Not Just Writing: Math Needs a Revolution, Too:

I first became aware of it (mathematics education) over 10 years ago when I saw what passed for math instruction in my daughter's second grade class. I was concerned that she was not learning her addition and subtraction facts. Other parents we knew had the same concerns. Teachers told them not to worry because kids eventually "get it."
This was my initiation into the world of reform math. It is a world where understanding takes precedence over procedure and process trumps content. In this world, memorization is looked down upon as "rote learning" and thus addition and subtraction facts are not drilled in the classroom--it's something for students to learn at home. Inefficient methods for adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing are taught in the belief that such methods expose the conceptual underpinning of what is happening during these operations. The standard (and efficient) methods for these operations are delayed sometimes until 4th and 5th grades, when students are deemed ready to learn procedural fluency. 

The idea is to teach students to "think like mathematicians." They are called upon to think critically before acquiring the analytic tools with which to do so. More precisely, they are given analytic tools for "understanding" problems and are then forced to learn the actual procedural skills necessary to solve them on a "just in time" basis. Such a process may eliminate what the education establishment views as tedious "drill and kill" exercises, but it results in poor learning and lack of mastery. Students generally work in groups with teachers who "facilitate" rather than providing direct instruction.

Here is an example of how math is taught in many classrooms today:

Garelick explains how parents complain about these methods to their school boards to no avail.  What do parents do to ensure their children are learning "traditional math"?  They search out supplemental services:

Parents have objected to these programs at school board meetings. For a period now spanning more than two decades, we have been told that traditional math may have worked for some people, but it also failed large numbers of students. School boards usually don't bother to define what they mean by fail, or specify how many students in fact "failed," or even clarify what specific era they're talking about. They just say that traditional math doesn't teach all students, but this new program does. 

Many of these parents are then forced to teach their children what they are not being taught in school, hire tutors, or enroll their children in learning centers like Sylvan, Huntington, or Kumon. At my daughter's school, Huntington would put on an infomercial meeting every fall (somehow the principal allowed this), ostensibly to discuss how parents can help their children study effectively. I went to one of them. The presenter explained that the reason our kids weren't doing well in math is that schools no longer teach the math facts or standard procedures. "At Huntington, we do!" she said. The light went on in many parents' minds: The learning center uses the traditional methods decried by school board methods as having failed.

Advice to parents?  Don't waste your time with school boards or your school.  They're tied into the Common Core and will teach what the consortia mandates.  Test your child on math facts and if he/she is struggling, enroll them in an program that uses the traditional methods decried by school board methods as having failed and your child won't be using the convoluted method of solving a math problem as the student featured in the above video.

It is your responsibility as a parent to ascertain your child masters basic math facts so he/she can be successful in higher math classes.  If your school won't teach them, you as a parent must step in and obtain what your child needs.

Read the entire article here.

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