Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Don't Do This Math

Oh the horror!

Check out Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth at Youtube.com. It's stunning indictment of current mess of mathematics education in the U.S.

Other Links
ENL Blog: East meets West - Fundamental Differences in Math Teaching
ENL BLog: Why are so many students failing the WASL
The Math Wars
Working Memory and the Classroom
Mathematically Correct

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Thanks for the tip, Kristine!


  1. Anonymous9:24 PM

    Why is this so disastrous? I suppose the "old fashion method" (which is the only method I'd ever learned) ought to be taught, but these other methods are certainly better at demonstrating a principal that I had to arrive at on my own - there's more than one way to solve these problems. The earlier that we can teach that math is more than rote memorization of algorithms, the better.

    How many of us who were in grade school prior to 1990 ever learned how to compute a square root by hand? (for help http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methods_of_computing_square_roots), but we're not deriding our education.

    That being said, I realize the indictment is not on teaching these methods, but on neglecting others. That's fine. But this video is catering not to parents who realize that, but to parents who will see some method other than the standard and dismiss the other. I find its tone disturbing; certainly not of the caliber I've come accustomed to here.

  2. I can see your point-of-view.

    I see it as disastrous because half of U.S. students are failing basic math, and these approaches are so demanding in terms of spatial knowledge and working memory, and they have little hope of improving mathematical competency and sensibility. Among the students we see with math struggles, the most common problems are working memory, dysgraphia, spatial memory impairment. None of the alternatives presented in this video would help for these problems.

    The mathematicians who designed these curricula may have been well meaning, but it is also quite likely that those people who decide to enter mathematics as a career will have very different sets of cognitive skills from those who struggle at math at the K-12 level and beyond.

    Significant problems also exist with implementation - teacher surveys suggest many feel inadequate to teach mathematics - and many have no specialized math training. If the teachers manuals are not explicit and the teachers receive no additional training, how are the students to learn? Many parents are baffled when they try to help their children with homework - step-by-step examples of problem-solving algorithms are often not supplied for sample problems.

    If anything, the textbook examples in the video suggested to us, a mathematical approach that was building on inductive and spatial strengths (a common pattern among many career mathematicians) - but not helpful for strongly deductive and verbal thinkers (more common among women, more women are teachers).

    Perhaps I showed my hand with this because I am female, strongly deductive, and non-spatial. I confess I had a strong negative visceral reaction to the video...but you are right - there may be many who actually prefer some of these alternative problem-solving strategies. In the best of all possible worlds, a teacher equipped to teach strategies may be able to reach everybody. Thanks for your comments.