Friday, December 2, 2011

Keep a watchful eye

I groaned when I read in today's SP (Dec. 2/11) that the public schools were introducing a new math instruction program. It was a deja vu the whole language concept. Much like whole language, parents are lining up concerned for their children's education and I think rightfully so. And prior to the news report, I listened to a couple of school principals groaning over the matter.

The whole language program operated on the theory that if students were encouraged to read more, they would absorb the mechanics of language by reading. Consequently teachers were not allowed to use phonetics, spelling lists or any other form of rote learning. Any teachers caught using old techniques were disciplined. It didn't take long for parents to figure out that their kids could not write, spell or have any knowledge of language structure. After a long battle, some of these rote elements were slowly re-introduced into the program. But a lot of kids came through school without that knowledge.

I'm not opposed to educators trying new strategies for teaching, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are tried and true rote learnings that can be supplemented, but not absolutely replaced.

For the sake of their kids, I hope today's parents continue to be vigilant with this new program.


  1. Mistress
    The new math curriculum is in ALL schools in the province not just the public in S'toon.
    Please check your facts.
    Maybe it was just dejavu for you all over again.

  2. Yup, the snakes that add nothing to the conversation didn't even wait a day to start their attacks again. The new system for screening out these comments can't fast enough Mistress.

    As for today's post, this is not surprising. Today's kids aren't taught the basics in any sense. It is more along the lines of learning to punch the right buttons on their cell phone calculators.

  3. Rote learning should supplement methods of deep learning. And there's no reason why the algorithms and rote learning we use to teach our children (times tables, carrying numbers, etc.) are better than other methods of rote learning and algorithms.

    Teaching children an algorithm and forcing them to do it over and over again until they can complete the algorithm works for many students, but it does not impart a deep understanding of the processes they are doing. I am not familar enough with "new math" to have a strong opinion on it one way or the other, but I do believe math education should be reformed. When I took math, it was entirely too much memorization and algorithms. I always did extremely well while taking a class, but if you asked me to do a problem from that class a year or so after taking it I would likely struggle because I didn't fully understand what I was doing.

    "Changes began in grades 1, 4 and 7 in 2007, and have since been rolled out in elementary schools ... Results released earlier this week from the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program showed Saskatchewan Grade 8 students posted the second-largest improvement in math skills in the country from 2007 to 2010."

    This might suggest that the new system is helping, but I can't say for sure since I don't know what the test is like and what the trends already were for the test scores.

    Spoon, many old engineers lamented when scientific calculators replaced the slide rule :p.

    This is one of my favourite takes on the state of math education in the States, written by a mathematician and astronaut, Paul Lockhart:

  4. Spoon,

    Please be careful in making generalizations. "Today's kids aren't taught the basics in any sense. It is more along the lines of learning to punch the right buttons on their cell phone calculators."

    I am a teacher and I have very mixed feelings about the "new math". On one hand, I think it's amazing to see children comprehending how math concepts work and explaining how they came to an answer by describing it logically. On the other hand, many teachers use certain math programs as gospel because they are told that students will naturally develop math fluency. Much like the whole language vs phonics debate, there should be a balance between teaching for understanding and teaching for fluency.

    Your assertion that kids today aren't taught basics is incorrect:
    1) What they often (but not always) lack in their lessons is fluency development (automatic recall). They learn the basics of math in great detail (the how and why), but they don't do drill and practice like we did when we were kids.
    2) I have taught the "new math" to grades K-8. Not once did I see a lesson or activity that required students to punch numbers into a calculator for the sake of getting an answer. The purpose of calculator use was to demonstrate number patterns for the purpose of understanding the math concepts better.
    2) We have to be fair - there are many teachers who do a combination of teaching for understanding AND fluency.


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