Friday, November 13, 2009

One Size Fits All

I got an e-mail asking me to look at this video and give my thoughts, which I did. But, I've been thinking about it since, and I am not sure what I answered was even totally what I believe.

For those of you who don't want to watch the video, I'll summarize it here. Ted believes that everything we teach in math leads to calculus, the top of the math pyramid. He believes that instead of calculus, we should put probability and statistics, which are more useful and more interesting at the top. While I do agree that these two subjects are more useful and interesting, I'm not sure there should be a top at all.

This semester I am teaching a four term algebra course. The problem, as I see it, is that most of these kids do not see either of these subjects as the top of their pyramid. Some are struggling just to master the basics needed to pass the regents and get their diploma, some are not even doing this much and opening a book is too much effort for them.

The whole "one size fits all" education philosophy is the biggest obstacle to education today. Until people like Obama wake up and realize that not everyone is meant to go to college, nothing will change. We are all born different and have different strengths and weaknesses. Until we start embracing these differences and building on individual strengths, nothing will change. We need to value the person who cleans the toilets as much as the lawyers and doctors that use them. Making them shine is a skill that I and I am sure Obama does not have.

The other problem with education, as I see it, is that we don't teach critical thinking, we only teach the mechanics of problem solving. Even my top students break into a sweat when I ask them to think outside the box. But, even as I write this and think about my own education, I realize that critical thinking was sorely missing then too. It was only after I started teaching that I finally understood why things worked out the way they did. It was only after I had to teach a class how to factor that I understood the rational behind what I was doing.

Ted makes some great points in his video but, Ted is a college professor and a performer. I don't know if Ted teaches any remedial classes or if Ted has any real concept of how lacking today's students are in the field of mathematics. If he really wants to change math education in this country, he needs to start at a much lower level than he is presently talking about.

I'm sure the person who e-mailed me this video would appreciate others opinions. Any comments left will be greatly appreciated.


Ricochet said...

Gave a quiz yesterday where they had to calculate sales price *about $42), then 6% sales tax. One said it was about $300 - another $30. They went on to add the sales tax to the sales price without blinking an eye.

How do you get them to think?

Schoolgal said...

Kids don't process information the same way. For some, it may take them longer than others regardless of the curriculum. Every one has different rates of learning. I am taking a Bridge class and am ready to pull my hair out while others catch on immediately.

I always ignored the curriculum calendar and taught place value first because it made teaching basic computation skills easier--especially multiplying by a 2-digit number. From there I would go to calculations and one-step word problems and add more steps problem. Fractions, decimals and the rest became easier to deal with. Learning the vocabulary was also important. Our math notebooks were filled with steps to follow, labels, etc. instead of just problems. I once had a sister of one of my 3rd graders tell me she used her brother's notes to get through Jr. HS math!!

I also liked putting a problem of the day on the board (which incorporated critical skills) and have the kids work in groups. They were allowed to use their notes and text, look up vocabulary, or get any tool they needed to come up with the answer. They could draw it, table it, or any other method as far as I was concerned. Groups that came up with the correct answer, showed their work and labeled got the stickers. (Don't think that would work on the HS level.)

Then along came Trailblazers and EveryDay Math. What a disaster!! Not only did it not believe in basic skills, but taught more than one concept a day. Someone really has to revamp math on the elementary level so that one concept is taught for a longer period of time instead of one week and then moving on.
What passes for math today is horrible. Parents cannot help because there are new ways to multiply, add, subtract, etc. and those models must be followed.

Lsquared said...

Ted says "probability and statistics, which are more useful and more interesting"--which is clearly his value judgement. I'd agree that it's easier for many people to see the purpose of probability and statistics, but useful is a question of your audience. If you are a physicist, you need calculus--that's more useful. If you are a social scientist, you need statistics--that's more useful. For some one is more useful, for some the other, and for some, neither is particularly relevant.

Schoolgal--I hope you are able to keep doing what you have been doing. I think it's a great shame that Everyday Math and Trailblazers that started with such grand ideals have turned out to be such a poor product. For example, the only point in learning/figuring out/teaching alternate algorithms is so that students can make the choice of which to use. If you dictate what algorithms students use, you have lost any moral high ground you might have had... And if my college students can't handle more than 1 topic in a day, I think it's unconscionable to try to structure an elementary text that way.

Good luck. I hope you have the freedom to teach the way that works for you and your students.

Mr. Condescending said...

They should just keep hammering basic math over and over. And teach Rapid Math.

Calculus should be college level only, and only if you choose it.

mathman42 said...

Th best Math video won the academy award in 1959. Disney's Donald in Math MagicLand. Get it and play it; give them a writing assignment on it. about 30 min. It worked for all classes.

Anonymous said...

My dyslexic daughter dropped out of school in Grade 10 because she couldn't do algebra and no one seemed to be able to help her. Recipe for lifelong disaster, right!

Wrong, because I home-schooled her until high school, emphasizing critical thinking, research and doing basic math in her head to avoid number reversals, at 22 she works as an assistant producer for a movie company. She is frequently complimented on her ability to calculate budget amounts in her head.

I teach at a university and I am deeply frustrated by the assumption that the goal of K-12 education is to get people into university. Plumbers make more than teachers, have no student loans hanging over their future and at least in my area are in short supply.

As for critical thinking, I am so fed-up with kids who can memorize pages of material and don't understand any of it. They want authority figures to tell them the right answer to complex theories. We have lost the concept of North Americans as innovators and scientists as a result.