Sunday, November 24, 2013

Two Videos, Two Lessons . . .

The first video is by M.J.McDermott, a meteorologist for Channel 13 in Seattle, entitled "Elementary School Math, An Inconvenient Truth." Ms. McDermott does a good job explaining multiplication and division algorithms, comparing the tried-and-true algorithms most of us post-40 year-olds  learned with new algorithms being used in schools today.  Pay close attention to her revelation near the end of the video of comments made in the teacher's manuals by the book publishers.

The second video is by Karen Bracken affiliated with Tenesee Against Common Core, entitled "Common Core - Subversive Threat to Education." In this hour-long presentation she explains the historical context of Common Core, who is behind it, and its links or potential links to the United Nations, eugenics, and the UN's concept of "sustainability." Before dismissing this as an attack on the current administration, look at the "Who's who" revealed at 0:19:20.  Some names may surprise you (and, perhaps, you will no longer be surprised why Republicans often attack the Tea Party).

And before you dismiss the second video as a wild conspiracy theory, go back to the first video and ask yourself why students are studying inefficient algorithms that are never mastered, and then told to use a calculator?

After watching the second video, you will know the answer.


Dave said...

Regarding the first tape, the meteorologist speaking on troublesome trends in math education:
Wow, surprising. I hadn’t known things were such a mess in our schools’ math departments. Makes me want to call up the head of our local high school’s math department and get his or her opinion about this.

Let’s take the multiplication methods as an example. Frankly, I found the investigation methods .. the TERC, the partial products method, the lattice method, etc…. simply fascinating, because that’s the way I do math in my head. And for very good reasons: these methods are intuitive and for me easier to hold in my mind compared to the old style algorithms I learned in school, the method our meteorologist friend prefers for its efficiency.

If I were just arriving on earth and wanted to learn the local math skills, I would certainly want to spend time with the investigative methods for what they might teach me about the concepts of math. When I was memorizing the multiplication and division tables back in elementary school, I was learning to DO math. I wasn’t learning anything ABOUT math. I’d want to learn the old standard algorithms, too, for their efficiency. (I’m taking her word they are indeed more efficient. The QWERTY keyboard layout has for years been deemed more efficient, but test after test show other key arrangements can be used just as efficiently by those who learn them.) Seems to me we want to teach the old efficient algorithms, plus the new investigative methods. Teaching only the investigative methods without the old algorithms would produce students who can tell you everything about a math problem but can’t solve it. (Sounds like health care, doesn’t it?.)

Still, I’d like a citation for her statement that “students who learn math by a terc investigation rarely become efficient, confident and fluent math users.” And while we’re at it, ditto for “the TERC book is shallow in content, but that's a topic for another time.”

Calculators? Yup, they fit in your shirt pocket and can be integrated into any device, from a carpenter’s level to your old secret decoder ring. And … let’s face it … they ARE the way people solve math problems today. I would hate to see a learning objective stating “student will learn to duplicate the function of a calculator using antique methods as well as paper and pencil.”

But if the woman presenting this video is correct in her statement that schools (some or more) are teaching ONLY the investigative methods and not the more efficient old algorithms, then it is indeed no longer a mystery why we’re falling behind in math in America. It’s possible some educators believe the investigative methods and use of a calculator are all that needs to be taught. They may be right. But I would tend to side with the meteorologist who feels we should still be teaching the old algorithms. At least for a while.

Dave said...

Regarding the second tape: She's right about state education departments telling you that scads of 'stakeholders' were responsible for the development of new policies when in fact they were done by outside vendors who held stakeholder meetings with selected and agreeable members of the public. The published results said the public had provided input, but that's debatable. Some of us have been down that road. We can tell you how to do it, make everyone seemingly happy and make a living at the same time.

The woman speaking spent some time on Race To The Top's requriement on states to adopt new standards. Well, that's not a bad goal when you have some states still dancing with Creationism. She does not mention that Race to The Top also required that teachers be held accountable and that this aspect was the biggest hill to climb because of the teacher unions. Sometimes it's hard to come away from discussions with teacher groups without the thought that they'd rather change nothing but their control of holidays to match their vacations. Not all 'em, of course.

This whole thing about education issues like Common Core and Race to the Top is that the Feds are taking over. This is a problem, of course, but it's not surprising. They've taken all our money and won't give it back unless we in the states agree to do things their way. There are two valid sides to this, of course. From our point of view down here, it's our money and we'd rather spend it the way that suits us. From the federal perspective, they see themselves as the architects of national directions and don't trust the states to spend the money in a responsible way. Think of it as calculating a cost of $29,000 to rear your teenager this year and you give him the money to take of everything himself.

Our salvation will not be to argue these issues and hire lawyers to fight for citizens and parents rights in the courts against agencies who can outspend us on attorney fees... with our money. Our only solution is to get our money back. Pauperize the federal government in areas where they really have no legitimate concern. It will take a Herculean effort and it is the craziest idea one can imagine. But it's probably the only solution.

RomeHater said...

This is a microcosm of why government sucks. First, the idea that we have to teach in "new" ways because the only way to show progress is to do something different. Memorization and algorithms are extremely easy ways for a child's mind to process information, since it is a sponge for data and lousy at context. Trying to teach a child like a small adult is insanity.

Common Core is another one of the UN "one size fits all" government models that wants to turn us all into cogs in a giant machine, as if that would improve the human condition. Soylent Green and The Matrix had really efficient societies, too. Should we emulate them?