Thursday, December 15, 2011

Now it's Canada's Turn for Deform

 Harrison wasn't allowed either.
Yes, the times tables are vitally important.
Yes, algorithm is important.

No, those new-fangled methods aren't really new. In fact, they are hundreds of years old. They were in use for centuries until the algorithms were developed. Then, everyone switched to the new algorithms because THEY ARE MORE EFFICIENT and EASIER TO USE. Education deformers who lacked any sense of history and never learned those algorithms have developed the old ways all over again: lattice multiplication, grouping by thousands and hundreds.

Isn't that incredible? It's like arithmetic archeology posing as cutting-edge but acting like the Handicapper-General in Harrison Bergeron. Why should today's kids use what works efficiently? If a Deformer couldn't learn this "long division" thing, why should America's kids? The Deformer was a "C" student so everyone must be limited to the same inadequate and tedious multiplication methods. "You MAY NOT USE the easy method."

MARGARET WENTE: Why Alex can’t add (or subtract, multiply or divide); Globe and Mail

A parent I know went to an information session about math at his kid’s school. After listening to the visiting curriculum expert explain how important it was for students to “understand” the concepts, he asked: “So, how important is it for them to learn the times tables?” The expert hemmed and hawed and wouldn’t give an answer.
 The elementary teacher is a math-phobe. Where did you think the kids got that fear?

Parents across Canada might be surprised to learn that the times tables are out. So are adding, subtracting and dividing. Remember when you learned to add a column of numbers by carrying a number over to the next column, or learned to subtract by borrowing, then practised your skills until you could add and subtract automatically? Forget it. Today, that’s known as “drill and kill,” or, even worse, “rote learning.” And we can’t have that.
Nope. Can't do it. Practice is right out of the math classroom. It's much better do have the kids hop onto the computer, log in to their Khan Academy account and do rote learning and drill there. It's a computer, don't you see? That means it's not really drill. It's shiny and new so it must be better than making the kids learn math.
“The designers of the new curriculum have decided it would be a really good idea not to teach these things,” says Robert Craigen, an associate professor of mathematics at the University of Manitoba. He sat on the province’s math curriculum committee for years. Unfortunately, nobody was interested in what he had to say. So today, he’s got calculus students who never learned long division. “The undergirding motive is: We want to teach understanding, and all this mechanical detail gets in the way of understanding.”
Because nothing allows you to think like knowing nothing. Lots of room for all those thoughts to bounce around. When you open your mouth, pretty much anything comes out.
The common methods used to add and subtract are known as standard algorithms. They are efficient and foolproof. But, instead of being taught these methods, students are encouraged to find “strategies,” such as breaking numbers into units of thousands, hundreds, tens and ones and working horizontally. It works, but it’s not efficient. And every time a student sees a new problem, he has to start from scratch – and pick his “strategy.” It’s like playing the piano without ever learning scales, or hockey without basic drills.
 If Practice is so Bad, why am I constantly hearing about Teaching's Best Practices?
But that's how NHL players are made, aren't they? Don't those little kids just skate around the rink devising new ways to score? We should let them invent the rules they want to play by. There's plenty of time to learn skill. We'll use a video game. Yeah, that's the ticket. A video game.
The loony thing is that Canada is way behind the times. After a decade of disastrous experimentation in the United States, this approach to math education has been repudiated. The leading U.S. heavyweights in math came out decisively against it in 2008. Sadly, it seems this news has not yet reached Canada. Here, curriculum developers and boards of education are pressing forward, undeterred by the objections of math experts or the bafflement of parents and children alike.
Ooooooh, you went there. Except that the information is not quite right. There are plenty of experts in the US who still believe that Practice is the Road to Hell and that Engagement at any cost is Royal Road to Mathematics.

Meh.

Apparently, drills are fine on the football field but not in the classroom.  Maybe that's why we're so much better at football.

1 comment:

1. I think it's great for students to be encouraged to find strategies for addition and subtraction, and to develop understanding outside of an algorithm.

Then I think it's imperative for the little blighters to be taught the damn algorithm and practise until they get damn good at it.

Good to have both approaches, I think.