Here We Go Again, Dept.

Group work isn’t going away any time soon, given that universities now are embracing the “active learning” model. Supposedly university students are more mature in handling it than those in K-8, but from where I sit, the same problems exist in both venues.

Annie Murphy Paul’s latest column talks about “active learning” based on a presentation on same that she attended. Though she tries to effect a neutral tone in her column, it struck me that she is on the side of active learning–at least at the university level.

She states: “Research has shown again and again that people are generally poor monitors of how well they’re learning and how much they know. This is especially true of novices, which is what science students are. Students can and do walk out of a lecture feeling that they’ve “got it,” when really they don’t; hence the need for a different approach isn’t apparent to them.”

Quite true; students are novices. Particularly true in lower grades (k-8) where group work and student-centered, inquiry-based classes have become more common over the years. Thus, the comparison of “group work” to the collaboration that supposedly is going on in the working world and which they will need to do is flawed. In the real world, whatever collaboration occurs consists of people bringing their individual expertise to the table. In school, everyone is essentially a novice, so you have either the blind leading the blind, or the smart kids (who excel sometimes because they are getting traditionally based education at home, via tutor, or learning center) take the lead and do the work that no one else does.

The idea that group work is rejected because “people don’t like change” (something brought up in the presentation she attended and something she doesn’t exactly refute) reminds me of what I hear school board members say in patronizing tones to angry parents who are protesting constructivist approaches. “The reason you don’t like it is because you weren’t taught this way.”

Bollocks, as they say in the UK.

PS: You’re an Idiot, Dept.


Article on San Francisco USD’s decision to prohibit 8th graders from taking Algebra 1. Jim Ryan of the SFUSD, defends the policy:

“Still, Ryan bristles at the suggestion that the eighth graders of San Francisco are no longer learning algebra. Under the Common Core State Standard, he explains, there is a much stronger emphasis on developing a more intuitive understanding of math from an early age. “There is [now] a ton of what you would consider algebra in grade school and all the way through middle school,” he says. “So the question about Algebra I in middle school really just doesn’t fit the current paradigm because the standards are so different than what has historically been taught.”

“As Ryan points out, the CCSS Math 8 course that eighth graders are now expected to take includes 60% of the material from the old Algebra I course. This includes linear equations, roots, exponents, and an introduction to functions. The new course also offers students a taste of geometry and statistics—hardly your typical middle school fare. According to Ryan, this helps students to understand the “why” and “what for” of pre-algebraic math.

“Likewise, the course called “Algebra I” that students will now take in their first year of high school introduces a number of the concepts we all associate with introductory algebra (quadratic equations, say), but also delves deeper into modeling with functions and quantitative analysis. Call it what you want, in other words, but this is not your grandmother’s Algebra I. ”

My grandmother didn’t take Algebra 1, but I took it in the 60’s and I suppose it’s people like me that Ryan is referring to. I have a bunch of textbooks from that era. I’ll be teaching 8th grade algebra at a school in California, in which the school district doesn’t sit on the high horse that SFUSD likes to occupy. In looking through the Common Core-aligned algebra book I’m forced to teach from, I’m aghast at the dearth of good solid word problems, the short shrift given to exponentials, to rational expressions, not to mention the omission of solving quadratic equations by factoring–I guess the quadratic formula saves a lot of time and there’s no value in teaching that approach. There is a chapter on statistics (as if that’s needed in an algebra class), and a superficial look at exponential functions, which I suppose allows people like Ryan to say “Look how deep this course is. Not your grandmother’s algebra 1”.

Furthermore, the algebra Ryan feels is taught in regular 8th grade math, isn’t that much different than what used to be offered in 7th grade pre-algebra classes. The exception is that they teach simultaneous linear equations–and spend an inordinate amount of time on that, as well as developing a “deep understanding” of slope. I observed an 8th grade class going through this supposed “deep understanding”–spending five weeks on slope and functions which could have been taught fairly well in 2 weeks.

I will be supplementing the algebra book heavily and giving lots of word problems, as well as problems with exponentials, powers, and rational expressions. That aside, the policy that 8th graders shouldn’t be taking algebra 1 is an ill-thought one. The school district in which I reside (but do not teach in, and refuse to do so because of a constructivist-oriented superintendent and a very student-centered approach to education in general) has implemented a similar policy. Algebra 1 for those middle schoolers who are “truly gifted”–a term left undefined, but tracked by a very poor readiness exam put together by Silicon Valley Math Initiative SVMI).  SVMI is made up of constructivist group-thinkers who not only have no clue what works, bit also do not realize that the “grandmothers” who took algebra 1 learned a hell of a lot more than today’s youth.

Best Excuse of the Decade, Dept.


OK, fewer calculus courses offered in high schools. And what with Andrew Hacker saying students really don’t need the math that’s taught in high schools (never mind that those who want to major in STEM might differ with his opinion; when Hacker speaks he speaks for everyone apparently) the dearth of calc classes should be taken as a good thing. And sure enough, someone took the bait:

“But some critics said that the lower amounts of upper-level math courses offered is not such a bad thing.

“According to the Deseret News, “Some critics say the math skills now demanded of many high school students are simply harder than they need to be, even for the majority of college-bound students. But the result is many students struggle with complex math that, critics argue, they will not need for most college majors or even high-level careers.” ”

I would agree that making everyone take 4 yrs of math in high school is overkill. In my era, 2 yrs of math was all that was required. But if you wanted to, you could take 4 yrs which is what I and others did. Why eliminate that pathway?

Crux of the Story, Dept.

In Casper, Wyoming, the schools are using a program called “My Math”. Test scores have plummeted. So I was glad to see someone actually using logical reasoning:

“The fact that teachers are often using My Math sparingly or in conjunction with other curriculum is evidence that there is an issue, he said.

” “I ask the big questions,” Christopherson said. “This doesn’t look right to me… Is it because of this program we are using?” ”

Uh, let me think. I’m going with “yes” on this one. I’ve seen “My Math” It’s awful.

Traditional Math

I recently gave a talk at ResearchED at Oxford, UK. The title of my talk was “Math Education in the US: Still Crazy After All These Years”.  It described the sorry state of math education in the US and how it got that way. In particular, it pointed up the battle between traditionalists and progressives (math reformers) and how each approaches math education. It also discussed how the Common Core Math Standards extends the reform math ideology that has been alive and well for the past 25+ years in the U.S.

A copy of the presentation is available here: Garelick presentation at ResearchED

Shut the Hell Up, Dept.


I got this far in a news story about Common Core:

“If you have 12 cookies and four friends, how can you give an equal number of cookies to each friend? The trouble with this standby analogy comes when you divide by a fraction. You can have the same 12 cookies, but if you divide by ¼, the old approach won’t work. We don’t have friends who come in quarters.

” “You have to think that you’re not dividing up the cookies, you are seeing how many times ¼ can fit into 12,” explained Juli Dixon, professor of mathematics education at the University of Central Florida. “It’s a change in thinking. We used to teach procedural math, but now students have to understand the ‘why’ as much as the ‘how’.” ”

First of all, the cookie problem does work if you ask “How many quarter pieces are there in 12 cookies”. Secondly, the usual mischaracterization of traditional math rears its head with the “We used to teach procedural math.” Right. No conceptual underpinning was EVER taught, just the procedures. Rote memorization. Right. Got it.

The rest of the article is about how CC requires a “different way of teaching” (It doesn’t). And on and on. This type of article is the “It’s a Wonderful Life” of educational journalism. We can look forward to seeing it again and again–and apparently Hechinger Reports and the educationists never get tired of it!