Saturday, November 18, 2006

Who is keeping score and why?

I've been reading and thinking about school testing and math curricula lately.

Just Whose Idea Was All This Testing
As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics
The Math Moron
• Search on “standardized testing” on the Atlantic Monthly’s website. If you can access the subscriber archives, Nicholas Lemann’s history of standardized testing in the September 1995 issue, The Great Sorting, is especially good reading.

As scientists, my husband likes to see metrics. But we also know that data can be misleading. What if schools are hijacked by the metrics and give up teaching any content save for what can be measured by the tests?

Schools need to educate youngsters for many reasons and on many levels. For instance, mastery of arithmetic is a useful skill for everyone. Any math instruction should include enough practice for every pupil to develop a good command of arithmetic. Yet, for a truly competitive workforce, we need to go beyond that.

We need to instruct in a way that will help inspire and develop thinkers that understand mathematics at a much deeper level. We need these people to help our nation grow our economy, defend ourselves, and increase human knowledge and understanding.

Drill and kill arithmetic is not going to do it. It is just going to make people hate math.

I was particularly alarmed to read the NY Time article about a push back to basics in teaching math. The article mentions a movement away from the Everyday Math curriculum which was the best curriculum I had seen for my daughter. You can read more about it at the Everyday Math website. EM is also highly recommended by Hoagies website for Math Gifted Education.

I took a poll at lunchtime at work the other day. 100% of parents of school-aged children who also hold PhDs in science prefer the Everyday Math curriculum.* For inexplicable reasons, our own neighborhood school, and the entire school district, had stopped using EM despite more than respectable standardized test scores and teachers who loved the teaching method. Perhaps EM pushed some parents out of their math comfort zone (read The Math Moron)?

If you really take a good look at EM materials, you will see that it takes a holistic approach to teaching math. There are practice drills which everyone agrees is necessary. But it also introduces advanced math concepts in an elliptical way that helps facilitate the development of math intuition. To truly understand a math concept, it is helpful to approach it from different angles. E.g. one can more easily trust a difficult to decipher proof if another proof, from a different approach, shows the same thing.

* sample size n = 2. Be wary of statistics; they can be very misleading. ;-)

Disclaimer: I am not a math educator. I have consumed a great deal of math education (BA in math and PhD in science). In addition, I am a parent of a child who falls nowhere near the median in math. I have been researching math curricula lately in order to help my daughter’s school district come up with an appropriate education plan for her.

In an earlier post, I mentioned my belief that deep understanding of math cannot exist without intuition. Sex, Lies and Statistics gives an excellent tutorial on statistics, randomness, and Bayesian statistics. Matt Johnston wrote in his blog about whether gifted students are legally disabled?

1 comment:

  1. Some interesting pointers here, thanks (from a math-challenged parent)!