Friday, February 07, 2014

Math Archives #1: Can they do enough math to know they're being cheated?

First posted April 2012; but this is a post-within-a-post, and part of it is from 2007.

I had planned to repost this 2007 post today (both the part about our own homeschool and the comparison with the third grade math class at the end of the post), and then someone sent me a link to a recent Macleans' Magazine article on the sorry situation in Canadian math teaching.  It reminded me even more of the educational Blerwm (see the old post) that continues to spew, particularly in the elementary schools.  If this situation doesn't make you furious for our children--that is, the children of this generation, even if we homeschoolers have taught our own offspring better--I don't know what would. And it's not just that they grow up cheated on math:  the same applies to standards in readingwriting, and other skills that, until recently, were considered within the normal scope of a child's education.

And what makes me even angrier for these children is that we non-experts, the home-teaching parents who may or may not have college-level math courses or education credentials (many homeschoolers do have advanced degrees), seem to be doing better than the current average at math education, almost without trying.  Some of it's the curriculum homeschoolers use--certain popular programs are known to be a level or two over traditional North American math goals, so kids using them would seem a bit ahead anyway. But even if we take math slow and simple, we have this crazy advantage over the current hands-tied school situation: most of us parents, especially those of us over a certain age, were taught with traditional math methods, and that's what we pass on to our kids.  Here's how you multiply fractions, here's how you divide them.  None of this messing with paper strips.  

It doesn't matter why we do it, though, so much as whether or not it works.  Can our kids add, subtract, multiply, divide?  Can they make change?  Can they figure out a percentage?  Do they just have a good sense of how numbers work?  Apparently the kids taught with the any-way-that-works-for-you method can't, and don't. When they get to high school, where math is still taught using more traditional methods, a lot of them flounder.

Are you laughing in disbelief at this point?  I'm more ready to spit.  Crayons has been suggesting that she might like to go to public school for grade six, just to try it out like Ponytails did.  Sorry: with this amount of un-teaching going on in Canadian schools, that would be my last choice for her for next year.  

Here's the relevant part from our 2007 post:

But on the other hand, there was an article today in the local paper about math teaching in public schools, that tipped things back towards thinking again that we must be doing all right.
"Recently [the grade 3 teacher] taught the children to count by fives, using Popsicle sticks. She had them sit in a circle and line up four Popsicle sticks in a row, with a coloured one laid diagonally across each pile.

"Then she asked how many Popsicle sticks there were. One student crawled into the middle of the circle and counted up the piles: "Five, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 45 . . ." he said and paused at the final two sticks. "Forty-seven" he called.

"The class applauded him. 'Good job!' she praised, and then sent the children to sit down with worksheets where they again had to add the "bundles" of lines arranged five to a pile.

"Instead of having the children write down the correct totals, though, she had them choose the right answer from some numbers printed on the bottom of the sheet. They were to cut out the right number and glue it in the proper spot.

"The children were enjoying cutting and feeling the texture of the glue stick under their fingernails.

"'Children at this age are very visual and very kinesthetic,' she said. They learn by seeing and often need to move around while learning, even if it's just working with glue."
OK, I know it's still September, and maybe that was a review lesson--but cutting and pasting answers in grade 3? And Crayons (grade 1) has been doing that same kind of counting-by-fives-plus-whatever's-left. Without crawling on the floor, I might add. Or needing to get glue stick under her fingernails.

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