Do not think about, write about or deal with human behavior without determining the effects of incentives. It’s not their money, of course they’ll waste it.
If a group receives money and reverence for even a short period of time, it becomes a cult. Education has existed under these conditions for well over a hundred years. A cult need not produce results, it only needs to produce propaganda. Education, not needing to produce results because, it gets money and reverence no matter what, just goes from fad to fad without the burden of that pesky production problem the rest of us need to wrestle with constantly.
The problem with this fad is that it requires students to construct things already known, for example, addition facts. The tortuous exercises “explaining” these facts would turn anyone against mathematics. Some things should just be learned “by heart.”
By Moira MacDonald
C.D. Howe calls for return to rote method
Canadian students’ math skills have been on a decade-long decline because rote learning was replaced by discovery-based methods that promoted multiple strategies and estimations, according to a new report that calls for a return to tradition.
“You know what’s the worst kind of instruction? The kind of instruction that makes kids feel stupid. And that’s what a lot of that discovery stuff does; their working memory gets overloaded, they’re confused. That’s bad instruction,” said Anna Stokke, an associate professor in the University of Winnipeg’s department of mathematics and statistics, who wrote the C.D. Howe Institute report.
The report draws on results from national and provincial tests as well as an OECD assessment performed every three years in more than 60 countries that measures how well 15-year-olds can apply skills in reading, math and science to real life situations.
Canada fell out of the top 10 countries for math in 2012. The report notes that all but two Canadian provinces also saw “statistically significant” declines in their math scores, compared with their 2003 performances. Alberta, once a math leader, and Manitoba saw the steepest drops, while only Quebec held its ground. Saskatchewan declined slightly but not enough to be considered significant. Beyond that, the pool of students at the lowest achievement levels grew while those at the very top shrank.
“You can look at it in terms of where do we rank et cetera, et cetera, but when we see that our students are doing worse, relative to 10 years ago, there’s no excuse for that,” said Stokke. She pointed out that even Sweden, whose 2012 drop in all subjects was so severe the OECD has warned the country must reform its school system, did not see as big a decline in its math scores as did Manitoba and Alberta.
The report puts a good deal of the blame on discovery or experimental learning approaches that encourage students to explore different ways to solve math problems instead of using a single standard algorithm and often promote concrete tools such as drawing pictures, or using blocks or tiles, to represent math concepts. The idea is students will gain a deeper understanding of math and be better equipped to apply it to a variety of situations.
Whatever the theory of instruction, the constructivist or discovery methods leads to a bewildering array of puzzles and random exercises which would try the patience of anyone. Remember, education is a really expensive IQ test.
What really happens, though, says the report, is students’ working memories get overwhelmed if they don’t know their times tables and can’t quickly put a standard algorithm to work to solve a more complex problem, both features of what’s known as “direct instruction.” Key operations, such as addition and subtraction of fractions, are overly delayed until the middle school years, just as students need that facility to tackle algebra.
Such concepts should be introduced earlier, says the report. And while it stops short of throwing discovery learning out completely, it says the curriculum balance should be tilted in favour of direct instructional methods, recommending an 80/20 split as a rule of thumb.
“I’m fine with a bit of discovery learning (but) you want to make sure that you’re getting the balance right, that most of the balance is going towards instructional techniques that are actually going to work,” said Stokke.
A petition calling for a back-to-basics math curriculum in Alberta, started by Edmonton-area mother Nhung TranDavies, has gathered more than 17,000 signatures. It was presented to the previous Conservative government last year, with some limited success, but Tran-Davies hopes she won’t have to start all over again with the province’s new NDP government. To that end, she is holding a forum for the public and government officials this Friday evening in Edmonton to talk about how to advance reforms and hopes new Education Minister David Eggen will attend. “We all feel the urgency to correct the matter soon, before too many children are lost,” she said.
Stokke’s report also suggests elementary school teachers in training should be required to take two semester-long courses at university in math with the aim of deepening their grasp of the concepts they will be teaching. Provinces should also consider making elementary teachers-to-be write a test in that same content before they’re licensed.
The educult strikes again. It’s not that they’re always wrong, it’s just that they’re never right.
The vast majority of students will never use a tangent, nor find the value of x after they leave education. Again, mathematics is part of the extended and expensive IQ test that is traditional education.
Government Job or Respect–Which’ll It Be?
Cheerio and ttfn,
Grant Coulson, Ph.D.
Author, “Days of Songs and Mirrors: A Jacobite in the ‘45.”
Cui Bono–Cherchez les Contingencies