Hands Off the Hands-On in School Math??

27 04 2008

Okay, I’m not explaining, just reporting this:

Dr. Kaminski and her colleagues Vladimir M. Sloutsky and Andrew F. Heckler did something relatively rare in education research: they performed a randomized, controlled experiment. Their results appear in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

Though the experiment tested college students, the researchers suggested that their findings might also be true for math education in elementary through high school, the subject of decades of debates about the best teaching methods.

Rapt regular readers will recall that in all those decades of debates or touted teaching tracks, nothing ever made math manipulable for Favorite Daughter.

Probably this kind of “randomized, controlled experiment” in math education won’t help any individual learn math better, since it is geared to the institutional classroom and switching to a new standard rather than switching out of standard mode in the first place. At best this kind of “science” about math education then, will just illuminate better ways to manipulate the subjective minds of the generalizable aggregate to meet the objective standards of the generalizable aggregate. I can’t glean much from it for helping my own two unschooling children compete in schoolish math and science standards step-dancing, but that was never our educational focus anyway.

So it rivets me not as unschooling mom but as former education policy pro and Lifelong Thinking Citizen, to notice this as a way I can learn more about how we the American people obsess over — and subsequently overvalue — school math instruction and test performance, as a scientifically defensible merit ranking mechanism equally applicable between individual children, classrooms, schools, cities, states and countries across the globe.

(Often this is statistical competition between humans with little more in common THAN standardized reporting of school math testing. So does that make such global comparisons more controllable and scientific, or just less relevant to real individuals learning real math for real reasons? Why would we even care unless we’re international social engineers?)

Ohio State researchers have begun new experiments with elementary school students.

Other mathematicians called the findings interesting but warned against overgeneralizing. “One size can’t fit all,” said Douglas H. Clements, a professor of learning and instruction at the University of Buffalo. “That’s not denying what these guys have found, whatsoever.”

. . .“It’s a fascinating article,” said David Bressoud, a professor of mathematics at Macalester College in St. Paul and president-elect of the Mathematical Association of America.




2 responses

27 04 2008

Is the belief (conviction) in symbolic math as Education’s holy grail, more science or more religion? No matter what, surely it’s Unholy?

Could this frozen and massively destructive state of mind (Symbolic Math is the Constant in Education Equations!) be the discernible tip of the iceberg that the Human Eye (however it got here in our human heads) might help us perceive, process and understand, so that we could give its hidden dangers sufficiently wide berth, before it’s too late?

Religion and Science: Revelation, Disability and Logical Expression”

28 04 2008
Nance Confer

I remember reading similar findings about the phonics versus whole language wars. Still ongoing, as far as I know.

Since neither method, or even blend of methods, reaches all children — duh! — the other can cyclically proclaim that it is the better approach as the other has “failed.”

DD reads “word problems” the same way my Mom used to — as stories — and then understandably wanders away from the task of solving the problem. She makes it through but it’s not a natural fit the way it is for DS’s brain.

Imagine if I tried to force either one to work one way and never the other — or at all. 🙂


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