Drexel dragonThe Math ForumDonate to the Math Forum



Search All of the Math Forum:

Views expressed in these public forums are not endorsed by Drexel University or The Math Forum.


Math Forum » Discussions » Education » math-teach

Topic: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Replies: 39   Last Post: Oct 16, 2010 10:33 PM

Advanced Search

Back to Topic List Back to Topic List Jump to Tree View Jump to Tree View   Messages: [ Previous | Next ]
Jonathan Groves

Posts: 2,068
From: Kaplan University, Argosy University, Florida Institute of Technology
Registered: 8/18/05
Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Posted: Oct 5, 2010 6:49 PM
  Click to see the message monospaced in plain text Plain Text   Click to reply to this topic Reply

Haim,

Whatever all the problems are with adult innumeracy, using the current
widely available junk commercial textbooks and the teaching that is similar
to the junk in these books do not help solve the problem. Here are some
reasons why (this is not an exhaustive list):

1. Little conceptual understanding is offered, and memorization is often
encouraged either directly or indirectly. Yes, some memorization is
needed, but even that memorization needs to come with understanding.
And because textbook exercises and assignments never test directly the
students' understanding (in that the questions on the assignments can be
answered successfully by those who do a good job memorizing template questions
without understanding), the ones who are simply trying to get by or the
ones who want to try to understand but give up eventually because they
cannot do so in the time allotted for the class then try to get by on
memorization. Most will either fail in this attempt or just barely squeak
by but then end up not really knowing that their lack of conceptual
understanding is holding them back--not their memory, not because the
math is supposed to be too hard for them.

2. Confusing language hurts students' understanding. Current curricular
K-12 language is clearly included in college remedial and college algebra
texts, and some of that language is a mess. And books often resort to
using that language and symbolism so quickly and heavy-handedly that the
students would have to learn the language and symbolism very well almost
immediately to have any chance to read and understand the books. That is,
the books introduce all this terminology and notation and then quickly use
it to a level that requires good fluency almost immediately to understand
what the book is talking about.

3. The math is taught in bits and pieces rather than as a unified whole.
Many of the books don't really go anywhere and seem to end at some
arbitrary place rather than at a natural final destination. These points
are even more true for so-called "survey of math" courses. The so-called
"survey of math" courses I have taught were not organized but instead had
students wandering around aimlessly in various parts of Math Land. Where
the course was supposed to be headed, why the course discusses these ideas,
where these ideas lead, etc. have no answers because the course is nothing
but a hodge-podge of mathematical topics. The ideas discussed rarely lead
anywhere because, by the time a unit or chapter is over, the course never
uses that stuff again.

But such a description can be said of algebra or arithmetic courses,
especially when one considers that the courses do not give much indication
to students where the course is headed or what the "big picture" of the
course is. Books may say that they teach topic X because topic X has
these applications, but that doesn't mean that students at the end of
an arithmetic or algebra course--even if they learn these courses
successfully--will end up seeing what the ultimate point of learning
arithmetic or algebra is. Students end up focusing on the trees and
lose sight of the forest (I normally try to avoid using cliches, but
I can't bother right now on how to find a new way to say this).
They end up not seeing what big ideas help bring all these topics
together into a unified whole.

Even if one can argue that fixing these problems with textbooks
won't help considerably, I don't see any good reason to continue
using these junk textbooks because they don't give students any
reasonable chance to learn the math. I don't have all the answers
to fixing these problems, but I'm searching. And I definitely want
to field test my books beforehand, but as of now, I do run into a
problem with Argosy University: Argosy University's contracts with
us give them the right to own any materials we use in teaching
their classes. So as soon as I try to use my textbook in their
classes to test it, they then own the book from that moment on.
That might not be an issue at Florida Tech (I don't recall seeing
anything that indicates this might be an issue), but I don't teach
for them very often--usually just 2-3 quarters a year--because of
much lower demand for online classes as compared to schools like
Argosy and Kaplan and Dom Rosa's Post University. I will need to
find alternative solutions.

One major challenge that makes such progress difficult is not only
finding a way to fix these problems in textbooks so that we can
write one that makes sense to students, we also face the challenge
of teachers who will abuse such books and resort to teaching "show
and tell" math as the current commercial junk books do, especially
if enough of their students pressure them to do so. And we also
face the challenge of helping students (and teachers) learn to see for
themselves that trying to learn math via memorizing template examples and
ignoring genuine conceptual understanding is exactly what holds them
back from learning math--assuming that they have the ability to
learn the math. Whether they do or not is controversial. I believe
they do. And I'm sure that there are still a good number of students
having the ability to learn math but are held back from learning
for these various reasons I have mentioned. Finally, another challenge
we face is what to do when students who take these helpful courses
end up later taking math courses that continue to use textbooks
and teachers teaching math in these same ways that hold students back
from learning. The danger is that not only will the students be
hurt in the current course but also that whatever good was accomplished
in the previous courses will be undone partially or even completely.

And you had mentioned another good point a few days ago: many students'
difficulties with reading comprehension. Though the books at their level
are already unreasonably difficult for any student who needs that kind
of help, poor reading skills will hurt them because any book at any level
will be incomprehensible to one with poor reading skills. However, most
math teachers are not experts on teaching this. I know I am not. Colleges
and universities need an effective way to identify students with these
difficulties and then have them take appropriate coursework on reading
skills before progressing to regular college or remedial coursework in
other subjects. But those developmental reading classes need to be
taught effectively, and I am not one who has any idea how to make
such classes effective.

I don't know how much of an impact I can make in resolving some of
these problems, but I feel I must try. One thing we do need to do is
to look at others' previous attempts and then figure out why they
failed and how much evidence there really is for their failure.
And we cannot forget that we cannot rescue bad teachers merely by
giving them good textbooks just as we cannot rescue those with poor
cooking skills by merely giving them good cooking utensils.

As for the history of math education, I will have to look further back
into the history sometime, but I don't believe that these bad ways of
presenting math have always existed. But they have existed in this
country for such a long time that many students and parents and others
falsely believe that math is supposed to be taught this way and without
any exceptions whatsoever and even that math itself is this dry, mechanical
subject full of meaningless rules for manipulating symbols. These prevalent
attitudes did not arise because of the way ancient Greeks taught math or
the way the ancient Muslims taught math or the way Europe or Asia or
Africa taught math in such-and-such a time period but because of the
ways math has been taught in this country for the past so many generations.



Jonathan Groves




On 10/4/2010 at 7:10 pm, Haim wrote:

> Jonathan Groves Posted: Oct 1, 2010 4:48 PM
>

> >Again, I challenge you to find one of our statements
>
> >that makes the claim that we will fix all the
> problems
> >in math education with a single textbook.
>
> Jonathan,
>
> I am sorry for the misunderstanding. You do not
> not claim to solve all the ills of math education and
> I do not mean to imply that. With my hyperbole
> (always a mistake in this forum), I mean to say that
> you will not solve any problem with your textbook.
>
> I believe you will not solve the problem of adult
> ult innumercay because a lot of people have been
> trying very hard for a very long time to solve this
> problem, with no discernible progress, and you seem,
> not ignorant of this history, but indifferent to it.
> I am persuaded, given the long history of this
> s effort, that if there were a method for teaching
> math to adults, it would have been found, already.
> Whatever is going on with adult innumeracy, another
> r textbook cannot be the answer.
>
> Perhaps the mistake you are making is this. You
> You assert that math is taught in a dry, stultifying
> manner that sucks the life out of what should be a
> vibrant subject. However, you think this is how math
> education began. Not so. Once upon a time,
> mathematics was a very small community of people who
> were motivated to learn and advance the subject and
> mathematics was taught in a natural way.
>
> Only as the number of people learning mathematics
> ics grew, did the style of instruction change. It is
> the very mathiness of mathematics that most people
> object to, and to make math more tolerable for them,
> it was gradually transformed into what we have today.
> Of course, the community of people who actually like
> e mathematics and want to learn the subject and
> advance it remains small today, as ever.
>
> Now, you and Schremmer want to turn the clock back
> ack more than a century and inject the mathiness back
> into mathematics, and you want to do it for the
> masses. Good luck with that.
>
> Haim
> We're buying shrimp, guys.



Date Subject Author
9/28/10
Read Why More Students Rely on Tutors
GS Chandy
9/28/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
GS Chandy
9/28/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Bishop, Wayne
9/29/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Haim
9/29/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
GS Chandy
10/2/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Bishop, Wayne
9/29/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
GS Chandy
10/2/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Bishop, Wayne
9/30/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Richard Strausz
9/30/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Haim
10/2/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Bishop, Wayne
9/30/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Haim
9/30/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
GS Chandy
10/1/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Haim
10/1/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Robert Hansen
10/5/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
GS Chandy
10/1/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Haim
10/1/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Jonathan Groves
10/3/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
GS Chandy
10/4/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Haim
10/5/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Jonathan Groves
10/4/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Haim
10/5/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
GS Chandy
10/5/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Joel
10/5/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Joe Niederberger
10/5/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Mark Ge
10/5/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Greg Goodknight
10/5/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Kelly Stacy
10/5/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Dave L. Renfro
10/5/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Dave L. Renfro
10/5/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Robert Hansen
10/7/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Haim
10/9/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
GS Chandy
10/7/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Dave L. Renfro
10/7/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Robert Hansen
10/7/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Dave L. Renfro
10/8/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Jonathan Groves
10/10/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Haim
10/11/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
Shimon Zimbovsky
10/16/10
Read Re: Why More Students Rely on Tutors
GS Chandy

Point your RSS reader here for a feed of the latest messages in this topic.

[Privacy Policy] [Terms of Use]

© Drexel University 1994-2014. All Rights Reserved.
The Math Forum is a research and educational enterprise of the Drexel University School of Education.