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Topic: math in the news
Replies: 28   Last Post: Aug 20, 1997 11:00 PM

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Richard Fouchaux

Posts: 70
Registered: 12/6/04
Re: math in the news
Posted: Aug 20, 1997 11:00 PM
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tad@midget.towson.edu wrote:
>What I think is useful is a
>whole K-12 curriculum, what topics to be discussed in what grade levels
>and how the entire curriculum fit together to form a coherent whole.


to which gboulet@courrier.usherb.ca replies:
>That is what we have here in Canada.

>Genevieve

That is true, Genevieve. It is a Canadian trait to see both sides of a
story, to extract and internalize the best parts of each, and then to
help produce a superior set of circumstances for all involved. The New
Ontario Curriculum for Mathematics, 1997, a post-NCTM Standards-based
curriculum based on rigor and accountability, is a testament to that
trait.

It is an American trait to plod forward wearing blinders, as if ours is
the only country in the world, until, like a bump on the head, a test
like the TIMSS points out blatantly that, not only are we not the only
country in the world, but other countries apparently have better ways
of teaching mathematics and science. Then, the American way is to start
pointing fingers, making blanket either/or statements that blame the
other guy's way of teaching the subjects, and wax nostalgic about the
good old days when the Mighty U.S.A. was the best at everything—never
mind that those days never existed, only days when the media was even
more insulated and internally focused than it is now. Perhaps this is
one reason I have never returned to the land of my birth.

Even more disturbing than the "verbal spanking" and associated
insults—well-precedented tactics of those lacking in more
highly-developed communication skills—leveled at Michael Paul
Goldenberg by another participant on this list, are the "my way or the
highway" attitudes expressed at times by both sides of the Standards
debate, though more often by counter-reformists. A testament to these
attitudes can be found in the article at the end of the long URL posted
a few days ago by Charles J. Masenas:
http://www.pathfinder.com/@@QDIxBwcAwP1FpHGI/time/magazine/1997/dom/9708
25/education.this_is_math_.html
(You will have to copy and paste that back into a single line in order
to follow it.)

This article was of particular interest to me because it started off
with a description of a rather chaotic undertaking of the famous
handshake problem. I will begin my first full-time professional
teaching job ever in less than two weeks, and I am considering using
this very problem as the basis of one of my first lessons. I have used
it with great success in my practice teaching, and my internal debate
about whether to use it this early in the year revolves around what I
feel is necessary to establish prior to tackling the problem. It would
not occur to me to put the kids into groups for an hour and "roam" the
room without some type of teacher-directed introduction. And yet I
consider myself perhaps as much as 90% pro-Standards, and 100%
pro-reform.

"It all started in 1989, when the National Council of Teachers of
Mathematics,......." reads the article, a blanket, black-or-white
statement if ever there was one. (I also taught my Language students to
avoid absolutes like "all" and "always", but that comment should only
be posted on NCTE-L.) Yet the article ends with,

"Says Thomas Romberg, a University of Wisconsin
professor who helped write the revolutionary
1989 math standards: "We knew there needed to
be a fair amount of research and teacher training.
We knew it would take 20 or 25 years to pull this
off." Parents whose 12-year-olds still can't
count on their fingers may not want to wait that
long."

In the article there is reference to "a straight-A algebra student" who
reached for a calculator to find 10% of 470, but these inept
12-year-olds are saved for the final sentence, and it is my conclusion
that they were invented by the journalists (Melissa August, Margot
Hornblower, and Elizabeth Rudulph) for dramatic effect. They are
implicitly blaming the Standards-based curriculum for the sad state of
these hypothetical incompetents—who were approximately 4 years old when
"it all began" and could not possibly have been the recipients of
"whole-math" instruction, even if they all grew up in California, a
"leader" in implementing "cutting-edge curriculum" such as MathLand,
which was first introduced in 1995. I haven't got a calculator handy,
but something about this association does not compute.

"Decreased emphasis" does not mean, nor even imply, "dumping the most
basic algorithms." The "cool stuff: calculators and geoboards,
hands-on, open-ended problems, exercises that encourage kids to
discover their own route to the right answer" is far easier to put to
good use after, and along side of, some solid, teacher-directed
instruction, including memorization of appropriate facts.

I read this list to help me find ways to improve my teaching of math.
In general, it has helped me achieve that objective. I've heard both
sides now, and my rhetoric filters are permanently in place. Let's see
if we can construct some knowledge here—knowledge of a way to teach
math into the 21st century without repeating the mistakes of the past,
or wallowing in the mistakes of the present.

Best regards,





--
Richard Fouchaux rfouchaux@edu.yorku.ca
Music & Math, Milne Valley Middle School, NYBE
North York, Ontario, Canada
>> http://www.edu.yorku.ca/~tcs/~rfouchaux/ <<





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