Thursday, August 25, 2005

Constructivists' secret weapon

I was perusing illinoisloop, one of the most spectacular sites on the Internet devoted to exposing educational lunacy, and came across this delicious tidbit:

o A New York Times article ( Fuzzy Answers: The New, Flexible Math Meets Parental Rebellion) includes this wonderfully delicious look at a Chicago school where Math Trailblazers was used:

The Daniel Boone School, in West Ridge, a tidy working class part of Chicago brightened by magnolia trees and the babushkas of Russian grandmothers, has been a laboratory for the development of TIMS Math Trailblazers, a constructivist program created by the University of Illinois. Math scores have risen since the program was put into effect. The principal, Paul Zavitkovsky, credits the program, but does not rule out increased attention to math, teacher training and collaboration.

In fifth grade the other day, Mila Kell, a Russian immigrant, taught a crisp lesson in probability, improvising riffs on the probability that the sun would rise in the morning and that she would fly to the moon. The class was enchanted.

Mrs. Kell said she loved the freedom and creativity of the new math. But on her desk was a secret weapon: a stack of worksheets -- the antithesis of constructivist math -- pages of classic problems in long division, the addition of fractions and reducing the sum of fractions to its simplest terms.
I suspect this pollution of fuzzy math goes on quite a bit. Teachers might sneak in real math, parents may do real math with their kids (on the kitchen table if necessary) or hire tutors.

Of course, if pupils fed fuzzy stuff test well on real math tests, credit will be given to the fuzzies.


CarolynJ said...

Good find! This sort of 'performance enhancement' exercise (math steroids?) was certainly going on in my son's Everyday Math class in fourth and fifth grade.

Of course, our district dictates that the kids work on 'fast fact' worksheets, too. That's about as unfuzzy as it gets.

Catherine Johnson, author ANIMALS IN TRANSLATION said...

Seems to me, from my non-random sampling, that schools everywhere are simply Off The Boat when it comes to not-learning math facts. Our school, which specified 'constructivist approach' as a criteria for selecting a new curriculum, also specified, explicitly, 'mastery of math facts' or some such.

You're just not gonna sell many teachers--aka the people on the front lines--on not teaching math facts.

I think.

As to Who Gets Credit, this is why I think it's important to be VERY OPEN about any and all teaching & tutoring you're doing.

Friendly, helpful, collaborative....but OPEN.