Wednesday, November 09, 2005

It's not going to be easy

From the New York Times:

Jim, however, placed the credit elsewhere. His parents, an engineer and an educator, covertly tutored him in traditional math. Several teachers, in the
privacy of their own classrooms, contravened the official curriculum to teach the problem-solving formulas that constructivist math denigrates as mindless
memorization. "My whole experience in math the last few years has been a struggle against the program," Jim said recently. "Whatever I've achieved, I've achieved in spite of it. Kids do not do better learning math themselves. There's a reason we go to school, which is that there's someone smarter than us with something to teach us."

While the article is interesting, I don't think it goes into enough depth about exactly how they were teaching in this school system. I think Mary - as our resident math constructivist expert - can probably comment on this better than I can. But as we've talked about before, I don't think constructivist necessarily equates with "discovery learning" all the time. There's certainly a place for computation in a constructivist math curriculum, it's just that a constructivist would focus on making sure the students understood what they were learning, not just mindlessly learning the algorithms.


  1. Balance. I think that discovery learning is the best way to teach but after a student learns the material, skill and drill (or application) is necessary for retention. A student who discovers what is being taught has a better understanding of the topic, but to remember everything that is taught requires some sort of "practice".

  2. There is a HUGE misconception by many that constructivism is just letting kids loose and they will "discover" all we want them to do. That is NOT the case. The teacher plays a different role in this style of teaching. There is less providing of info, but rather guiding an activity or exploration and allowing the students to have the power to make their learning happen. Allow them to provide discoveries, make conjectures and state patterns they find. Then as a teacher or guide we structure their vocabulary, clarify their notation, show them the way to communicate in mathematics and it is the knowledge they have constructed, not the mathematics. I always get a bit steamed when parents assume that a teacher who teaches this way does nothing and that the kids are free. It is MORE work to teach in a constructivist way, but it is more solid. I repeat myself much less and the students are empowered to learn and want to be the ones making the discoveries.