Thursday, March 10, 2016

Teaching Involves Engagement, not Entertainment

Someone said something at a meeting I was at yesterday that was so succinct, and was something I have always believed in, but have never thought to put it this way; "Teaching is engagement not entertainment". Sometimes when a sentence comprises only the important words it has much more impact.

This idea is particularly true in math education where we have, perhaps, been more guilty of entertaining children with manipulative materials and math games at the expense of engagement. The concept of engagement in learning means that the learner is actively, cognitively involved with the material to be learned. Something is happening to their thinking that is changing the way they think for ever; the permanent development of a concept, skill or disposition.

The difference between engagement and entertainment is not as clear or as easy to define as one might think. Here's a list of the perceived differences by Robyn  Jackson, president of ASCDedge .
There is clearly an interplay between the things listed in each column. And here's a list of myths by the same author.

Probably the place where the distinction becomes the most critical in the classroom is with the use of technology especially when games, activities or the internet are being used. Here's an attempt to differentiate between the two in relation to the use of technology in the classroom.

Finally, it looks like we won't have to worry about whether our students are engaged or not in the classrooms of the future. Students will all be wearing headsets like the students in this research project at Washington State University . This device will be developed to include a red light attached to the top of the headset. When the student is engaged with the topic under consideration the red light will come on and stay lit until the student becomes disengaged. The task of the teacher will be to make sure all the red lights are on, and remain on, for all 30 students in the class. Each head set will contain a device for calculating the percentage of time the red light has remained on for each student. The data collected each month  will be used to evaluate teachers. Yes, it's time to retire.

Here's something interesting I came across recently; Bloom's Digital Taxonomy !

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Maths Gets a Bad Rap

I've spent my entire professional career trying to bring math to life for my students; to make it meaningful, personally significant, interesting and even inspiring. I like to think that those students and teachers I have worked with have seen the light to some extent or another and have gone on to share with others the wonderful sense of accomplishment one gets from understanding and remembering anything mathematical.

Sadly, it's been an uphill battle primarily because of how our culture in general sees maths. I am an avid crossword puzzler and have lost count of the number of clues than denigrate maths. Clues like "division word" (into) are fairly harmless but then there are some that are completely wrong like the clue "Number indivisible by two". The answer is "odd" but it is so mathematically incorrect as to create the false impression that you cannot divide any odd number by 2. To make it accurate it should be "Number indivisible by two giving a whole number" or something similar. Every number is divisible by 2.

But probably more troubling is the clue in a crossword puzzle I completed a few days ago: "Member of  the math club probably". The troubling answer was "nerd" which is indicative of how people in general  tend to see people who are interested in math.THIS IS SO COUNTERPRODUCTIVE.
As long as we hold on to this view of math as being calculations, arithmetic and tedium nothing is ever going to change. Only when people start to embrace the beauty of fractal relationships, number patterns such as Fibonacci and Lucas numbers as well as the joys of geometric thinking will there be any change in the way we approach maths. I fear this will not happen in my lifetime, if ever,

I've been at meetings where. when the topic of math was raised, there was, sadly, an audible groan.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Common Core Math Constantly Misinterpreted

The Common Core Maths Standards must be one of the least read and most criticized documents in the history of mankind. There are myriad websites devoted to its downfall and repeal; politicians calling for it's removal and parents posting ill-informed emotional sabotage videos such as this one on the People's Voice FB. The person in the video even uses the term "new math" to connect the Common Core Math Standards with the "New Math" debacle  of the 1970s, something that has been done with great success during the past 50 years to stop progress in math education.

The saddest thing of all is that the person who made this video almost certainly has not read the Common Core Math Standards. If she had done she would have read in the fourth grade Number and Operations in Base Ten standard the following;

        4. Fluently add and subtract multi-digit whole numbers using the standard algorithm. 
             (Grade 4 NBT)

Again, in Grade 5, she would have read

        5. Fluently multiply multi-digit whole numbers using the standard algorithm. 
            (Grade 5, NBT) 

And in grade 6

        2. Fluently divide multi-digit numbers using the standard algorithm.  
           (Grade 6, NS) 

The strategy that she so eloquently illustrates is just a step on the ladder to helping students

what the algorithm is all about.The algorithms are so much easier to remember and apply 

in appropriate places when students understand what they are doing. 

It's all here in black and white in the Common Core Standards document. All you have to do is open

the link, read it and try to understand what most of us learned by rote, without any understanding 

when we were in elementary school. The example shown in the video is an exercise a student might

do to develop understanding of the standard algorithm.

ps The picture above is a classic example of the misrepresentation of the Common Core Math 



Cheating Watches and Calculators

Just when you thought you'd seen it all something new comes along. This is almost beyond my comprehension because they are actually marketed on Amazon as "cheating watches".

Anyone who gives in-class tests will now need to monitor student's wrists to see if they are wearing one of these cunningly designed cheating devices. They even have "panic buttons" that can be pressed to reveal a regular watch face that shows the time.

The deeper significance of this whole scheme is the way the popular culture  now views education primarily as achievement, success and failure. It seems that success, as measured by tests is the goal of education regardless of whether students are learning anything. The ability to succeed on tests is more a function of  the ability to memorize or retain specific information than it is about meaningful learning.  Here's what you can get on Amazon so that you can cheat your way to an A grade. There are even cheating calculators for sale as well as watches.

There's a neat story in the Atlantic, When Success Leads to Failure  that highlights a teacher's dilemma when she realizes a friends daughter has lost the love of learning because she is so focused on test and exam results, and grades.

The bottom line is that if you cheat on an exam you might get a good grade but you will certainly not have learned the information well enough to use it to your advantage later in life. Your temporary success will lead, in the long run, to failure