NSF never ceases to fund questionable math ed practices. Now they’ve given $1.5 million to University of Washington to devise ways to introduce mathematical modeling in elementary school.

“Very little has been done to find the best approaches for introducing mathematical modeling at the elementary school level,” said Aguirre. “What we’re trying to do is lay a basic foundation for developing an elementary curriculum around mathematical modeling and providing resources to educators.”

As an example of the type of problem we’re talking about:

“Here is a traditional mathematics problem that elementary students might typically encounter: 24 students are going on a week-long camping trip. Each student receives three healthy meals each day. How many healthy meals are needed for the camping trip?”

NOTE: This is obviously supposed to be inferior. Here’s their superior approach:

” “An approach based on mathematical modeling first introduces the situation to students: ‘How much food do we need to bring on this trip?’” said Aguirre. That lack of structure allows students to come up with their own process to address this situation.” “

Yes, lack of structure and ill-posed problems are really what kids need in elementary school. Given that they aren’t being taught standard algorithms until 4th, 5th and 6th grade thanks to liberal interpretations of Common Core (that by the way lend themselves to such liberal interpretations), this will be the icing on the cake that everyone has been waiting for.

This is consistent with the math reform approach which is to present students with a steady diet of “challenging problems” that neither connect with the students’ lessons and instruction nor develop any identifiable or transferrable skills.

The following problem which I saw in a study that I had to read in ed school is similar to the one above: How many boxes would be needed to pack and ship one million books collected in a school-based book drive? In this problem the size of the books is unknown and varied, and the size of the boxes is not stated. While some teachers consider the open-ended nature of the problem to be deep, rich, and unique, students will generally lack the skills required to solve such a problem, skills such as knowledge of proper experimental approaches, systematic and random errors, organizational skills, and validation and verification.

Oh WAIT, I have it wrong. With this NSF grant, they’ll be able to teach elementary students all of those skills necessary. My bad!

“What was once a “plug-and-chug” multiplication problem becomes a mathematics process that uses both student-generated creativity and critical thinking skills.”

Once again, their goal is replacement of a direct approach to development of basic skills, not one that defines an add-on section on “modeling”, which they use in an incorrect way just to make it sound more important. The fallacy is that this will ever achieve any level of mastery of skills. Will NSF ever fund research that doesn’t rely on parents and tutors saving their butts?

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