This article about a “math festival” held at an elementary school contains all the usual tropes about what math education is supposed to be about. I almost stopped reading here, but like being stuck in a traffic jam because of an accident, I found myself staring at the gory site at the side of the road.
A dozen parents gathered around veteran math educator Leanna Baker, moments before students show up for what is billed as a math “festival” for students at Allendale Elementary School in Oakland. “Do your best not to give them an answer,” Baker told the dozen parent volunteers about how best to help the transitional kindergarten to fifth grade students participating in math activities arranged for that day. “We want them to be problem solvers.”
The tropes of “to problem solve” and “problem solvers” have emerged as the latest shiny new thing over the past several decades. As if math was never about teaching students how to solve problems. In the past, there was instruction given with worked examples on how to solve problems, but now it’s all about transfer of prior knowledge to new situations. If a kid can’t do that, then it is generally assumed that (a) the teacher is teaching it wrong or (b) the parents aren’t doing enough at home. (Translation of latter statement: Parents aren’t teaching their kids what isn’t being taught at school). Of course blaming it on the student is an option too but thanks to Jo Boaler and others of her ilk, saying a child is “not a math person” is a no-no. (Not that that stops anyone; it’s just said in other ways.)
Then of course there’s the “I wish I learned it this way when I was in school” trope:
It began with a math night at single school, which later expanded to eight elementary schools. Zaragoza said she started math nights because “families didn’t understand what (teachers) were doing and that was causing a disconnect” between schools and families when it came to math instruction. “Once parents understand what we’re doing and what is happening you’ll hear them say ‘why didn’t someone teach me this way ?’ or ‘why didn’t I know this before?’”
Decades of experience with math provides adults a different view of the subject than kids have who are going through it for the first time. The adults who benefitted from the methods now held in disdain are being subtly programmed to reject such methods as injurious and inadequate–a view reinforced by Alan Schoenfeld, who has been vocal for many years against the traditional mode of math education:
“We lose so many kids in elementary school because they get convinced math isn’t for them,” said UC Berkeley professor Alan Schoenfeld, a leading expert in early math education. “I’ve seen some really engaged kindergartners get to fourth grade and just get turned off from math because it’s boring or it’s taught in a way that makes them think it’s boring.”
And of course, no story like this would be complete without the “rich task” trope:
“One of the goals (of math nights) is to show early learning teachers and parents just how easy it is to provide really rich mathematical experiences,” she said.
For more about “rich tasks” see this. Then hire a tutor for your child.