Silver Lining, Dept.

In this recent article, we learn about a math ed professor from Southern Illinois University who is going to Tapei, Taiwan to bring them American methods of teaching math.

“I’m looking forward to sharing my perspective on mathematics knowledge and education with an international audience,” Lin said. “I will be telling them about American teaching techniques and learning more about their methods. I want to know more about their recent teacher training and compare it to ours.”

Lin noted that in recent years, American mathematics education has shifted toward a focus on teaching for understanding, assuring that students comprehend what they are doing rather than just learning to apply formulas and procedures. The teaching approach used in Taiwan is a more traditional format that relies heavily on written computation.

To readers who are unaware of the battles over math education in this country, this sounds just dandy.  There is the usual misconception packaged as an implicit assumption, that in the US we have never taught for understanding, and that students are proceeding by rote (i.e., “math zombies” as some clever bandwagon math teachers have dubbed it).

To readers who are more aware of what has been happening, the obsession over “understanding” has been going on for more than a century.  But during the last 3 decades, such obsession has grown legs, due in large part to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ (NCTM’s) standards written in 1989 and rewritten in 2000. Students in lower grades must now demonstrate understanding of the mathematical concepts in simple arithmetic operations and are taught the standard algorithm later.

I’m seeing the results of such “deep learning”, “deep understanding”, “deep dives into math” and other 21st Century nonsensical edu-jargon in the 7th grade math class that I teach. Students are reluctant to do double digit multiplication, or to divide. Many of those who do double digit multiplication use an inefficient “partial products” method, and are relatively unaware of the standard algorithm method for doing so.  Math facts for many are not mastered, and I get many requests to use a calculator.

Through a series of lectures, workshops, seminars and other activities, Lin will work with teachers-in-training, teachers and administrators regarding theories and practices used successfully in mathematics education instruction in the United States. He will also assist in developing appropriate tools for testing mathematical skills and knowledge and help analyze the results. In addition, Lin will assist colleagues in preparing students for Taiwan’s new compulsory national tests for graduating teachers and will make recommendations for course revisions or other changes to assist students.

Last time I looked, Asian countries were doing just fine on international math tests despite the highly disregarded and despised “traditional methods”.  I guess the silver lining is that if American methods are adopted hook, line, and sinker in Asia, we’ll come out smelling like a rose!


One thought on “Silver Lining, Dept.

  1. “Lin is a Professor of math education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education and Human Services”

    Not mathematics. This could be subtitled: “It’s all about me and my academic turf.”

    “Lin noted that in recent years, American mathematics education has shifted toward a focus on teaching for understanding, assuring that students comprehend what they are doing rather than just learning to apply formulas and procedures. The teaching approach used in Taiwan is a more traditional format that relies heavily on written computation.”

    “Assuring?” Ha, ha, ha. That’s it! Parrot back the understanding words I like to hear and I will assure you and your parents that you understand and assure you that mastery of skills is only about speed and not understanding. Their process supposedly guarantees success, but if it doesn’t, then it’s not their fault. Just “trust the spiral.”

    Where’s the data that shows that what NCTM does works and what Taiwan does doesn’t work? What help have all of our successful (true) STEM students gotten from us parents and tutors over the years? Why is the successful path in high school math the traditional AP Calculus track?

    “Lin was recently chosen for a three-year term on the board of directors of the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics and he’ll be sharing with members of the mirror organization, the Taiwan Association for Mathematics Education.”

    Taiwan apparently has the same turf attacks over there. It’s one thing to discuss teaching process, but what they are doing is redefining the content in their own image to magnify their importance. They are far overstepping their academic domain. Why is that? Do English professors like their advocacy of less grammar, “kids spelling”, and reading books like “Maniac Magee” and “Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy” (both of which my son had to read)? Unfortunately, it’s much harder to recover from incompetent and slow math education in K-8 than it is for English. For many kids, it’s all over in math by 7th grade because of their low slope and lack of INSURING mastery of content and skills – two things specifically cherished by the ninth grade Pre-AP classes pushed by the College Board – that also pushes low slope CCSS! Pre-AP is a study in trying to reconnect low and bad CCSS math in K-8 with proper math in high school that leads to AP Calculus and a STEM career. Hello reality!

    David Coleman knows this is happening and the only way to fix it is to claim that Pre-AP works and then blame students, parents, and society. Then they can claim that the full STEM solution has to be multi-generational. Never mind that in the 50’s and 60’s I got to Calculus in high school with absolutely no help from my parents, but had to recently help my math brain son survive a K-6 brew of MathLand and Everyday Math to get to the high school AP Calculus track where I didn’t have to do a thing.

    This is not only an attack of their ideas of a mixed-ability Project-Based Learning process, but an attack of their ideas and philosophy on content and skills (beyond their turf) with NO opt-out choice. They set kids up for failure in K-8 when their fairyland thought leaders drop them off at the reality of high school and college understanding based on a foundation mastery of basic content and skills. Understanding is bottom-up, not top down.

    They want it to be ALL about them. It isn’t. Their process does NOT insure mastery of skills OR understanding. You can’t trust the spiral and you can’t trust their assurances.

    Facts and the truth matter.


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