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!