Every year the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has its annual conference, complete with celeb speakers, vendor booths, instructional seminars, and the usual array of topics that pass for effective practices.
From what I hear from a friend who teaches high school math, this year’s was no different. Her report follows below:
I signed up for a pre-conference workshop on teaching math for social justice. They made the accusation that colleges of education exacerbate the problem of achievement gap for minorities. I asked an ed-school professor (maybe from Connecticut) what her school did to alleviate this problem. Her answer sounded awfully general, so I asked her to give me one, explicit example of a topic they teach that would work toward alleviating social injustice in schools. Her example was that, oh, you can teach students that a comma can mean the same thing as a decimal point in other countries. Of course, this is not what they are talking about at all, so she missed the point.
They made us do this activity where three siblings were going to give a party for their father’s 70th birthday. One made something like $20,000 a month; another made $6,000 a month, and the third — a single mother with two children — made $3000 a month. The sibling making $20,000 a month thought they should split the $4500 cost of the party equally. Another sibling suggested amounts that are proportional to their salaries. We were supposed to converse (in groups, of course!!) what is “fair.” Of course, it launched into a huge discussion about missing information, such as the one who makes $20,000 a month may have a spouse with a disease that requires a $5000 shot each month, so in other words, were weren’t told about their disposable incomes or other circumstances. After about 20 minutes, we still hadn’t settled in on anything other than the proportional one.
My issue is this: I think that MANY kids don’t know how to compute what would be proportional to the incomes in the first place, so why impose all of that drama on it?
I also attended a session of which Phil Daro was a co-presenter, but had to leave right before he was on stage. His partner, Kyle Pearce, didn’t know beans about math. Their big thing was about this photo of 5 reams of copy paper stacked against a concrete block wall, and how many reams would it take to reach the ceiling. They gave the height of the ceiling and the height of the stack of 5 reams of paper. I divided that height by 5, and then divided the height of the ceiling by that quotient. I did not set up a proportion at all. One can say that I used proportional reasoning, but I didn’t need to formally set up a proportion. I didn’t like the way they presented the solution of the problem. Clearly, it was designed for teachers who are at middle school or lower level.
The bottom line is that it was all pretty bad. My school district paid a few thousand dollars to send my colleague and me to this stuff. We were there for the last day of NCSM and the first day of NCTM. Needless to say, I was glad to get home!!