As I’ve mentioned, my new book is out and available. To elucidate and amuse future readers, (and taking a cue from the Common Core website) I’ve compiled some Frequently Asked Questions about my book.
Is “Out on Good Behavior” about the Zen of teaching math?
Nope. Just the usual rebelling against the edu-fads and how I make it look like I’m on board with the current educational lunacy.
You talk about two students who you helped on an intervention basis and you state that qualifying as a special needs student doesn’t guarantee the student will get the kind of help to deal with a disability. Can you elaborate?
There are students who are classified as “special needs” under the IDEA law. In most cases, particularly in math, they are given accommodations such as extra time on tests, and an aide to help explain, or even to take notes for the students. But for students who may suffer from the various forms of “dyscalculia”—i.e., inability to memorize key facts and procedures, inability to think abstractly—they more often than not need the help of a specialist. Getting extra time on tests is not going to solve memory and other problems. In the end, they may continue to be given remedial classes, and to learn and re-learn the same things over and over again. In the end, however, they generally make little progress.
Is this what you tried to do with the JUMP Math curriculum?
In a sense. I had a class of seventh graders who had deficits in math knowledge. The advantage of JUMP is that it breaks things down into small increments of knowledge that students can absorb and build upon. It helped some of my students build confidence in their ability. It was not a silver bullet; some of them still could have benefitted from a specialist. But it was a step in the right direction.
You mention your use of the 1962 algebra book by Dolciani. Do you ever get complaints from parents about your use of that book?
Any and all reaction from parents about the Dolciani book has been positive. One parent told me “This is how I learned algebra, and I’m able to help my daughter.” Others like the simplicity of the format and the problems. I also hear from the students who like it because “It doesn’t have those real-world problems.”
Teaching is a second career for you; something you took up after retiring from the work force. Do you ever regret not getting into teaching when you were younger?
No, because I probably would have been swayed by the ed school dogma that pervades education. Being older I was able to resist. I know others who changed careers as I did and who say the same thing. My experience and age allow me to trust myself to do things differently.
Do you think that there are some students who won’t achieve the “understanding” that is being pushed so heavily?
Without a doubt. There are some things that people will understand later—like how the point-slope formula really works to find the equation of a line, or why we invert and multiply when dividing fractions. Repeating a procedure, particularly when more mathematical tools are learned helps in that regard. But yes, there are some who may never understand.
Will those who never understand do worse in math than those who do understand?
Not necessarily. It depends what they are doing in life. To use an example from calculus, the definition of limits and continuity are quite formal. Those who major in math and who wish to become mathematicians need to understand how they work. Those who go on to become engineers will not be less qualified to do what they do. They are able to reap the fruits of what limits and continuity do mathematically; i.e., they can find derivatives and do integration, and solve complex engineering problems. Not fully understanding the theory behind these things will not interfere with their work.
Please feel free to send more questions. Or buy the book. Or both!