Kevin Blissett: Out of the Cave

Leadership, Classroom 2.0, Curriculum, China

The Problem with “Fuzzy Math”

This article by Matthew Clavell brings forth a strong indictment against so-called “Fuzzy Math” (a.k.a. “Constructivist Math) as exemplified in the Everyday Mathematics program. I’m particularly interested in this because my boss is directing my school to use it. I have to say, I have not been impressed with the program, nor the philosophy behind it, either before and after reading the article.

Defenders of critical thinking say we need to rescue our schools from a repressive “drill-and-kill” pedagogy that makes children automatons, spitting back the facts and rules that teachers have drummed into their heads and never learning to think on their own. The truth, of course, is that no one claims that knowing how to think independently isn’t important. But thinking can’t take flight unless you do know some basic facts—and nowhere is this more the case than in math. If you really want your students to engage in “higher-order thinking” in math, get them to master basic operations like their times tables first. When a middle schooler is learning to factor equations in eighth grade, it’s a crippling waste of mental energy if he needs to figure out how many times four goes into 20. Mastering fundamentals through practice can lift a child’s confidence to do harder work.

“Cooperative” learning that leads to classroom chaos, schizoid lessons that fail to impart mastery, ill-conceived and overly difficult homework assignments, lousy results, parental outrage—shouldn’t every teacher have done as I did and thrown Elementary Mathematics into the garbage? I certainly wasn’t alone in hating it. Indeed, I never heard a good word for it from my fellow teachers. At a grade conference one day, one our most respected fourth-grade teachers, a veteran who worked hard and cared deeply about the achievement of her students, summed up the general frustration with the new program: “I can’t teach it.”

Read the rest here.

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April 1, 2009 - Posted by | teaching quality

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