kitchen table math, the sequel: 2001 NCTM editorial on constructivism

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

2001 NCTM editorial on constructivism

I don't know why I Googled on "Constructivism; math". I should know better at my age. But it did take me here to an editorial written by Lee Stiff, president of NCTM from 2001-2002. In it, he talks about a familiar theme: Constructivism doesn't exist. Gee, where have I heard that before? Well, last time I heard it, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post was talking about it.

Lee Stiff says all the right buzzwords:

"Constructivist math is a term coined by critics of Standards-based mathematics who promote confusion about the relationships among content, pedagogy, and how students learn mathematics. It is how they label classes where they see students engaged and talking with one another, where teachers allow students to question and think about the mathematics and mathematical relationships. Critics see these behaviors and infer that the basics and other important mathematics are not being taught."

[Reform-minded teachers] "promote making connections to other ideas within mathematics and other disciplines. They ask students to furnish proof or explanations for their work. They use different representations of mathematical ideas to foster students' greater understanding. These teachers ask students to explain the mathematics. Their students are expected to solve problems, apply mathematics to real-world situations, and expand on what they already know. "

So, the Hay Baler problem in IMP expands on what students already know? Is that true?

So, asking a student the solution to 5 divided by 1/2 in the midst of a problem set of whole number division problems prior to students receiving instructions on fractional division (as Everyday Math does) expands on what students already know?

He prattles on about how working in groups allows "students help one another create richer meanings for new mathematical content." And "that students should be encouraged to create their own strategies for solving problem situations."

First of all, I don't know what a "problem situation" is. And I probably don't want to know. But I do know that when I see essays talking about how math should be taught so that students "make connections" between "concepts" and "real world" situations, I head for the Dolciani, Saxon and Singapore texts and even my old Arithmetic We Need texts from my grade school days. Somehow these "traditional" texts make connections.

I really don't think this 2001 essay is outdated, even with the Focal Points in place.


Instructivist said...

"Constructivist math is a term coined by critics of Standards-based mathematics who promote confusion about the relationships among content, pedagogy, and how students learn mathematics."

This type of denial is pathological. Does he also deny the existence of TERC, Trailblazers, CMP, CorePlus, IMP, etc?

Have you seen the latest JM findings in the WaPo?

Bracy and others tell JM everything is just great with schools.

I know from my experience in a large urban school system that that ain't so, at least not here.

Catherine Johnson said...

ok, let's ask David Labaree what he thinks about whether constructivism is a made-up word:

Today progressivism means pedagogical progressivism. It means basing instruction on the needs, interests and developmental stage of the child; it means teaching students the skills they need in order to learn any subject, instead of focusing on transmitting a particular subject; it means promoting discovery and self-directed learning by the student through active engagement; it means having students work on projects that express student purposes and that integrate the disciplines around socially relevant themes; and it means promoting values of community,
cooperation, tolerance, justice and democratic equality. In the shorthand of educational jargon, this adds up to ‘child-centered instruction’, ‘discovery learning’ and ‘learning how to learn’. And in the current language of American education schools there is a single label that captures this entire approach to education: constructivism.

Progressivism, Schools and Schools of Education: An American Romance
David F. Labaree

Paedagogica Historica,
Vol. 41, Nos. 1&2, February 2005, pp. 275–288


David Labaree, Professor and Associate Dean for Student Affairs School of Education, Stanford University, does not appear to believe that constructivism is a term made up by critics of reform math, now, does he.

Catherine Johnson said...

I know!

Why don't we search the NCTM website!

Barry Garelick said...

But Labaree in his book "The Problem with Ed Schools" then goes on to say that ed school theory never gets put into practice, and uses constructivism as a case in point, and even quotes Jay Mathews who says the same thing.

In other words, there ain't no true communism, no unicorns, and for that matter, Lee Stiff doesn't exist either.

Catherine Johnson said...

What I especially love about Stiff is the idea that while constructivism exists, constructivist math does not.