kitchen table math, the sequel: Obi-Wan on what means 'teaching'

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Obi-Wan on what means 'teaching'

Personally, I find the whole thing deeply insulting.

For all the thousands of years of human existence, teaching has meant one thing, and one thing alone. 

For a few years, a bunch of hippies told us that "teaching" meant the exact opposite of that, and that we couldn't do that thing that used to be called teaching. We went through the motions of their BS while they were looking, and taught our kids the right way when they weren't.

Now, they've rediscovered teaching, think they need a new term for it, and my district thinks I need to attend a week's worth of in-services to know how to do it.

I've got two words for the whole educational theory crowd, and they ain't gonna like the first one.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

i love you, man

Paul B said...

Years ago, when I was an engineering manager, I had this Indian guy working for me. He was a graduate of IIT, India's equivalent to MIT or maybe Stanford. To qualify for IIT you have to be in the top 1-2% of applicants. He was incredibly smart and unlike a lot of young engineers he was also able to think out of the box. He could push the enevelope. Where his peers were better at just executing somebody elses plan, he could come up with the vision.

One day I asked him about his schooling. He said that except for IIT his entire education took place under a tree in the center of his village with a village elder/teacher/wiseman type of guy. I'm just guessing here because at the time I never thought to ask, but my bet is that this guy didn't go to a fancy ed school. We're not talking marble halls, olympic pools, or multimedia classrooms. There were no bulletin boards, reflections, projects, or discoveries. There was no group work, spiral curriculum, or state standards either. Just a smart man, a willing student, and the transfer of knowledge, probably not unlike what took place for the 10,000 years before we started education research.

Makes me go hmmmmmmmm?

Catherine Johnson said...

oh boy

now i'm depressed

the gals at the Singapore Math school, who are Russian immigrants, said the same thing -- "all you need to teach math is a teacher and a book!"

C T said...

You don't even always need the teacher. Anecdote:
I taught myself algebra out of a workbook when I was in 8th grade (I was homeschooled for a semester due to a rough junior high), often doing my assignments in front of quality programs like Geraldo, One Life to Live, and Gilligan's Island. My mother (an elementary ed teacher) couldn't help me with algebra material, so I figured it out on my own. I went on to get a BS in math. That must have been one great algebra workbook!

Paul B said...

I took calculus in this big lecture hall, probably 200-300 students. The professor used to come in from a side door, covered in chalk and started writing immediately. He always rolled up the sleeves of his white shirt to above his elbow. I've no recollection of his voice; not sure he ever spoke actually.

The stage had those big sliding blackboards, maybe 60 feet of blackboard overall. God I hated that course. He would just start writing and within a board or so I was totally lost. The text book (that he chose) was the personification of the professor, full of fluff and diversions that perfectly disguised the 'nut' just as he managed to do.

Anyway I bought a Schaum's Outline (sp?) for calc and taught myself calculus from the book. His class was hopeless for me. It was impossible for me to copy, listen, and contemplate concurrently. Schaum's managed to get it done in a tenth of the hyperbole.

Looking back on it now, I figure he was single handedly responsible for the freshman attrition rate at Clarkson.

You just have to do what you have to do.

John said...

Why would we expect children (or anyone for that matter) to discover how the alphabet system works, or how to do maths, or engineering?
I'm reminded of what Jerome Bruner once said: '... culture... is not discovered; it is passed on or forgotten.'

Paul B said...

I remember going to a NCTM conference once and one of the seminars I attended was on 'Multiple [alternative]Representations'. The speaker was demonstrating one such 'alternative' where if you're multiplying or dividing by a power of 10 you just have to move the decimal point appropriately, left or right to arrive at an answer.

This was apparently a life altering experience for a (math?) teacher in the back of the room. She was astounded that you could do this and loudly proclaimed that nobody ever taught her that.

I would have thought she would have made this discovery on her own at some point but the fact that she never did goes to your point perfectly. Here was someone ideally suited to have stumbled on this simple manipulation on her own and she never did.

If everybody was a discoverer we wouldn't celebrate Columbus, da Vinci, Magellan, Einstein, Pascal, Pythagorus, etc. Discovery is not commonplace and discoverers are not ordinary. Isn't the essence of education to pass on and connect the discoveries of us all? If you set kids up to have an ah hah moment every day, you set them up for ah duh when they don't make one.

SteveH said...

It's always nice when the light bulb goes on. Many of the teachers I've had over the years tried to make that happen. Back when I taught math and CS, I tried to make that happen too. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. However, it's neither necessary or sufficient, especially if it's done in groups in class. Only some of the kids actually discover anything and then teach it (poorly) to the other kids. However, all of the kids look like they are involved in active learning.

My view is that many educators don't really know or care about a rigorous discovery-based learning approach. All they care about is child-centered, mixed-ability, group learning in class where the teacher is the guide on the side. They don't care if the job gets done, whether it's mastery of content and skills, or becoming good at discovery. They never test for individual discovery skills. They aren't serious about discovery.

I call it the brain research misdirection technique. Educators would rather talk about research, theory, and pedagogy when they should be explaining why perfectly smart kids can't multiply 6 * 7 in fifth grade.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm reminded of what Jerome Bruner once said: '... culture... is not discovered; it is passed on or forgotten.'

That's a terrific observation.

Catherine Johnson said...

My view is that many educators don't really know or care about a rigorous discovery-based learning approach.

Absolutely.

That's one of my thoughts for Irvington: we should have a school within a school.

Some parents would **love** to have a **real** progressive education for their kids, which is miles away from the authoritarian-sit-on-the-floor-and-heed-my-mini-lesson approach we're taking now.

We could have a "KIPP" track & a Dalton track.

Catherine Johnson said...

I call it the brain research misdirection technique. Educators would rather talk about research, theory, and pedagogy when they should be explaining why perfectly smart kids can't multiply 6 * 7 in fifth grade.

wit and wisdom!

John said...

Catherine,
I've got another for you!
Gagné was even more explicit than Bruner. He said that "To expect a human being to engage in a trial-and-error procedure in discovering a concept appears to be a matter of asking him (sic) to behave like an ape."
Both quotations can be found in Shulman, L.S and Keislar, E.R. (Eds.), Learning by Discovery: A critical appraisal (pp 101-113 for Bruner and pp 135-150 for Gagné),ChicagoL Rand and McNally.
John