kitchen table math, the sequel: no one can teach

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

no one can teach

In reality, no one can teach mathematics. Effective teachers are those who can stimulate students to learn mathematics. Educational research offers compelling evidence that students learn mathematics well only when they construct their own mathematical understanding (MSEB and National Research Council 1989, 58).

Constructivist Learning and Teaching
Time to put the public back in public schools.

CT Coalition for World Class Math
NJ Coalition for World Class Math
PA coalition for World Class Math
United States Coalition for World Class Math
Parents' Group Wants to Shape Math Standards

Common Core Standards: Who Made the List?


Anonymous said...

Depends on what the meaning of 'teach' is.

If teach means 'open up the students head (like Hannibel Lechter) and pour stuff in', this could be shown to be a bit impractical as well as counterproductive for the next class of the day. If this is the definition, I agree it can't be done.

If teach means 'set up a Utopian laboratory where students can drift in and out whilst discovering math for the first time', this has been tried and found wanting. If this is the definition, I agree it can't be done.

If teach means 'something in between these extremes where teacher and student collaborate in the transfer of knowledge', this has been going on successfully for tens of thousands of years. If this is the definition then I don't agree.

Funny how the latest research keeps coming back to common sense isn't it?

Catherine Johnson said...

Unfortunately, classroom practice doesn't seem to be coming back to common sense as far as I can tell.

I disagree absolutely with this way of stating the proposition: 'no one can teach mathematics.'

In fact, an adult can teach a child mathematics, whether that child wishes to be taught mathematics or not.

I know.

I've done it.

SteveH said...

"I disagree absolutely with this way of stating the proposition: 'no one can teach mathematics.'"

Catherine is right. This isn't just pulled out of thin air. There is a history and context to all of this. There are players. Unfortunately, we have to read between the lines too much. It's like a discussion of discovery. It's so vague that there is always wiggle room.

I've complained about this before. Educators talk in generalities to get parents to go away while they decide on all of the details. Who can possibly be against discovery or balance or creativity? This is done on purpose. Educators know that there are fundamental differences of opinion, but if they throw out a lot of vague pedagogical mumbo-jumbo, then most critics will be unable to counter it.

But we are not starting from square one here. We have had years and years of study and first hand knowledge with our kids. We know what's going on. It's an educational turf battle. Who gets to decide, schools or parents?

Anonymous said...

You can't teach what you don't know.

My state has been busy expanding the number of ed schools into the community college system. Minutes of meetings show a refusal to make a C in an English survey course a minimum to be certified.

They also show survey math and science courses taught with an "inquiry approach" that "expose" the future teachers to these ideas with "activities".

Graduates of such a program may be certified by the state, but they're not likely to be knowledgeable about much. They may not realize it though.

Catherine Johnson said...

Educators talk in generalities to get parents to go away while they decide on all of the details.

I think that's about to change in my district.

One of Robyne Camp's campaign pledges was that academic gobbledy-gook would be replaced by plain English everyone can understand.

I'm trying to get a handle on our early reading instruction.

A few years ago we bought Open Court, which was once an excellent phonics program that, once it was sold to a major publishing house, incorporated a lot of whole language elements in order to maintain (or increase?) market share.

Today it's a superb phonics program only if teachers use it as a superb phonics program.

Which I assume my district didn't, though I don't know.

Now, suddenly, we are dumping Open Court & buying Fountas & Pinnell, which is essentially a whole language program with phonics on the side (aka balanced literacy).

Needless to say, both of these programs are expensive, but, in the midst of a global recession, but - hey - it's only money.

Point is: I'm trying to find out how my school district teaches kids to read.

So I asked our assistant superintendent for curriculum.

How do we teach kids to read?

Answer: our reading instruction is 'balanced.'

Can't get a lot more general than that.

SteveH said...


Oh! Balance!
How I love thee.
You're the perfect answer
To all that bugs me.

I try to think
But have no facts.
I use the web
But Google lacks.

I need an answer
Between right and twiddle,
So I use my love
And pick the middle.

OK, but I only spent five minutes on it. Actually, I have met people who listen to both sides of an argument and assume that the the answer is somewhere in the middle.