kitchen table math, the sequel: Dan Meyer at TED x NYED: Blow up the US curricula (Impatient Problem Solving)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dan Meyer at TED x NYED: Blow up the US curricula (Impatient Problem Solving)

Here's the talk:



Another blogger heard the talk and was so inspired that he interviewed Meyer

BrainFruit Interview w/ Dan Meyer: Eliminating Homework, Using Technology, and Inspiring Kids



I had the good fortune on Wednesday of being able to interview Dan Meyer, who gave a great TED Talk recently on math curriculum reform. He also has a wonderful blog, dy/dan, which is worth checking out.

An Interview Highlight @ 9min 30sec

I saw in my classes when I was first teaching that the students who did homework tended to be students who didn’t need to do homework, [and] the students who didn’t do it or copied it DID need it. So there was a weird imbalance there.

So I did a study for my master’s thesis and found that it didn’t improve my student’s grades. Completing homework, it didn’t have an effect, positive or negative… and that was kind of scary. So I decided to really focus on my in-class time and really maximizing that.


So much good information came out of this interview- that’s just a taste of it. Let me know what you thought, and if there’s anything I can do to make these even more valuable in the future.

115 comments:

CassyT said...

Don't have 20 minutes? Here's Dan's Ignite NCSM talk where he covers basically the same material in 5 minutes.

And... If you liked that, here are links to the rest of the ticket that day:
Nora Ramirez, "Disequilibrium is a sign of new learning"
Brian Lawler, "Mathematics Education after the Standards Era"
Cathy Seeley, "Walking the walk"
Patrick Callahan, "A Modest Proposal"
Sherry Fraser, "If You Can Do Math, You Can Do Anything"
Steve Leinwand, "DiTCoQuA: An Acronym for our Times"
Steve Rasmussen, "Boring and Engaging Are Antonyms"
Nick Jackiw, "The Dynamics of Dynamic Geometry"

This was the hottest session at National Council of Supervisors of Mathmatics 2010 conference. People were shut out and moaning about having to miss out and those of us that got seats thought it was the highlight of the week.

Term Papers said...

lovely blog .

Anonymous said...

The links above are to Key Curriculum Press, authors of the Discovering series of high school math texts, the very texts being contested in Seattle.

And Jo Boaler, formerly from Stanford, whose research was criticized by James Milgram of the Stanford Mathematics Dept., was also on the speaker list.

Lots of discussion on constructivist, inquiry based math.

J.D. Fisher said...

Sometimes I wonder if I just get a kick out of being contrary. I don't know; I really like this video, but it really *bugs* me also.

It bugs me because every time I watch it, I feel like I'm in a meeting listening to someone who joined the company about two days ago, fresh out of college or fresh off an 8-year stint as a teacher; someone who is wildly enthusiastic about teaching and about subject matter but completely naive about the nitty gritty behind-the-scenes dirty-elbow work that makes the trains run on time.

I don't want to be that cranky old veteran that doesn't listen to new ideas, but I would think it appropriate to point out that we don't yet have the capability/budget to produce affordable print products with embedded videos of water tanks filling up.

So when Mr. Meyer urges his audience at the end of his talk to demand better curricula, what exactly does he anticipate these folks should be asking for? The impossible?

Can you imagine what would happen to a new educational textbook company that took its starting capital and created textbooks with top-notch practice problems that were all "less helpful"?

It would go bankrupt, not because it's not a good idea, but because the reality of teachers in classrooms just doesn't match. There's a *reason* why textbooks are ultra-"helpful."

I guess maybe I am just an old codger. I mean, I like pie; and I like the sky and all . . .

SteveH said...

"Be less helpful"

Please. Just go away.

Trivial, simplistic, self-centered. It's all about the teacher. The kids he teaches are not on the calculus track in high school. Most of his kids are "remedial". Is he proposing a way to best deal with the students who walk into his classroom, or is he talking about a way to fix K-12 math for all kids? All we need are grocery line problems, apparently. Learn to think. Discover. That will fix everything.

Not.

First, he defines a problem that really isn't the real problem faced by K-12 mathematics education, and then he defines a classroom process that would warm any educators heart. process over content and skills. Fun, happy learning.

"Completing homework, it didn’t have an effect, positive or negative… and that was kind of scary. So I decided to really focus on my in-class time and really maximizing that."

It's just not believable.

So, class time is used up with filling water tanks and learning how to think. With no homework, these kids won't go very far.

At best, one could say that what he offers is better than the crap that a lot of students get in high school. The schools have already failed many students in K-8 math, so why torture them by forcing them through a traditional Algebra II class? I would agree with this, but I would recommend math content other than what he talks about.

However, there is an implication that what he offers is better for all kids in all grades. He did not make that case in the least little bit. No homework and class time used for slower coverage of material. Teachers who try to teach well instead of relying on the textbook. That's all he is talking about.

Anonymous said...

"'Completing homework, it didn’t have an effect, positive or negative… and that was kind of scary. So I decided to really focus on my in-class time and really maximizing that.'

It's just not believable."


Actually, it should be believable.

As an example, I think most/all of us a KTM would agree that practice is necessary to become better at things like sports and playing a musical instrument.

I think we would also agree, however, that it is possible to structure a practice session in such a way that it was useless (I have seen some of these ...).

It may just be that he is assigning homework that has no benefit.

This doesn't mean that there doesn't exist any homework with benefit. Merely that this isn't what he is assigning.

I don't know that this is the case, but it is quite "believable." Sad, too.

-Mark Roulo

Allison said...

Does he have a link to his thesis? Can I see his regression to address confounding variables?

""Completing homework, it didn’t have an effect, positive or negative… and that was kind of scary."

maybe because the kids who succeeded had parents who sent them to Kumon or tutored them at home, and the kids who didn't didn't.

Or it could be that his teaching was so poor that homework didn't help, because it didn't practice what he gave out scores for.

There are a lot of methodological reasons other than homework. did he rule them out?

unless he controlled for g factor, tutoring/afterschooling, and prior background, and expressed linkage of work to his scoring regimen in some probabilistic way, i'm guessing there's no statistical significance to his finding.

SteveH said...

"It's just not believable."

It's believable that he assigns that kind of homework. It's not believable that he doesn't look in the mirror.

I find it amazing that discovery and authentic learning can only be done in class.

Allison said...

But even he is not saying that authentic learning can only take place in a classroom. What he is saying is teachers can only take credit and feel good about what happens in the classroom.

What he is saying boils down to:

Using "standard methods", I could not discern that I was teaching anyone anything.

Then I started doing discovery learning, and now I feel validated, because I feel my students have insights in the classroom.

SteveH said...

"and now I feel validated"

Exactly!

"in the classroom"

My comment was sardonic. Claiming that homework makes no difference is the key. It's about the warm fuzzies of an active learning classroom. The teacher still gives tests and kids still flunk, but at least the teacher knows that some sort of authentic learning took place and the kids were not bored.

CassyT said...

Anon-
You'll notice I DIDN'T link to Jo Boaler! She didn't speak at the NCSM conference last month- all the others did. NCSM is for supervisors of mathematics and had around 200 sessions, but overall, they were pretty good. NCTM has 750 or so sessions.

Key Curriculum Press sponsored this Ignite! session, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Casio sponsored one lunch, Texas Instruments another. Tom Snyder Productions, a division of Scholastic sponsored a breakfast, Pearson sponsored the conference bags and Educators Outlet gave everyone a luggage tag that was in the bag.

Oh, and America's Choice (www.americaschoice.org) sponsored a breakfast. The CEO of America's Choice, Phil Daro, chairs the state-led Common Core Mathematics Workgroup that is drafting common college readiness on behalf of 46 states. From the mid 80's until the 90's, he was the state Director of the California Mathematics Project for the University of California.

Here are some sessions I didn't attend based on the titles:
-"Charting a course to Equity and Access" Through Teaching Teachers to Teach Students HOW to Solve Mathematics Problems

-Planning to Teach- Unpacking the mathematics in a Problem-centered Curricula

-Promoting Reasoning and Sensemaking in High School Curriculum.

You don't get accepted to speak at national conferences by submitting sessions like "You just have to do the work".

Some session handouts are available at http://grou.ps/mathedleaders/ if you want to know more about what goes on at math teacher conferences.

SteveH said...

"You just have to do the work".

Ha, ha, ha!

That reminds me of a SNL skit they once had about someone trying to sell Steve Martin and Amy Poehler a book called "Don't buy stuff you cannot afford" as a solution to their high personal debt. They just couldn't understand the principle. The book was one page long.

Luke said...

So good!

~Luke

Stray said...

Speaking as a parent, I know that my 14 year old step-son learns zip in maths from standard teaching methods and conventional homework. He couldn't even do fractions at 12.

18 months ago we started 'math club' once a week - went out for fast food and did interesting real world problems that were messier but more vital than the rubbish in his text books, and he's now doing absolutely fine.

When you're a teenage boy your primary survival task is to find people to mate with and peers to hang out with. Algebra doesn't figure unless you work really hard to make it matter.

I've seen Dan speak before and there's one thing that strikes me - a LOT of work goes into this stuff. He's working hard before lessons, and kids are working hard - not just cruising - in the classroom / supermarket. I expect that's the key difference.

It's depressing to hear such heartfelt negativity from teachers. Isn't learning/teaching about being open to new ideas / discovery? Where are your learner's minds? Or do you truly think you've learned everything you need to know about teaching?

If you think this style doesn't also suit the high achievers, the kids capable of jumping through the abstract educational hoops, then you've somehow managed to separate education from turning out citizens engaged in solving real world problems.

I'm an engineer, and now a software engineer, and I'd much rather employ a kid who's thought about the water tank problem than one who can churn out set pattern quadratic solutions.

Anonymous said...

"I'm an engineer, and now a software engineer, and I'd much rather employ a kid who's thought about the water tank problem than one who can churn out set pattern quadratic solutions."

This may be a false dichotomy. The Singapore Math series seems to spend a fair amount of time on both "grinding the math" and understanding the underpinning of both the math and the mapping of the math to the real world.

I, too, work programming computers, and we are looking for people who both can *do* the math and who *understand* the math. A program/sequence that looks like it only gets the kid(s) to one of these is going to get a poor reception, here.

-Mark Roulo

Allison said...

--I'm an engineer, and now a software engineer, and I'd much rather employ a kid who's thought about the water tank problem than one who can churn out set pattern quadratic solutions.


Do you know any college kid who can solve a fluid dynamics problem that can't churn out college level ODEs and PDEs properly? Do you really think that for a high school student, thinking about a rate problem is meaningful if you don't know the correct solutions, can't write them down quickly, reliably, and with confidence in your answer? Do you think 15 yr olds who lack mastery of underlying math can rederive from a thought experiment the correct math without any typos?

The two are not separate. Without the underlying skills to write down the right equations, manipulate them to the right answer, and be able by inspection to know you had no typographical errors, that "AHA!" you had in the classroom or dinner table is just a feeling. It fades, and all you are left with is the thought "but I thought I understood this."

To this issue of what your son didn't learn in a "traditional" setting, can you define your terms? What was the traditional curricula he had? What textbooks? What teaching methods?

Dan Meyer's claim boils down to a fallacy: "my kids didn't learn from my teaching. Must be the curriculum's fault!" How do you know that for your son, the fault was the curriculum, not the teacher?

SteveH said...

I'll second Mark here. It's a false dichotomy.

I am a parent and an engineer with over 30 years of mathematical software development. I also used to teach college algebra for years to kids who were never required to master basic math skills. And I have helped my son survive MathLand and Everyday Math in K-6 with Singapore Math. Now he is using proper math textbooks with homework sets that cover the basic skills required to keep all of his educational doors open. There is a goal here and it's not just some sort of vague idea of mathematical thinking.

The problem with the video is that his assumptions are not well defined. Once kids are in high school, there are different mathematical tracks. If a student expects to enter any sort of STEM program in college, then he/she must be on the calculus track and (at least) get to pre-calculus in high school. To say that this track implies rote understandings and precludes any sort of ability to solve real world problems is ludicrous.

What seems to be the case in the video is that these students are NOT on that track. They are kids who have already been ruined by fuzzy K-8 discovery and spiral curricula like Everyday Math. While Dan's message might seem appealing, it really doesn't address the fundamental problems of K-8 math education. It only addresses what walks into a typical high school classroom. That is a different issue.


"If you think this style doesn't also suit the high achievers, the kids capable of jumping through the abstract educational hoops, ..."


What style is that? Covering very little material in class with no homework? Don't mix up good or bad teaching with curricula or textbooks. Does tank filling create a student who can do factoring? Without homework? How does this happen, or is factoring not important?

Go ahead and fill your water tanks, but don't try to get anyone to believe that it's a magical substitution for mastering the skills described in textbooks. Don't try to get anyone to believe that folowing a textbook or doing homework precludes understanding.

At best, the classroom technique described will help with motivation, but there were no claims about how this process would improve mastery of the abstract mathematical skills required for any college STEM degree. And you can always trade breadth of coverage for more fun, hands-on learning.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, there is a benefit to both skill learning and conceptual learning. The reality is, however, that skill learning in isolation doesn't lend itself to retention. Undergirding skills with conceptual understanding isn't "pie in the sky." It is absolutely essential to long-term understanding. This is true for both the lower performing students (who already struggle with retention) and the upper level students (who can commonly perform intricate mathematical operations with little understanding of their applicatory value. Kudos to Dan Meyer for leading the way in making us constantly question and evaluate our teaching objectives!

Allison said...

--The reality is, however, that skill learning in isolation doesn't lend itself to retention.

WOW! REALLY?

Seriously, can you find ANYONE arguing this point?

It's a straw man oft repeated, as if there is someone beating teachers with sticks saying "you will teach skills in isolation!"

Why does anyone feel the need to argue this point?

Meyer isn't leading the way ANYWHERE. That's my problem with his talk. Expect more! Do better! is not a destination. Question teaching objectives? How about questioning his teaching efficacy instead? Can I please see the thesis, and show how he knows it wasn't his teaching that led his students to get nothing out of his homework, or their background knowledge, or their home environment, etc.

SteveH said...

"Undergirding skills with conceptual understanding isn't "pie in the sky." It is absolutely essential to long-term understanding."

Who are you quoting with "pie in the sky"?


Why must understanding happen by wasting entire class periods covering so few concepts? Why tie understanding with one particular method of classroom teaching?

There are different levels of understanding. Conceptual is the lowest level and it might help with motivation or basic ideas like slices of pie for fractions. A more advanced level might involve a bar model as used in Singapore Math. But what about the understanding that comes from manipulating fractions as rational expressions in complicated equations?

What about the conceptual understanding of place value using picture blocks of 10 and 100? What about the understanding of place value for different base systems, like octal? What about the understanding of place value that comes from algebra? From vector notation? How about the understanding that comes from linear spaces?

Many educators have this enormously simplistic idea of understanding. It is usually used to justify all sorts of classroom pedagogy that have no regard for specific goals of content and skills.

Textbooks and homework do not preclude understanding. Poor teaching does.

Sean said...

Some people here might be missing Meyer's point. His comment on homework is pretty minor compared to what he's really trying to get across and he never suggests we throw out skills practice. He's said elsewhere he spends less than 5% of his classroom time on problems like the tank problem. He's leading the way by creating problems using engaging digital media, designing them to encourage problem solving and to help his students become more patient with logical processes then sharing and discussing the detailed lessons with other teachers for free. Is it really a problem to use 5% of class time getting remedial(or otherwise) students engaged, problem solving instead of memorizing and building some appreciation of the math around them?

It's not necessarily a new idea, but what really is in education? His sense of urgency is to suggest that though it's a small portion of class time, it's a very important piece that many math teachers are missing because math curriculum is bloated with things the average and below average math student won't ever need in their lives. Meyer is putting himself out there, doing great things to get kids interested in doing math who otherwise wouldn't be and sharing it all with the world.

rocky said...

..+--+
./|.b|\a
|-+--+-|
|.|..|.|
|-+--+-|
.\|..|/
..+--+

a = 11.9 cm

b^2 + b^2 = a^2
2b^2 = a^2
b = (sqrt a^2/2)
b = a/(sqrt 2)

we have four corner triangles that are right-angled with legs b and hypotenuse a. If we make two squares of side b, the area would be a^2.

we have four rectangles of area ab, so total area is 4(a)[a/(sqrt 2)] = 2(sqrt 2)a^2

And one square of area a^2

Add them up:

a^2 + a^2 + 2(sqrt 2)a^2

= a^2[ 2 + 2sqrt2]

= 2a^2[ 1 + sqrt2 ]

= 2(11.9)(11.9)[1 + sqrt2]

= 283.22[1 + sqrt2] cm^2

And using the amazing conversion factor method...

time = (time/cm^3)(cm^2)(height)

= (1 sec/1.8 cm^3) * (283.22[1 + sqrt2] cm^2) * 36 cm

...36
= ---- * 283.22[1 + sqrt2] sec
...1.8

= 20 * 283.22[1 + sqrt2] sec

= 5664.4[1 + sqrt2] sec

approx= 13675 sec

or 3hrs, 47min, 55sec.

Did I get it?

****** But ******
If you're watching a movie, why bother finding the area of an octagon when you can time how long 1 cm takes, then just multiply by 36.

I think you're trying to read too much into what Dan said. He was talking about "math for people who don't like math". Students who like math wouldn't be messing with the "amazing conversion factor method" of linear proportion; they would be doing Algebra II and Precalc.

SteveH said...

"He was talking about 'math for people who don't like math'."

No he wasn't. His comments were clearly more general than that. He was talking about "math education in the US today". I've read many of his writings. And it's not about kids who don't like math. It's about kids who happen to walk into his class.

SteveH said...

"He's leading the way by creating problems using engaging digital media, designing them to encourage problem solving and to help his students become more patient with logical processes ..."

"engaging"
"encourage"
"become more patient"

How about ensuring that kids master specific content and skills?

How about fixing math in K-8 so that high school teachers don't have to remediate and strive only for math appreciation. He talks about how many of his kids are "remedial". The problems of education are not defined by what walks into a classroom. That is a teacher problem. Too many teachers mix up the two.

"Is it really a problem to use 5% of class time getting remedial(or otherwise) students engaged, problem solving instead of memorizing and building some appreciation of the math around them?"

Only 5% to become engaged and good at problem solving? What kind of problems are we talking about here. No memorization and appreciation of math. Wow. What more could you ask for? An army of real world problem solvers for only 5% of the classtime.


"...because math curriculum is bloated with things the average and below average math student won't ever need in their lives."

You could start by fixing K-8 math. You might find that "average" kids will be able to handle the math that will open up many more career choices. That is quite meaningful for their lives.

I don't like how these discussions float from the importance of mathematical understanding for all to giving something else to kids who might never use real math in their lives. What are we talking about here, some sort of educational ideal or just trying to do better than bad?


Please carefully define the specific problem and the solution.

Allison said...

No, I'm not missing the point by focusing on the homework issue. He uses it repeatedly on his blog as well as in this talk to say that it was the STARTING POINT of his epiphanies.

So, the rest of his argument about engagement and encouragement and technology and the rest is all predicated on the original claim that the kids weren't learning, and that THAT was because homework didn't matter--that "traditional methods" didn't affect outcomes.

Quite a string of predication. If the openers are false, yes, logically, it's true that the White Rabbit is real, but here in reality, if the premises are all false, then the rest of the argument is meaningless.

And it's lovely how you think he's "doing great things", but I'd like to see some outcomes, not inputs. The world is littered with educators that don't seem to understand that engaging, creative interactions with students don't necessarily translate into actual improvement in skills or thinking. So outcomes are better than feelings. Norm-referenced ones for his students would be valid in my book. Maybe the number of his students that go to college and get a B or better in calculus vs. teachers that don't do what he does.

lgm said...

>>He's leading the way by creating problems using engaging digital media, designing them to encourage problem solving and to help his students become more patient with logical processes


It's nice that he's figured out the problem solving and logical thinking are part of math education and that he offers that opportunity in his classes. Others have noticed this too; it's actually in my state's standards. The bigger question is how did he get out of ed school and become liscensed to teach without knowing this??



No one has come up with an effective way to remove ineffective teachers and repair the damage they induce.

No one has come up with a way to effectively differentiate math when the class is fully included.

No one offers summer school to unclassified children that had incompetent teachers. They are detracked. Permanently.

For the record, I had no math homework in K12. I had:
*teachers with subject matter expertise
*ability/achievement grouping
*mastery expectation by lesson;on the spot remediation

Contrast that with today:
*teachers that don't know the subject
*full inclusion..including mainstreamed special education students who by definition are two or more years behind grade level
*no mastery expectation
*teacher not responsible for remediation - child is referred to math specialist after failing a few units.

This man can pick whatever curricula he wants. My district cut elementary down to 4 chapters, where 8 years ago (pre-full inclusion) they taught 10. Note 2 are review. They send about 30 exercises home a night and do lots of test prep worksheets. Still doesn't work.

A child that hasn't figured out 1:1 correspondence is not benefitting from an addition lesson, no matter how much it is differentiated. Too much wasted time, even if the parent can be drafted into doing the lesson and the homework with the child. Affluent people have already figured it out - don't count on the school at all. Take the course over the summer, then take it at school. Or ignore the school altogether.

lgm said...

Also note: I attended eight public schools in seven school districts, so it wasn't the case of getting lucky.

In hindsight, I do think I was lucky to have new math in Gr. 5. My teacher had no trouble teaching it at all. It certainly made algebra easy.

Joshua Fisher said...

For what it's worth, I think the water tank video is tres *cool.* And the shopping cart problem. And the reworked slope problem. I simply assume that every day in Mr. Meyer's class looks like Mr. Darnell's class at the end of "Lean on Me"--everybody's hand is up; they're all thinking, engaged, offering opinions, and Morgan Freeman is standing at the doorway giving a thumbs-up.

I watch his presentation, and I do get ideas. I think it would be awesome to set up some cool open-ended problems using videos for my tutees. They--especially my middle-school kids--would love it. And I'm sure real live classroom teachers watch it and think the same thing.

But, to reference another movie, "and then . . .?"

And maybe that question is just what he was after. Maybe this TED talk is just an example of how he "baits the hook" in his classroom. Maybe he has exposed *my* impatience with situations that don't resolve tidily and quickly.

Or maybe his is an example of impatient *teaching.*

r. r. vlorbik said...

on the "everybody's job is selling high-tech" model...
about the only one left standing from what i can see...
dan's an amazingly effective teacher
[i assume based on his own testimony]
*and* blogger [as i know firsthand]
*and* presenter [inspiring of this
and other threads in math-o-net].
i'll bet he even does a good job
at google whatever he does *there*.
but it's like escalante or esquith
or any other kick-ass teacher...
no program that actually *worked*
could ever be *implemented*
for the usual political reasons
so it doesn't *matter* what the
practices of the best-and-brightest...
they can't be transferred
(because, again in case i wasn't
explicit enough already, not
enough of the right wheels
get greased if they were:
buy that crap-that-doesn't-work!).

Michael Paul Goldenberg said...

It can't be easy to find this many wrong-headed people (though a few with their blinders off), though I should remember this is "Math Wars" and 'math warrior' turf and not be quite so surprised. SteveH appears to be the blindest of the bunch, not able to get anything right about what Dan Meyer is saying even in a short 12 minute talk.

Mr. Meyer is likely one of the more interesting people teaching K-12 math out there, and while no one, least of all Mr. Meyer, is calling out "Dan, Dan, Be Like Him," he certainly is offering lots of ideas worth thinking about. It looks like, however, thinking about things without having to judge them instantly in "Math Warrior-Speak" is not the long suit of some folks. Nothing new there, but always so sad when a really interesting person like Dan Meyer comes along.

Nothing Dan does or talks about is offered as a panacea. Nor is he ever suggesting that any particular thing he does or talks about is even something he has "perfected" (as if that were ever really possible to begin with, outside the weird imaginations of, well, self-appointed math warriors and their dupes).

What he does show is that we need not settle for business as usual, need not pretend that new technology doesn't exist or can't be applied to teaching, that old technology and resources and everyday objects can be used in remarkably innovative ways to make things INTERESTING (perish the thought, eh, math warriors?) and that in general there are many more ways through the woods than one.

This is terribly threatening to people who want to keep everyone firmly rooted in about the 13th century, give or take. Luckily for most of us, Dan Meyer and others like him really don't give a fig for all the nay-saying. As someone pointed out on his blog today, the perfect image for SteveH, as well as many more nationally-known math warriors like Wayne Bishop, James Milgram, and David Klein, is Dana Carvey's character on SNL, "The Grumpy Old Man. Doesn't matter if you're old or young, male or female: anyone can be a grumpy old man, and we've got some beauts in the comments above. Holding back the sea with a broom, are ya? Lots of luck with that.

Marc said...

SteveH and Allison, from what I understand, you are both in technical fields (engineers, I believe). It seems clear to me that neither of you struggled with mathematics growing up, yet you both argue of students who do struggle in mathematics.

You seem to have the belief that inundating students with math problems is enough for them to learn it. What Mr. Meyer is arguing for is...well, motivation for learning the problems.

I can honestly say that I had a very shallow understanding of mathematics on school. It wasn't until I actually used mathematics to solve real-world problems (in physics research) that I felt like I had a deep understanding of the material. I believe that is the only thing he is arguing for.

Now, I know the plural of anecdote is not data...but my anecdote has just as much weight as yours (e.g. your son using Everyday Math, solving fluid dynamics problems in university), i.e. very little.

Allison said...

Marc,

--You seem to have the belief that inundating students with math problems is enough for them to learn it.

Can you find any single thing I've said that says I believe this? Can you find any set of things that together imply this? I await your reasons for coming to this conclusion of what I believe.

I've said nothing in this thread about what it takes to learn. I've spoken of what's wrong with a teacher thinking:

a) my students aren't learning, let's blame something other than my teaching
and
b) if I only teach more *interestingly and engagingly* then students will learn more.

a) is hubris, but *could be true if there was evidence*. Over and over I've asked for evidence to evaluate a.

b) is a fallacy. It's a common one, and it simply has no basis in truth that interesting and engaging implies learning. Certainly, it *could*, but that's far from it will. Reading Lemov and Willingham are great starts to seeing that all the ways that engaging your students DOESN'T lead them to actually learning more of what you were supposed to be teaching.

Your claim that doing *physics research* helped you really learn makes lots of sense. But think of all the stuff you knew by then! The sheer mass of shallow knowledge was getting awfully deep! High school students DO NOT HAVE THAT, and a few minutes of lecture aren't going to change that. So the reason you were capable of using mathematics in real world problems is because you ALREADY HAD SHALLOW KNOWLEDGE.

If you don't have shallow knowledge, you can't build up deep understanding. Spending time exploring "interesting" problems when you're a novice is not capable of building deep understanding because even the shallow knowledge is missing.

the real issue, though, is opportunity cost. Every time a Meyer tries to do innovative things in his classroom, he does it at the expense of something else. That's because There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. You don't get something for nothing, and spending time on X means NOT spending time on Y, by definition.

So, if Meyer is doing this "fun" stuff to engage, but at the cost of building skills, he'll defeat these kids' chance of getting somewhere. The depth of knowledge needs to come, yes, and the engagement can be good. But based on what has he decided his motivation for learning actually causes more learning?

Michael Paul Goldenberg said...

It's simply remarkable to watch math warriors translate "enjoyment" and "engaging" into "trivial, watered-down, dumbed-down," etc.

It's like a reflex. Someone tries to address the glaring evidence of wide-spread lack of engagement in mathematics and suggests some potentially useful alternatives to business as usual. And the knees jerk as if on cue.

Where is it written that something engaging, interesting (dare I say it?), FUN - can't be mathematically rich, challenging, and important? Apparently in the educational conservative handbook, a text I prefer to ignore as grounded in only ignorance and fear.

And of course, the trump card? "Ignoring building of skills." First, Dan Meyer is a high school teacher. If high school math is primarily or almost exclusively about "skill building" (and 'obviously' that's true for K-8 math, right, math warriors?), when, exactly, is mathematics no longer primarily or exclusively about skill-building? And who, exactly, declared this point to be the absolutely right one?

It's truly amazing how little math warriors trust ANYONE'S judgment but their own, how sure they are that THEIR anecdotes are data-based fact, but everyone else's are bogus, how everyone else's professional practice is "mad science" but the practice they like, regardless of the fact that it was never researched before it was implemented, is unassailable. What a wonderfully solipsistic approach to, well, everything!

As someone whose work entails vast amounts of time observing and working with actual teachers in real schools, I'm a bit more inclined to look at Mr. Meyer as someone with provocative, heuristic ideas and practices. There's a lot teachers who bother to think can gain from engaging with him. But for the closed-minded grumpy old men here (male and female, of course), there are no new ideas that are good, nor good ideas that are new. What a way to live life. Feel free, of course, but keep such dead-souled world views out of public education, please.

Anonymous said...

"This is terribly threatening to people who want to keep everyone firmly rooted in about the 13th century, give or take."

Sigh.

The preferred math program here at KTM seems to be Singapore Math. This was developed in the 1990s (I think ... could be 1980s, certainly no earlier). Calling this approach "13th century" doesn't do it justice.

A number of us also have experience with some or many of the newer math approaches: Mathland, Everyday Math, and TERC among others.

The slightly more insane of us here also have Russian and Japanese math textbooks in translation.

*NONE* of these approaches are remotely what was being taught in the 13th century ... or even in the later half of the 19th century.

The "Grumpy Old Man" tag just doesn't fit here.

What you are finding at KTM is profound skepticism from people who need and use math on a daily basis that the approach presented/advocated in this video just won't work.

Attempting to pigeonhole these people as being opposed to change isn't going to be very effective when the curriculum most favor is only 20 years old, maybe less.

It is pretty obvious to those of us who work in technical fields on either coasts that *something* isn't working very well in US math education as currently practiced. Given the apparent prevalence of Everyday Math and TERC, and the relative rarity of Singapore Math, that current approach isn't what the KTM regulars are defending.

[Dear Lord, this seems to ramble. Anyone want to try to sort out my thoughts? :-)]

-Mark Roulo

SteveH said...

"Nothing Dan does or talks about is offered as a panacea."

The title of his first slide is "Math Curriculum Makeover".


"What he does show is that we need not settle for business as usual, ..."


I.e. what walks into his classroom; quite admirable, but surely not the "curriculum".

"...terribly threatening to people who want to keep everyone firmly rooted in about the 13th century.."

Sigh. Strawman.


"The Grumpy Old Man."

Strawman number 2. Is this is best you can do; ignore the issues raised? And Dan has to send his surrogates?

SteveH said...

"You seem to have the belief that inundating students with math problems is enough for them to learn it."

What critical thinking process led you to that conclusion?


"What Mr. Meyer is arguing for is...well, motivation for learning the problems."

Ah yes, motivation. Does it work? Towards what goal? What course are we talking about here, remedial algebra I in high school? What is the context? It's nice that he is trying to make his class more interesting and motivating than before, by why inflate the discussion into a curriculum makeover? It sounds like reality TV has invaded the classroom.


If you want to talk about a curriculum for those who have been failed by K-8 math, or a curriculum for those who have no interest in applying math for a career, then say so. Just don't try to pretend that it's anything more than that. But, if that is what you are talking about, why not discuss the specific content and skills goals of the class? Dan says something about creating future societal problem solvers, but that goal was never tied to the motivation goals of the lecture. Apparently, math has devolved into learning thinking skills. If it looks like thinking, it must be math.


"It wasn't until I actually used mathematics to solve real-world problems (in physics research) that I felt like I had a deep understanding of the material. I believe that is the only thing he is arguing for."

He is not arguing that kids can do in school what you did in physics research. It's not even the same idea. He is talking about motivation, but claiming that it's so much more. Any diet guru can motivate people with a rousing talk, but then it's back to eating mathematical Twinkies the next day.


"...but my anecdote has just as much weight as yours ..."

Mine is not an anecdote argument. I'm trying to find out exactly what Dan thinks his goal is in a curriculum sense. Motivation is not understanding.

SteveH said...

"It's simply remarkable to watch math warriors translate 'enjoyment' and 'engaging' into 'trivial, watered-down, dumbed-down,' etc."

Strawman number 3.


"Someone tries to address the glaring evidence of wide-spread lack of engagement in mathematics and suggests some potentially useful alternatives to business as usual."

It's the boo hoo hoo argument! After all of these years, this is your best argument?


"Someone tries to address the glaring evidence of wide-spread lack of engagement in mathematics and suggests some potentially useful alternatives to business as usual."

The business as usual is incredibly bad, and I expect much more than a meager, self-congratulatory approach to the overall problem of K-12 mathematics teaching.


"Apparently in the educational conservative handbook, a text I prefer to ignore as grounded in only ignorance and fear."

Here comes the politics card. You keep trying to play it year after year.


"If high school math is primarily or almost exclusively about "skill building" (and 'obviously' that's true for K-8 math, right, math warriors?), when, exactly, is mathematics no longer primarily or exclusively about skill-building? And who, exactly, declared this point to be the absolutely right one?"

So now you want to talk about the context Dan should have, but didn't talk about. Are you authorized to talk for him? What is the context here? What course is this? What do these kids want to do for a career? Is the high school preparing them properly for what they want to do, or are they slamming career doors shut? Are they forcing kids to get through Algebra II or are they allowing them to take other courses more appropriate to their goals?

We never find out about these things in Dan's lecture. In fact, we are supposed to happy that it's just better than the crap they had before.


"It's truly amazing how little math warriors trust ANYONE'S judgment but their own.."

Boo hoo hoo argument number 2.


"I'm a bit more inclined to look at Mr. Meyer as someone with provocative, heuristic ideas and practices."


Good for him. He is trying to make life better for the kids who happen to walk into his class. Just don't inflate this into a curriculum or even what is best for those kids.


"What a way to live life. Feel free, of course, but keep such dead-souled world views out of public education, please."

Boo hoo hoo argument number 3.

Notice how educators like MPG feel that they own public education. It's not the so-called "math warriors" who created the crap that they are trying to improve on in public schools.

Michael Paul Goldenberg said...

I do not represent anyone but myself, Steve. And I have the decency to use my real name when I do so. Anonymous ideologues are a dime a dozen in the math wars. And you clearly have mastered many of the usual math warrior rhetorical tricks. Too bad you don't know Jack about kids, teaching, or, I suspect, much else beyond the tip of your. . . nose.

Trying to put down your betters, particularly someone like Dan Meyer, who has NOTHING to do with all those nasty little NSF-sponsored books that get math warriors' underwear bunched up, by suggesting that somehow he's just another 'fuzzy math' advocate, shows your blind religious hatred of anything that doesn't fit your narrow viewpoint. I'm tempted to say something crude, but it's your ignorance that is the true obscenity here. Spend a little time schools in Detroit, Saginaw, Flint, Pontiac, and assorted other hell holes with me. Then tell me about what you'd do to help kids there. Until you do, stop talking as if you have the smallest clue what on-the-line teachers have to deal with or how "just doing the work" will get the job done.

It was nice to see that someone at KTM had the decency to really look at Dan Meyer and present his work in a positive light. It was less wonderful to see jackals come out to try to attack him behind his back. But that's par for the course from math warriors, isn't it, "Steve"?

SteveH said...

"And I have the decency to use my real name when I do so."

This, along with some sort of political diatribe usually mark your arguments of last resort.


"And you clearly have mastered many of the usual math warrior rhetorical tricks."

Tricks like asking reasonable questions for which you have no response? (Actually, that comment is quite something coming from you.)


"by suggesting that somehow he's just another 'fuzzy math' advocate, ..."

"suggesting"? That's a weasel defense. No. I am questioning whether what he is doing comes close to achieving the inflated claims he is making. I am asking what the curriculum is that he is trying to makeover. I'm trying to understand how motivation translates into mathematical understanding ... of what, exactly? Will these kids be prepared to handle interest rates, taxes, or reading a school budget?


"Then tell me about what you'd do to help kids there."

I've done so many times on this and other blogs, but let's start with an explanation of how Dan's techniques will help these kids? What do they want for careers? Have they ever been asked? If they want to go to a vocational school, what are the math requirements? Does Dan ever explain these things and figure out how to help the kids get there? How does the grocery line problem translate into something useful for a student who wants to be an electrician or plumber? You can't talk in vague terms about mathematical understanding and expect everyone to ooh and aah. Where are you going with this? What is the bigger picture?


"stop talking as if you have the smallest clue what on-the-line teachers have to deal with or how 'just doing the work' will get the job done."

I'll call this a boo hoo strawman.

Lsquared said...

I think I need a new blogger-name. Maybe 'fence sitter" would be good...

First, I want to stick up for Dan. From what I can tell, he's a very effective teacher. He does problem based teaching, and Socratic teaching very well.

That doesn't mean I agree with him about the curriculum issue. Certainly the curricula I've seen that try hardest to do what it looks like he does, are unbalanced and do it poorly. I am very disappointed in several of the "standards based" textbooks, where I find that 1. the "hard" math topics are left out (yeah--problem based learning does a great job so long as you avoid all of the difficult topics--cop out) and 2. teachers have to be pretty savvy to pull off doing the lessons that are in the book. A lot of these books really don't live up to _any_ of the standards you might compare them to (sad).

Watching other teachers (I get to do that occasionally for my job) I can say that:
**A lot of really good teachers do the Socratic/problem based learning very effectively.
**And a lot of really good teachers teach in a way that uses direct instruction.

About homework: I don't know what makes the difference between Dan's students and mine. I know that when I teach college Calc, if I don't collect homework, the test scores (class average) drop significantly (they really do--I keep wishing that I could just avoid the homework collecting thing altogether, but over and over my students have convinced me that I can't). On the other hand when I teach Liberal Arts Math (or, as I fondly call it, math for people who don't have to know any math), collecting homework doesn't work so well, but if I give a quiz _every day_ then they stay on track. It helps, I expect, that I don't teach anything "hard" in that class.

Anyway--a lot of those people who are forging the way, and splicing problem based learning into their curriculum are brilliant teachers, and they are often getting great results, but I'm past the honeymoon, and I don't see any signs that you can bottle what they do and stick it in a textbook, and get it to work that way.

Michael Paul Goldenberg said...

College calculus is a college class with voluntary college students. Not a high school class with (mostly) a captive audience of very young teenagers. And in inner cities, teenagers with little or no support of any kind at home for their academic lives. Homework isn't exactly at the head of their list of concerns when they leave the school building. Often, getting home alive is.

As for Steve H, come talk to me when you have a real name and something that identifies who and what you are. I don't need to argue with ghostly net fools like you.

You're the one attacking Dan Meyer behind his back. I merely suggest he has ideas worth considering. You don't consider: you shit upon. I've seen your kind so often and am more than a little sickened by your methods and evil-doing. No one says you have to do ANYTHING Dan Meyer does (and indeed, where would you do so or not? I know no reason to believe you are a classroom teacher of mathematics and until I have evidence of that will assume you're just an empty sock puppet with an ax to grind against people who aren't stuck in the past (sorry my pointedly hyperbolic choice of - was it the 13th? - century gave you so much weasel room or caused your literal mind to think I was being anything less than sarcastic beyond suggesting that teacher-centered teaching as the dominant form of classroom discourse and instruction isn't cutting it and likely never did for the majority of students)).

No one, by the way, who actually understands what's going on in classrooms is looking for magic in a bottle or in a textbook. Those of you who think that you are making an effective argument against Dan Meyer by saying that it isn't a panacea or won't work in other classrooms or any of the other lame excuses being offered up here continue to completely miss the point of the Dan Meyers out there: they aren't prototypes for new robots. They are people who try. What one chooses to adopt and modify to one's own classroom practice (if one HAS a classroom practice, of course) is a matter of individual insight and choice.

Why are the Steve H's so flipping terrified of Dan Meyer? Of even seeing his 12 minute talk? That's the fascinating little question that underlies so much of the evil little activity of "math warriors." Fear, hate, and monkey-grunts. That black monolith is really scary.

Anonymous said...

"...sorry my pointedly hyperbolic choice of - was it the 13th? - century gave you so much weasel room or caused your literal mind to think I was being anything less than sarcastic..."

Michael,

I think you've missed the point that many/most (hell, at least *some*) of us here at KTM are in favor of a fairly recent mathematics curriculum. 20ish years old at most. It wasn't the one we grew up with or use ourselves in school.

Claiming that we are favoring something old fashioned is just incorrect, hyperbolic or not. The general position is in favor of something fairly recent (but with a lot of empirical evidence that it works), but in quite a different direction than TERC and Everyday Math (and probably also in a different direction than the one Dan Meyer is suggesting).

-Mark Roulo

SteveH said...

"As for Steve H, come talk to me when you have a real name and something that identifies who and what you are."

Cop-out. You would talk to me if I said things you liked. I've seen you pull this one in the past.


"You're the one attacking Dan Meyer behind his back."

No. It's quite out in the open. The questions might be tough, but it's not an attack. You might not like the tone, but I haven't seen much discussion of my key points.


"You don't consider: you shit upon."

I considered and asked questions. You just don't like the questions.


"evil-doing."

Dubya? Is that you?


"...by saying that it isn't a panacea or won't work in other classrooms or any of the other lame excuses being offered up here "

I never said any such things.


"Why are the Steve H's so flipping terrified of Dan Meyer?"

What ever gave you that idea?


"That's the fascinating little question that underlies so much of the evil little activity of "math warriors." Fear, hate, and monkey-grunts. That black monolith is really scary."

MPG has been pushing this talk for over a decade.

Still no further discussion of critical points I raised.

KDeRosa said...

There was a time when MPG used to tout the strong research base of Everyday Math by cutting and pasting the 60 some odd studeies over and over. Then the WWC knocked all but 4 of them out of the water as failing to conform be, you know, scientific. Three of those 4 showed statistically insignificant results. The last was performed by a biased researcher who has refused to make his data-set public.

Now MPG is reduced to making weak arguments riddled with logical fallacies.

Dan Meyer is entitled to his opinion. But, his opinion lacks a rigorous evidentiary base. Caveat Emptor.

rocky said...

Spend a little time schools in Detroit, Saginaw, Flint, Pontiac, and assorted other hell holes with me. Then tell me about what you'd do to help kids there.

If you teach in a war zone, where kids try to get home alive and can't study because they all live in one room and the TV is always blaring, no wonder you're willing to do a little triage. No wonder if you teach Singapore 4th, 5th and 6th primary instead of Algebra I, and concentrate on prime numbers, fractions, and conversion factors (lines that run through the origin).

SteveH (i think) was talking about kids who are not that hard up yet. They can get through Algebra I with a little intensive practice; but there is no time to waste for random-discovery! They must have the guided practice that leads to programmed-discovery.

When they teach rats to push a lever for food, they can get them to push it hundreds of times if they just make the first few times rewarding and then back off the reward ratio. I'm not saying kids are rats, but if you want to teach them math-patience, you need to make the first problems very easy.

Anonymous said...

Well, dang. After following this thread for days, I finally watched the video. I think Mr. Neyer probably does do a good job of getting his students engaged. I like the idea of having the students build the problems. The thing is, he doesn't show (or at least this video doesn't show) how they get from being interested in how quickly the tank fills to knowing how to figure it out short of filling every tank, every time. He doesn't seem to get to the point of teaching that the formula for volume is a wonderful generalization that saves you all that work. And I agree that if you somehow have an entire class of kids that are turned off of math, this is not a harmful way to proceed, or I hope it's not. But I would have died of boredom and frustration in this class (and I dont' have natural math talent) because I had been well-prepared in K-8 and I had the discipline to persist even when it was boring or challenging. It's sad if we're saying that the least-engaged students will be catered to, and the most engaged will be ignored.

Anonymous said...

"It's sad if we're saying that the least-engaged students will be catered to, and the most engaged will be ignored."

I don't know that anyone has said this. Does he have any prepared and engaged students in the classes he teaches? If not ...

-Mark Roulo

Joshua Fisher said...

Here's Dan from the video on David Milch, creator of Deadwood and NYPD Blue (emphasis mine):

"He swore off creating contemporary drama--shows set in the present day--because he saw that when people fill their mind with four hours a day of, for example, "Two and a Half Men," no disrespect, it shapes the neural pathways, he said, in such a way that they expect simple problems. He called it an impatience with irresolution."

Ugh. I want to get behind this, people, I really do. But, sorry. David Milch is the wrong person to quote if you're looking for expertise about "neural pathways."

It just makes the whole talk look so silly.

Anonymous said...

Mark, Mr. Meyer, in his comments, seems to imply that the way math has been taught is bad for all students. He doesn't describe his methods as meant only for students who are disengaged/unprepared. He may mean that, but he doesn't say that. Consequently, you have to assume that in mixed classrooms, the "engaged" will have to watch the tank fill along with the "disengaged."

SteveH said...

"SteveH (i think) was talking about kids who are not that hard up yet."

I was trying to find out what the context was in the video. It did not say that this was just for any particular type of student. Apparently, it is, but I still don't know the level of student engagement or the type of course it is. I doubt, however, that these kids worry about getting home alive. But this goes to the central point I was raising. What is the context? What are the assumtions. Where are these kids coming from and where do they think they are going? You don't find out from the video.

As I said before, the first slide says:

"Math Curriculum Makeover"

It doesn't say:

"How can teachers do the best they can given that they have no control over what walks into the classroom"

That just doesn't sound important enough.


As I have mentioned over many years (and even earlier in this thread), there are problems of K-12 math education and there are teacher problems of what can be done in his/her circumstance. Unfortunately, many teachers define all problems of education only in terms of what walks into the classroom.

I've always used the example of my son's fifth grade Everyday Math teacher. Rather than yell and scream at (or professionally discuss with) the earlier grade teachers about the lack of very basic math skills of her students, she just tried to do the best she could. She worked hard on basic skills to help the kids catch up. Good for her, but she didn't get to 35% of the material, and then proclaimed victory over critical thinking and problem solving. From her personal context, she did a good job. From a K-12 math curriculum stanpoint it still stinks.

The video talks about having at least some remedial kids. What about the kids who are not remedial and are perhaps self-motivated? Can they be brought back to the main STEM career math track? Or, are they now stuck on an engaging track to math appreciation and an unknown connection to whatever career path they might want?

I can hear the doors slamming shut.

Mike said...

I am absolutely baffled by the naysayers who make sweeping generalizations based on an 11 minute introductory lecture on how to engage students in the classroom.
The purpose of the talk was to show that relevance in mathematics is what helps capture and grow developing minds. The speaker, in fact, never says anything about not teaching computational methods. What the speaker said is that methods should not be handed to students in order to plug and chug. Based on the comments I’ve read, it is apparent that some here are out of touch with what is occurring in math classes all over the US.
Even more baseless is the comment that since this speaker is a teacher of remedial students that his methods are worthless for advanced students. If anything, I contend that this style of mathematics is an environment where gifted and talented students are more likely to thrive. To take his example, which he openly admits was generated for his remedial class, and not be able to imagine how this technique could be applied at a higher level shows a severe shortage of creativity or an arbitrary unwillingness to entertain his ideas.
As an example, before I gave my 7th grade advanced math students the formula for the area of parallelograms, triangles, and trapezoids, we spent a class period in small groups trying to figure out how much money we would need to pave the entire classroom floor in super-bounce rubber. They were given nothing but measuring tape and a cost/ft^2 of flooring. The buy in for this exercise was terrific. Their reasoning was excellent. And hearing this from me filled them with confidence and genuine excitement about problem-solving. They were invested. Then we set about to drawing shapes on the board, manipulating them, and eventually deriving the formulas. This information could have been conveyed in 30 seconds, and I could have then given them a ditto. My lesson took an entire class period. I'm not sure how many students will remember the formula for calculating the surface area of a trapezoid next year, but many of them will be able to look at the formula and explain why it works. Furthermore, they will have exercised their ability to think critically, practice number sense and estimation, and find value in mathematical reasoning.
With creativity and hard work, all levels of math can function this way. Do you know how much cooler matrix algebra would be for a 12th grader in AP calculus if they got to see it being used by quantum physicists?
This speaker said something at the very end of his talk that resonates with me and every one of my students by the time the year is out. "Math is the vocabulary for our intuition." The way I say it is, "Math is a language we use to describe our world in ways other languages cannot." In this sense, they begin to understand that math is a continuum. They realize that in 7th grade, they are merely learning spelling, grammar rules, and the like. They especially understand this if they are taking a second language in school. I make references to their inability to formulate sound arguments in French, but as they become more fluent, their ability to express their sense of logic and reason becomes more acute.
I am surprised at those who argue against these methods without seeking further insight into their entirety. In fact, the only valid argument I've seen on this site is the poster who claims to be too old, unsupported, and unmotivated to try any of these practices. At least that is a blatant admission of personal fault. The rest of you would do well to seek more information on the topic instead of demanding to see empirical data and dismissing at the outset. And if you're not an educator by profession, then I hope you're confining your belligerence to the anonymity of internet message boards, because your credibility is lost on those of us who are.

VickyS said...

My lesson took an entire class period.

Ouch. This is exactly the kind of thing that drives my kids, and their friends, crazy. With all due respect, these activities (and I've observed them first hand) are more likely to bore a mathematically inclined kid to tears than excite and motivate him or her.

I'm not sure how many students will remember the formula for calculating the surface area of a trapezoid next year, but many of them will be able to look at the formula and explain why it works.

Why the instant assumption that if you taught it in a more direct, straight forward way, with worked examples and practice questions, your students would not be able to explain why it works? Surely they would! And in fact, I'm thinking it might have been a heckuva lot more clear to simply start with the trapezoid on the board and show how the formula is derived. What does pacing around on the floor add to that?

Despite the constant hand-wringing about the need to start "engaging" kids in math (and other subjects), discovery approaches in math have been the predominant instructional approach in elementary and middle school classrooms around the country for over 10 years. Look at the achievement levels. How's that workin' for ya?

Mike, you must not have been hanging around this list very long, or you would know that the members of this list include parents and educators at all levels, most of whom are quite well informed about "the topic" at hand.

Not only that, but we are as passionate as any educator (and as I mentioned, there are many educators here already) in our desire to raise math literacy and achievement. We just don't think that's going to happen when kids are asked to discover known math and science principles in a highly inefficient and error-prone activity-based classroom. Good thing they don't teach Driver's Ed that way.

Katharine Beals said...

Ditto what VickyS said about an entire class period on this activity boring bright kids.

"I'm not sure how many students will remember the formula for calculating the surface area of a trapezoid next year, but many of them will be able to look at the formula and explain why it works."

Most bright 7th graders can grasp why the area of a trapezoid (or a triangle, or a parallelogram) has the formula it does within minutes! And without working in groups and doing hands on activities. Please give them a chance to demonstrate their understanding without all that tedious busy work!

Allison said...

--The purpose of the talk was to show that relevance in mathematics is what helps capture and grow developing minds

Do you mean

-The purpose of the talk was to show that relevance in mathematics is one element in what helps capture and grow developing minds

or

The purpose of the talk was to show that relevance in mathematics is the only element in what helps capture and grow developing minds

If you say the first, NO ONE HERE on KTM is arguing against that. What we argue are the a) relative percentages of these various elements should be vs. what they are in classrooms, and b) how best to teach these elements. (If you claim the latter, then there's not point in further argument.)

It's funny that you think you need to tell us what the purpose was. See, the talk should have done that.

Allison said...

Do you know how much cooler matrix algebra would be for a 12th grader in AP calculus if they got to see it being used by quantum physicists?

Do you have ANY idea what you are talking about? A 12th grader in AP calc doesn't see any matrix algebra. And if they did, they'd see Gauss Jordan elimination. Not exactly cool.

A junior physics major taking 2nd term quantum barely comprehends what the matrix algebra is telling them about quantum physics. There's zero chance a 12th grader is going to understand what the eigenvectors are telling him about the Hamiltonian. The 2nd term junior has already been familiarized with quantum through a term of calc-heavy wave equations. They've been familiarized with matrix algebra in a variety of places, from lin alg class to upper div class physics. They've seen hamiltonians in 2 full terms of freshman physics and probably 3 full terms of soph/upper division classical and stat mech as well as qm. The 12th grader is going to watch someone pull out a Hamiltonian with no comprehensible justification, bang it on a Psi ket, a wave function for which they have no comrephensible justification, change bases, for which they have no comprehensible justification, and hit it with a bra, for which they have no justification, to get some numbers, that someone might want to claim are related to probabilities in a way that even the qmers can barely explain.

And THAT's gonna motivate a 12th grader?

I've sat in plenty of pointless lectures like that. I've given them, and watched my friends give them. And what you create are glazed over students. Either you lose them in 3 minutes or you so water down the real science and math with analogy and handwaving that no one can see anything.

Save that garbage for a summer seminar of afterschool program. Don't waste valuable class time on it.

lgm said...

Mike, my real live child knew the whys in your area lesson on trap/par/rectangles in first grade. He had already figured out how to break a shape into composite peices and knew how to figure area with blocks. That task was his teacher's first attempt at differentiating the whole class lesson on finding the length and width of the classroom to the nearest inch. She recovered on the fly and gave him a short conversation that he enjoyed because he learned something new - the names of the polygons,what some of their root words meant, and the concept of 'proof'. We'd have homeschooled if differentation wasn't allowed then, as it's too headbanging for a little one to sit with neglected children and be denied the opportunity to learn anytning new academically. He did the costing part in fourth grade, as part of teaching himself decimal multiplication while the other children were reviewing whole class multiplication.

My kid is in 7th now, in the most advanced class his district will allow (pre-algebra) in the no child gets ahead, full inclusion environment. He wouldn't even have pre-algebra available if the state didn't require the district to offer an accelerated class. Your complete lesson was done, albeit with a different floor covering. Thriving did not occur. His self extension was to wonder how to find the volume by integration if the room was filled to a certain level with a jello type of mat'l that would solidify after pouring. If the lesson could involve a new skill or a new concept - on the order of learning a new programming language, learning to use a graphing calculator, how to integrate , i.e. something not already mastered - he'd be thrilled and thriving. As it was, it was just another day of 'peer' tutoring and confirmation that some kids need a lot more repetition than others, and some really can't see the obvious in 3D or use logic.

Repetition of 'learning' concepts already mastered does not excite all children. Neither does review. And seriously, how many middle school teachers could teach the math behind my child's self-extension on the fly?

Being that I'm just a parent, you'll probably just laugh me off, virtually pat my head, and continue to suggest that all advanced math students benefit mightily from hands-on re-'learning' of concepts that they've already worked out and can see and manipulate clearly in their minds since one anecdote from a non-professional is worthless. I'll suggest, with all due respect, that there are several fine educational institutions in the NY-NJ-CT metro area that can help you understand how this type of mind works and how to tier the lesson so that ALL are included and actually learn something. Many schools also have school pyschologists who can show you the layman's material from the CogAT...even the parent material includes ideas that involve more than review and concrete learning techniques.

Good luck to you. From the sounds of it, public school will be all remedial & sped in the future so annoying parents with their observations of reality won't be a problem.

lgm said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
lgm said...

Apologies for the double post. If someone could remove one for me, I'd appreciate it.

SteveH said...

This is a check to see if any message will post to this thread.

SteveH said...

"I am absolutely baffled by the naysayers who make sweeping generalizations based on an 11 minute introductory lecture on how to engage students in the classroom."

Is that all it was? Why was the first slide called "Math Curriculum Makeover"? The video was about much more than engagement. When questioned or challenged, it's amazing how the arguments shift to a more defendable position. No sweeping generalizations were made, but a lot of questions were raised with no answers.



"The purpose of the talk was to show that relevance in mathematics is what helps capture and grow developing minds."

How does that happen, exactly? All I heard were vague generalities. How does engagement ensure that all of the proper basic skills are mastered, especially with claims that homework makes no difference?


"What the speaker said is that methods should not be handed to students in order to plug and chug."

That's just good basic teaching that can be applied with any approach. It's nothing new or amazing, and textbooks don't force kids to apply calculations only in a rote fashion.


"Based on the comments I’ve read, it is apparent that some here are out of touch with what is occurring in math classes all over the US."

At KTM? The whole blog is about how parents are painfully forced to know too much about what's going on in schools. They are forced to fix the problems at home. They know that schools never ensure that basic skills are mastered. Schools trust the spiral. Then, when these kids get to high school, parents are supposed to be happy that schools try to engage their kids. Parents are supposed to ooh and ahh without any details about whether anything tangible gets accomplished or not.


"Even more baseless is the comment that since this speaker is a teacher of remedial students that his methods are worthless for advanced students."

I searched for the word "worthless" in the thread and it only found your comment. Strawman.

SteveH said...

"If anything, I contend that this style of mathematics is an environment where gifted and talented students are more likely to thrive."

Who can tell with so few details. All we know from the video is that engagement and understanding is better. Duh! Better than incompetent teaching. But it's much more than that, isn't it. Tell us exactly what goes on in each class. Tell us about the content and the skills mastered. Tell us about the tests and the grading. You can't argue with generalities and then hope we will ignore all of the details.



"we spent a class period in small groups trying to figure out how much money we would need to pave the entire classroom floor in super-bounce rubber."

A whole class period? For advanced math students?

"They were given nothing but measuring tape and a cost/ft^2 of flooring."

Measuring takes 95% of the time and math takes 5% of the time. This is so typical of top-down approaches to learning math. They are mostly about data collection, measuring, or art.


"And hearing this from me filled them with confidence and genuine excitement about problem-solving."

"Confidence" and "excitement". What about mastery of specific skills?


"I'm not sure how many students will remember the formula for calculating the surface area of a trapezoid next year, but many of them will be able to look at the formula and explain why it works."

What about all of the other geometric formulas. What about all of the other things you have to cover? You can't use one class for each. Do you think that there is some sort of general thinking or problem solving process that can be automatically applied to any other type of problem? What do you do when you get to DRT problems? Mixture problems? Percentage problems? Nobody EVER argues against understanding and engagement, but there is a goal here, not just a process. You have to be exposed to lots of governing equations and see all of the problems they can solve. Doing one or two in class is not enough. You have to have homework sets and practice. Math is not just one generic thinking process.


"Do you know how much cooler matrix algebra would be for a 12th grader in AP calculus if they got to see it being used by quantum physicists?"

Ooooh. I'm impressed. How many class periods do you need to motivate the importance of matrices using quantum mechanics? That's the big issue here. NOBODY argues against motivation or understanding, but don't expect everyone to automatically buy into whatever unknown details you may be doing in your course. You're selling the sizzle, but I want to see the beef.

I remember giving a talk to a group of students about the computer graphics, geometric modeling, and animation involved with computer games. At the end, many were "psyched". Did that translate to anything in math? I doubt it. I used to teach a course in computer graphics where I tried to motivate students with all sorts of real world examples. I saw no correlation to how well they could do things like derive the general matrix for rotation about an arbitrary point, or the quality of their computer programs.


"I am surprised at those who argue against these methods without seeking further insight into their entirety."

It could be that some of us know far more than you can imagine. We are asking lots of questions and there were, and still are, no answers.



"The rest of you would do well to seek more information on the topic instead of demanding to see empirical data and dismissing at the outset."

Yes, who needs empirical data when the kids are authentically engaged and motivated. What more do you need? How about more details. Nobody is dismissing anything.

David said...

Dan Meyer has posted slides for a year-long high school geometry course. This gives a more complete view of his teaching style than the TED presentation does.

Allison said...

Over and over again, teachers cite engagement, excitement, investment.

I believe the reason many teachers burn out in just a few years is because they finally realize that their exhausting work creating exciting and intensive lessons hasn't translated into student mastery, and it's devastating to them personally and professionally.

Many look for reasons: some think it's just hopeless; some blame the students, or the parents, or the administration. Some blame testing and teaching to the test. Some quit, and some stay, but most it seems don't question the fundamental assumption that engagement leads to mastery in the first place.

The very best teachers are those for whom it dawns on them that engagement is not going to lead to mastery, and then they search for how to build skills to mastery. Practicing the right things leads to mastery. Engagement can certainly support learning and mastery, but the hard work of practicing math skills or grammar still has to get done.

Mike said...

"Engagement can certainly support learning and mastery, but the hard work of practicing math skills or grammar still has to get done."

You just saved me the trouble of responding to a whole lot of foolish mudslinging. As it turns out, you and I are on the same page after all.

In order for any of the other natterings on this page to be true, you'd have to prove that disengagement and lack of investment can lead to mastery.

But none of this is necessary, now. Thanks for clearing this up!

VickyS said...

And let's go further and question the underlying assumption: who says kids are more engaged when discovery learning/real world activities form the basis for instruction?

My teachers helped me see the inherent beauty in math. The abstract, conceptual beauty. So much so that I avoided real world applications, which I found mundane, and wanted to be a pure, theoretical mathematician. Boy, was I engaged.

Moreover, success and mastery can themselves promote engagement. You work at it, you learn it, you get it, you are proud of yourself, you become engaged. All this without pacing off the perimeter of your local park.

Katharine Beals said...

"In order for any of the other natterings on this page to be true, you'd have to prove that disengagement and lack of investment can lead to mastery."

Mike, please cite one nattering on this page--even just one--whose truth depends on proving "that disengagement and lack of investment can lead to mastery.

"But none of this is necessary, now."

Sorry, I don't think there's such an easy way out of responding to the actual substance of the comments on this page.

SteveH said...

"In order for any of the other natterings on this page to be true, you'd have to prove that disengagement and lack of investment can lead to mastery."

Katharine beat me to it. This makes absolutely no sense.

SteveH said...

"Dan Meyer has posted slides for a year-long high school geometry course. This gives a more complete view of his teaching style than the TED presentation does."

I see a non-honors geometry course that is weak on proofs. I don't see much on style. I can look in my son's Glencoe Geometry textbook (which I'm using to teach my son geometry this year) and find many interesting and motivational problems. I'm not sure I follow what's so special about this set of slides. Is it really so strange if a teacher tries to make a course interesting? Why is this such an unusual concept?

In the TED video, we know nothing about the course or the context, but we are asked to extrapolate engagement and motivation into some sort of success. At least with the set of geometry slides, we can get a sense of the material covered, but there is little about style or whether that style is successful.

Lisa said...

After watching the video and reading the comments I am left wondering if I was just a particularly dim student, had horrible teachers or both. I never even thought about the why. Give me a formula, I fill in numbers, the end. I didn't care why and I wouldn't have cared about the tanks filling either. If the student is as disengaged from the subject as I was none of this will help, or at least not past about 3rd grade.

SteveH said...

There are many levels of "why". Some are general or conceptual, and some are more mathematical and abstract. A pie chart understanding of fractions is not much help when you need to manipulate rational expressions. Nobody, however, advocates mindlessly filling in numbers in a formula. Providing some level of conceptual understanding or motivation in the early grades is not an issue of curriculum. It's an issue of good or bad teaching.

The video talks about impatience, but that can be caused by a lack of mastery of the basics, not some sort of missing problem solving ability or TV influence. Students usually start to get word problems that aren't automatically understood in seventh grade. This is a very difficult transition, but it's not made worse by an emphasis on mastery of the basics in K-6. In fact, this mastery is a prerequisite. However, the video tries to claim a solution without addressing the lack of basic skills of the remedial students.

I remember frustration more than impatience. The solution techniques I was taught were either too vague (draw a picture, label, think backwards), or too rote (draw a grid for mixture problems).

The video is poor because it tries to reduce several problems into one (vague) solution. You have to dig much deeper to see what's going on, not use impatience as an interesting angle to justfy basic beliefs of teaching pedagogy.

dan dempsey said...

Hell Yes!!!
I want better curricula but based on evidence of effectiveness not anecdotes.

I find this the weak approach lacking in evidence but big on tribalism appeal. The constructivist tribe is fired up.

Please give me some evidence .. Hattie's Visible Learning is a good place to begin. At the lower levels getting those kids up to speed why not listen to Zig Engelmann ? ... mega data in support of Zig's ideas.

Seattle Central office is appealing the Spector HS math materials decision using an extremely weak separation of powers argument.

Sorry dy/dan you need a better proof mechanism.

Mikki B said...

To JD Fisher:

I guess you must be an older teacher. Just get a video camera (digital), film filling up a large object with a hose, link it to your laptop, take the laptop to school and link it up to a projector.

I like these methods because I'm not just looking to get kids through math, I want to create a love for math that will encourage them to seek careers that require higher mathematics, which America needs.

Billy said...

This is my first time on your blog. I am not a math teacher. I was at the TEDxNYED event where Dan Meyer spoke. Other than that, I don't know him from Adam.

His talk, quite simply, gives many who have little confidence in our current public system hope that there are some young and impassioned people out there aggressively searching to make things better and staying "in the trenches."

The comments on here, on the other hand, serve only to confirm most of the negative stereotypes math teachers have earned -- most deservingly, it would seem -- over time.

You might be very intelligent, but you are, collectively, quite mean and stubbornly insistent on your own intellectual superiority. I can't tell whether this group's primary hero is Nero or Narcissus, but it sure ain't Euclid.

Improvement -- if that's what a teacher should strive for -- doesn't come from throwing your fecal matter at one another like a bunch of monkeys. It comes from engaging more people in the conversation rather than scaring everyone off so you can be the king or queen of a lonely hill.

Unfortunately, most of the comments on here explain very clearly why so many students despise math. The subject might be tolerable, but apparently too many of their teachers have very large sticks up their butts.

If there's hope for improving math curricula in the US -- is it fair that almost everyone agrees it needs serious improvement?? -- my money is on people who carry themselves and communicate more like Dan. Kindness and practical suggestions carry more weight than doctorate-level poop-flinging.

When people call you "grumpy"? They're being generous.

Anonymous said...

@Billy

I am a math teacher who has worked my tail off for over fifteen years teaching math in a variety of situations.

I was driven from high school teaching by a cult of non-mathematicians who are in the process of radically changing mathematics education so as to make it unrecognizable.

If the reform driven prosthelytizers were to say that there should be a math track for those who will not use much math in their future professions and one track for those who will - that would be one thing.

But, instead, what they say is - No, everybody MUST do math our way - otherwise it is worthless.

The real issue with this is that in education, deficiencies in the curriculum often don't become obvious to the students (and/or parents) until after the students have graduated and moved on and discover that they don't have the skills to study whatever subject it is they're interested in.

A lot of enthusiasm and "flash" is not bad in and of itself - but I can tell you from experience that enthusiasm and flash can be used to mask bad curriculum.

I worked with a Spanish teacher once who was a great guy - all the students loved him, and he never had discipline issues. One day, one of students said to me, "You know, I love H. (everyone called him by his first name, of course), he's a great guy, but I've taken his Spanish class for three years now and I can't speak the language at all."

So, Billy, if you're sensing strong emotions here - there is a reason for it, and not just because we're "grumpy" and have "a stick up our butt."

It's because we care deeply about our students and we work hard to provide them with the best possible education.

I take offense when non-mathematicians try to force a curriculum on me for which THERE IS NO PROOF THAT IT WORKS and when, in fact, I can see pretty clearly it is less effective than what I'm already doing.

Billy said...

@anonymous: Based on my view of Dan's talk -- and not on the spiral descent into poop-slinging that is the commentary section -- I'm not sure what he did to pick a fight.

The only things Dan decries in his talk are word problems where everything fits perfectly like a sitcom. He's not "forcing" anything. He's not laying goundwork for some "Must do" system. He very clearly says he's teaching math to students who don't want it. Right there, all AP Calc B teachers can rest easy and accept that they face different challenges.

He shows an example of a problem he considers successful (chair lift). He shows a couple of examples of problems he enjoys using (water tank, grocery carts). He expresses a desire to address the "impatient problem solving" dilemma.

He makes a couple of stabbing observations about the challenge of engaging an audience that doesn't want to be engaged.

None of that, to my ears, sounds like dirty pool or political gamesmanship. He's not pushing some universal system; he's endorsing small and practical examples of ways he's able to address a very specific problem he encounters every day.

Meyer heavily endorses the open sharing of great lessons. You steal his video of the water tank; he steals one of yours. Both of you save time; children on both sides stand to benefit.

Best I can tell, Dan is seeking engagement. His measure of success is the increased engagement and buy-in of his students. His examples do nothing to suggest to me he's concerned with entertainment or flash over substance. He's seeking engagement. Without it, any teacher is marginally useful, particularly with students incapable of finding their own intrinsic motivations (And there's a lot of those out there).

Dan's talk is not a "my way or the highway" message. That it seems to have been transformed into such speaks to the people commenting in here, the need to make what wasn't intended as a call to arms into one.

Collaboration, sharing, and cooperation amongst teachers... I naively think that's a good thing. Nothing about what's going on in these comments feels like anything but the opposite of all those concepts.

SteveH said...

"I like these methods because I'm not just looking to get kids through math, I want to create a love for math that will encourage them to seek careers that require higher mathematics, which America needs."

America needs schools that ensure mastery of the basics and do not just trust the spiral and vague sorts of motivation as magic potions to provide a path to higher mathematics.

SteveH said...

"His talk, quite simply, gives many who have little confidence in our current public system hope that there are some young and impassioned people out there aggressively searching to make things better and staying 'in the trenches.'"

Quite simply, it was saying a lot more than that.


"The comments on here, on the other hand, serve only to confirm most of the negative stereotypes math teachers have earned -- most deservingly, it would seem -- over time."

Did you read the whole thread? Many of the flaws of K-12 math education have to do with K-8 math curricula, philosophy, and low expectations, not necessarily with teachers.


"You might be very intelligent, but you are, collectively, quite mean and stubbornly insistent on your own intellectual superiority. I can't tell whether this group's primary hero is Nero or Narcissus, but it sure ain't Euclid."

Cute. Feel free to discuss the issues of K-12 math related to this video. Many at KTM have tried to do so on this thread, but the best we seem to get are whiny complaints.


"It comes from engaging more people in the conversation rather than scaring everyone off so you can be the king or queen of a lonely hill."

Apparently "engaging more people in the conversation" means not asking difficult questions.



"Unfortunately, most of the comments on here explain very clearly why so many students despise math. The subject might be tolerable, but apparently too many of their teachers have very large sticks up their butts."

Are you talking about yourself? Many of the commenters here are parents who have to teach their kids at home to make sure that all math doors are kept open. On top of that, my son's school will point to him as one of their successes.



"my money is on people who carry themselves and communicate more like Dan. Kindness and practical suggestions carry more weight than doctorate-level poop-flinging."

Is this your best analysis and solution of the problem of K-12 math education? Where is your "conversation" on math education? Why don't you discuss the issues behind why some the kids in the video class are remedial? How does this help the kids who are properly prepared?

Do you want us parents to say that it's OK to have unprepared kids in the same class with our prepared kids as long as the material is engaging? Do you want us to give kudos on effort when there are fundamental flaws in the system? The first slide claims "Math Curriculum Makeover", but completely ignores the issue of whether the students have been properly prepared for the course. The deatils are fuzzy at best.


"When people call you 'grumpy'? They're being generous."

As a parent, I'm getting a lot more grumpy now that nobody wants to have a "conversation" about the details. As a parent, I'm very grumpy that I have to do the school's work.

SteveH said...

"I'm not sure what he did to pick a fight."

Surprised, huh? Try to spend some time to figure it out.

He (and his defenders on this thread) weren't just talking about doing the best they can for kids who happen to walk into a math class to nowhere in high school. They were talking about curriculum, mathematical understanding (good for the best students too), and how engagement and motivation are some sort of magic potion. It's easy to talk in generalities, but many of us parents have heard about understanding and critical thinking for years, only to have to teach our kids the basics at home or to spend money on tutors. We're tired of the platitudes. We want to see the details.

If kids are impatient in high school, it could be that that they are really insecure or frustrated due to lack of basic skills. So what do we see in this video? We see someone who is ignoring the issue of remedial students and claiming that some sort of engagement or motivation will fix their impatience problem. (Notice how it's their problem.) And, we are supposed to be happy because it's better than what they had before.

"Collaboration, sharing, and cooperation amongst teachers..."

Telling you what you want to hear? How about collaborating with parents? How about asking the parents of your best students what they do at home?

And, speaking of teachers collaborating, why don't you collaborate some of them in the butt so that there are fewer remedial students.

Anonymous said...

@Billy

You'll notice in my original post I didn't mention Dan's talk.

The emotions and real issues that I see raised by this video go back over 20 years to the 1989 NCTM document on math curriculum that is often seen as starting the push for "reform" math curriculum.

I don't really have an issue with Dan's approach to teaching math. I've looked at some of the curriculum on his web-site and it seems fairly straightforward run-of-the mill stuff.

But, I have experienced a lot of bad math curriculum that was introduced in the same way that Dan presented his material in the video.

This is why I was suspicious that he was promoting the "reform" curriculum. In a brief look at some of his lesson plans - it appears that he's not.

But, what I wanted to communicate is that some of the emotions you see in these comments have to do with a lot more than just this video.

SteveH said...

"...emotions you see in these comments have to do with a lot more than just this video."

Yes and no. You can't expect the video to be viewed out of context of the larger picture, but some of us are not entirely new to his spiel. Some seem to want to identify themselves as leading lights that are independent of the so-called math wars. This is supposed to add more importance to their messages. But what I see are yet more attempts to sell the sizzle without saying where the beef is. Once again, parents are supposed to buy into grand generalities. When challenged, the argument shifts and no details emerge.

Second. This IS just about the video. The problem of impatience is poorly defined and justified. Is impatience due to frustration or lack of mastery of the basics? Are we talking about simple concepts like slope (which is very remedial for high school), or more complex word problems. There is a huge difference in the two.

When the remedial students are engaged with his new approach, how does that fix their remedial problems? How does that prepare them for being better societal problem solvers.


The original post of the video seemed to be an attempt to get us all to ooh and aah about his approach. Out of context, the grocery line problem might seem fine, but I want to see how it fits into the larger curriculum picture.

Billy said...

@anonymous -- As someone who has had to spend hours correcting my daughters' partial sums wrong answers by teaching them how to carry (or whatever they call it now) -- and that's just one small example -- I understand and appreciate your frustrations.

Education, curriculum and teaching are big ol' universes of frustration, and extremists and demagogues are annoying in any setting, especially when it comes to a setting that impacts the well-being of our children.

My only point, but I think an important one, is that reasonable minds interested in trying to make things better should have a higher level of discussion. And I'm not seeing much of that on this thread or on several others. Which is a shame, because this collective passion could actually have potential to influence things.

But instead, you get....

@SteveH -- I'm sure you get this a lot: It's not always about you. Your very first comment, four down, is this sentence: "Please. Just go away."

You are an angry person with a very large chip on his shoulder. That sentence is your first entry into a "discussion on issues of K-12 math"? Oh yes, you are quite open to productive discussion. You're the United Nations of openness. I can't think of a more open invitation to have a genuine and productive debate than "Please. Just go away."

That's not a question, by the way. It's your first statement. Divisive. Dismissive. Superior.

His presentation is about a teacher trying to reach his students. This isn't about your child. It's not about your child's challenges with being a math genius. Get. Over. Yourself.

The "makeover" thing? It's a cute cultural reference. It wasn't his attempt to take over the math planet. He's not Dr. Evil.

I've spent plenty of my time having to be the math expert teaching my two daughters things that they're learning the wrong way thanks to "Everyday math." It's so frustrating my eyeballs turn purple. But none of that is on trial in Dan Meyer's presentation.

You, SteveH, are not open to discussion. You're just looking to piss on people. I'd repeat your introductory line to your introductory comment, but I reckon you're familiar with it by now. Yes, quite the invitation to a reasonable discussion.

You are Denzel Washington in Glory, and Morgan Freeman needs to come up and b*#ch slap you and say those great lines: "What are you? So full of hate you just want to go out and fight everybody..." Yes, SteveH. That's you.

But maybe one day you'll carry a flag and take up a cause bigger than your own bruised ego. You're smart enough to do some good if you can get over yourself.

Or, you'll just keep poisoning this blog.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve - since you are so totally convinced that traditional teaching is far superior to Dan's suggestions, do you perhaps also have a good reason why the USA ranks so terribly far behind the rest of the world in Math achievement? (Ref: OECD PISA Study, TIMSS, etc).

I think maybe you should give Dan's ideas a shot... it can hardly get much worse.

Just sayin' ...

Anonymous said...

Billy,

You and your cohorts shoot your arguments all to hell by attacking Steve on a personal level. And your faulty premises aren't going unnoticed, either. No one here has ever said half of the things you are accusing us of.
Try staying on subject, if you can.

And that evil doer Steve has made far more coherent points in one comment than you have in all of yours. Why don't you take a shot at actually addressing his points without all of the juvenile ad hominems.

SusanS

SteveH said...

"... trying to make things better should have a higher level of discussion."

What is that higher level? The video talks about the problem of impatience in problem solving. I ask questions about what that really means, along with the context of how it fits into the larger curriculum picture. There is no discussion. I try to discuss why remedial kids are in the same class with kids who are not remedial? How do the described techniques apply to each type of student? How do the kids get remediated? Does the video describe a technique that fixes their gaps in knowldge and skills? How can you tell?


"...because this collective passion could actually have potential to influence things."

By not asking the questions? By saying things like: "Golly, that looks great, but do you check to see if the problems of the remedial kids are fixed at the end of the course?"


Let's be accurate when you quote me.

"Be less helpful"

Please. Just go away.

I'll say that to any teacher who claims that being less helpful is a good teaching technique. Students have plenty of struggles without teachers adding to their difficulties, especially when they have remedial issues. This is classic top-down discovery talk. At best, it should only be applied to G/T students.


"His presentation is about a teacher trying to reach his students."

Really? That's all it is? Does it work? Even in the context of remedial students, does it work? It's about those kids. What are you really doing for them? How nicely do I need to phrase the questions?


"But none of that is on trial in Dan Meyer's presentation."

"None"? This is something completely new? Why doesn't he talk about fixing the remedial problems? Instead of "trust the spiral", it sounds like "trust the problem solving". If these kids are not on a STEM math career path, then are you really helping them with the math they need for another career? Who can tell? We hear about the glories of engagement and motivation, but there are no details of how this works.


"You, SteveH, are not open to discussion." ... etc.

"Ad Hominem Abusive"

Is this the best argument you can muster?

Allison said...

--since you are so totally convinced that traditional teaching is far superior to Dan's suggestions, do you perhaps also have a good reason why the USA ranks so terribly far behind the rest of the world in Math achievement? (Ref: OECD PISA Study, TIMSS, etc).

Can you define "traditional"?

Because what's happening in the US for all the years of OECD, PISA, TIMSS, is reform math. We've gone more than 20 years with reform math now.

What's happening now in classrooms is largely a mish mash of discovery learning, math appreciation, and full inclusion classrooms. That wasn't "traditional" 40 years ago.

Chicago Unified uses Everyday Math. Philadelphia Unified uses Everyday Math. Saint Paul and Minneapolis both use Everyday Math. Boston unified and LAUSD do too. This is now the norm.

SteveH said...

"Hey Steve - since you are so totally convinced that traditional teaching is far superior to Dan's suggestions.."

I said nothing about "traditional" teaching.


"...do you perhaps also have a good reason why the USA ranks so terribly far behind the rest of the world in Math achievement? (Ref: OECD PISA Study, TIMSS, etc)."

I don't follow you. Are you saying that the poor results on these tests are due to "traditional" teaching?

When my son started preschool 10 years ago, I remember thinking about all of the things I didn't like about the "traditional" math (teaching style and content) I had when I was growing up. Then I found out that our schools used MathLand. I was stunned. They were going in the wrong direction. They then switched to Everyday Math when MathLand bit the dust and was wiped off the face of the web in disgrace. But EM has it's own problems. It's is a mile wide and an inch deep, and it doesn't ensure mastery of the basics. It assumes that the spiral will take care of that. It doesn't. It stresses vague problem solving techniques and critital thinking rather than ensuring mastery of the basics. Then we have Dan's video which ignores remedial issues and stresses problem solving and understanding. I've heard these sorts of things before. What I want to know is whether they work.


"I think maybe you should give Dan's ideas a shot... it can hardly get much worse."

What ideas, exactly? You can always slow down coverage of material for better understanding, but how do you cover the same amount of material with better understanding and ensure mastery of the basics? What kind of understanding will it be? How can we talk about these tradeoffs when the whole context of the situation is not defined?

Why are remedial students mixed in with non-remedial students? What is the mathmatical path for these students? Is the goal just to do the best you can given that you can't fix the real problems of math education? My son has had a few teachers who did great things ... given the circumstances. I want to fix the circumstances. I want to make sure that teachers only have non-remedial students. I don't want to talk about better than nothing.

MikeMcilveen said...

Wow, y'all! Some strong opinions.

I've just returned from a Canadian conference (Ontario Math Educators) in Niagara Falls. One session made the statement that the homework cycle - assign, take up the next day - doesn't help struggling students in Grade 9, and we pretty much agreed that yes, HW is a waste of time for that group.

Also a waste of time, if you're looking for it, is the Unit Test (1 day review, 1 day test, 1 day take up the test) - simply does not improve student learning, but instead is a measurement of learning.

We're really on to learning math through solving problems, but not at the expense of basic numeracy skills. Our PISA and SIMMS are pretty good too. :D

I'll try to get some more Canadian comments here, your debate is pretty amazing to me. Is there a desire for a fresh approach?

Anonymous said...

"One session made the statement that the homework cycle - assign, take up the next day - doesn't help struggling students in Grade 9, and we pretty much agreed that yes, HW is a waste of time for that group."

This is a statement that I find believable. It is narrow enough that I can ask, "Okay, do you know what is different about the struggling students?" My *guess* is that if the student is struggling, then *practice* isn't going to do any good -- because the student can't perform the skill well enough to benefit from practice. Any idea if this is correct?


"Also a waste of time, if you're looking for it, is the Unit Test (1 day review, 1 day test, 1 day take up the test) - simply does not improve student learning, but instead is a measurement of learning."

This one, I think you will find some pretty solid disagreement on. But maybe not for the reason you expect. My guess is that the broad consensus at KTM is, "of *course* testing doesn't improve student learning." Any more than weighing yourself daily caused weight loss. The testing is so that the teacher can tell if the lesson has been learned, and take corrective action if it hasn't. If the subject matter hasn't been learned, then the test (usually) won't tell you what to do differently when re-teaching, but it *can* tell you that the student's haven't mastered the material. If the next lesson requires mastery of this material, continuing can be problematic ...

Or is the claim that tests don't even tell the teacher if the material has been learned?

-Mark Roulo

MikeMcilveen said...

Oops, that's TIMSS, not SIMMS! Anyway it's not about the international studies.

There's always been a large group of students for whom traditional approaches (chalk 'n talk, lecture, HW drills) do not work. Those kids often hate math and leave school early. In Ontario we're trying to get success for every student, not just the already successful ones.

Our Ontario curriculum is focused on learning math through solving problems, and some math teachers are using fresh approaches to get more buy-in and engagement.

We use hands-on approaches (manips,virtual manips), visual/dynamic/interactive approaches (like Geogebra/Gizmos/CLIPS), and collaborative approaches (like Moodle).

We could do much more with Computer Algebra Systems and online graphing calculators, and Wolfram|Alpha.

The point is that we need to update our approaches to current times. Are you still using slide-rules? Of course not! Anyway kids who learn independently can easily get online credits and bypass the 'traditional' classroom. It's the strugglers who will be left in school; at that point best to adapt.

If you want a different result, you need to do something differently.

MikeMcilveen said...

Thanks, Mark Roulo, for your clarification. Yes the idea is that unit tests do not usually affect the instruction, since after the test we just move on.

The unit test gives evidence of achievement and learning, yet is of limited use in helping struggling students. Thus in a grade 9 class where you need more time to teach, lessening the time-suck from the unit tests is one area to consider.

SteveH said...

"One session made the statement that the homework cycle - assign, take up the next day - doesn't help struggling students in Grade 9, and we pretty much agreed that yes, HW is a waste of time for that group."

Because students struggle, then homework is a waste of time? Did you try changing the homework so that they don't struggle so much? If they are remedial students, then what are they doing in that class in the first place?


"We're really on to learning math through solving problems, but not at the expense of basic numeracy skills."

Did you find a no struggle way to develop these skills with no homework? Are these skills learned separately or simply as an outgrowth of problem solving? What are these skills, specifically?


"There's always been a large group of students for whom traditional approaches (chalk 'n talk, lecture, HW drills) do not work. Those kids often hate math and leave school early."

Is that why they didn't learn? Is this now taken as provable fact? Could it be just bad teaching and low expectations? Modern, mixed-ability, discovery, top-down, problem solving approaches have been used for at least 30 years. Why do we still have these same problems in math education?


"The point is that we need to update our approaches to current times. Are you still using slide-rules?"

If these new approaches have been going on for so many decades, what is so new or better about your approach? I could design a math course that used computers and calculators, but it would set expectations a lot higher. However, in K-12, I've only ever seen calculators and computers used as avoidance tools.


"It's the strugglers who will be left in school; at that point best to adapt."

"adapt"

Once again, it seems that many teachers only view the problems of education as what walks into their classroom. What I find odd is that there is so much discussion and collaboration about how best to deal with the students they get rather than how to make sure they don't get remedial students in the first place.

Could it be that it's unpleasant to question the basic competence of teachers in the earlier grades? If they use something like Everyday Math, where teachers are allowed to "trust the spiral", then are all problems are assigned to the student because they didn't learn naturally?

Do teachers ever talk about fixing underlying causes rather than remediating or doing the best they can? Do they even know what the problems in math are?

MikeMcilveen said...

Thanks, SteveH, for your comments.

It reminds me that we need to question our underlying assumptions. I'm glad you've brought up there issue of curriculum, streaming, pathway, and approach.

What's wrong with creating a curriculum and stream for math capable learners? Math for mathies - who will understand how things work and be able to develop new approaches.

Another stream for those who need to use math, but don't need to know how it all works.

Another stream for those who won't use math, but need to achieve a basic literacy.

It's a shame we assume that everyone needs to know the quadratic formula, when many kids are graduating without basic numeric literacy.

Still, with our current system I would encourage math teachers to take a deep look at their methods, to the extent that those methods are ineffective for many students.

SteveH said...

"What's wrong with creating a curriculum and stream for math capable learners? Math for mathies - who will understand how things work and be able to develop new approaches."

This already exists. It's a track that leads to algebra in 8th grade and AP calculus in high school. This is the route that keeps all doors open for careers.


"Another stream for those who need to use math, but don't need to know how it all works."

What is this stream or track, what grade does it start in, and who makes the decision about being in this track?


"Another stream for those who won't use math, but need to achieve a basic literacy."

Ditto.


Many at KTM teach their kids at home to keep their schools from dropping them into these lower math tracks to nowhere. Like your description, these tracks are vague and not well defined. They might talk about motivation (blame the student), engagement, and problem solving. These tracks and dreamy educational ideas are never mapped out to what they mean for careers. I'm talking about specifics. Do you ever look at vocational schools and define exactly what mathematical skills (and courses) they require to become an automotive technician or an electrician?

If someone want to get a degree in sociology, can you tell that high school student exactly what math courses those degree programs typically require? Can you tell that student what math SAT scores are typically required to get into their desired school?

Please don't talk about tracks unless you can map them out exactly. And please don't start assuming that you know which students should be on which track before they even get to high school.

Push to get all students through a proper course in algebra by 8th or 9th grade. Then, you can start talking about the specific math needs for the myriad of career paths.

Allison said...

--"One session made the statement that the homework cycle - assign, take up the next day - doesn't help struggling students in Grade 9, and we pretty much agreed that yes, HW is a waste of time for that group."

This set of statements is distressing.

You agreed that since the method by which you assigned, helped students to complete, graded homework, and then retaught material was faulty, it was HW that was a waste of time for that group.

Since you didn't apparently reteach your students who were struggling--starting with their last place of mastery and going forward--and didn't get them over their struggles, having them practice stuff they hadn't mastered was pointless.

Well, yes, that would be pointless.

Do you really think that means homework is pointless?

Can you not see the logical chasm between "we assign homework that is out of our students' scope of skill set let alone mastery, and it's pointless" and "we assign homework at the student's zone of proximal development, grade it, and reteach when we've led students astray until they reach mastery"?

MikeMcilveen said...

@SteveH, I'm certainly getting a very clear idea that this conversation is shut down.

@Allison, Yes, homework can work. Fact is, I've rarely seen homework applied in the manner you suggest, not to mention that a lot of the kids who are behind and struggling may be in that situation due to teachers' unrealistic expectations of homework. Try teaching the kids when they are in the class!

It's worked in the past, it can work today, it's just that homework is limited in usefulness as an approach to helping struggling and disengaged students.

lgm said...

>>What's wrong with creating a curriculum and stream for math capable learners?

It's perceived as unfair by those with a social agenda.



Is it valid to assume that so many are not capable when we know they are neglected in their birth-age four math education?


Is it valid to assume that the existing curriculum needs to be different for the roughly 85% deemed 'incapable' by Grade 1? Or would more time and/or competent, targeted instruction in their zpd suffice? Kumon manages to serve all, no?


Suppose all students' math skills on intake to public school were determined, and neglected students started instruction at their zpd, not placed in the frustratingly too high preK or K level. Suppose each received enough practice that each could learn and master the material rather than so little that they disengage for good as they are swept on at a pace that is too rapid for mastery to be acheived. I predict we would not need to spend the massive amount of money for all the 'remedial' services that are proving ineffective in Gr. K-10.

Allison said...

--"I've rarely seen homework applied in the manner you suggest, not to mention that a lot of the kids who are behind and struggling may be in that situation due to teachers' unrealistic expectations of homework....homework is limited in usefulness as an approach to helping struggling and disengaged students."

How can you make the second statement after you admit the first?

Again, your claim that homework is not useful is based on your implementation. But instead of questioning your teaching, your curriculum, your pace, your movement forward when you've lost the kids, you question the ONLY PIECE THAT provides an opportunity to actually learn to mastery.

Do you know how Kumon works? There is no teaching. Adults are only guides on the sides. THE WHOLE SYSTEM is homework. HW is not limited in usefulness when done by Kumon. It is everything, and it works very very very well for the struggling student.

SteveH said...

"@SteveH, I'm certainly getting a very clear idea that this conversation is shut down."

You are the one shutting it down.


"It's worked in the past, it can work today, it's just that homework is limited in usefulness as an approach to helping struggling and disengaged students. "

Once again, the problem of math eucation is framed by what walks into the classroom and what's best for the lowest end students. That's a teacher problem, not the problem of math education.

As a parent, am I supposed to give kudos to a school where a few teachers do great (relative) things in their classroom? Not if I am the parent of a child who is engaged and not struggling. Not if the schools created the problem in the first place.

On top of this, many of the discussions of how best to deal with what walks into a classroom are framed in idealistic terms of what is best for all kids in any situation. When pressured, however, the defense usually shifts to what is best for those who are not on the top track to AP calculus.

But that case isn't even made. The argument usually ends up with a goal of engagement, motivation, or vague sorts of problem solving skills, not what will help these kids keep career doors open. There is usually no discussion about why struggling students are mixed in with non-struggling students. There is usually no discussion about how "trust the spiral" ideas in K-6 help create these situations.

It's almost as if schools are doing their best to hide or ignore any feedback that reflects on whether they are doing a good job or not. They redefine assessment in fuzzy "authentic" terms that defy testing. In K-6, if kids do poorly, then it must be because they are not ready yet for the material. In the upper grades, it must be the student's fault because just look at all of the kids who are doing well. Nobody has ever asked me how I support my son's math education at home. It's an easy thing to do. They find it much better to use him as one more data point showing the effectiveness of "trust the spiral".

Boundlesstech said...

This is not the first of your posts I've read, and you never cease to amaze me. Thank you, and I look forward to reading more.


Web Design | Web Hosting

hs said...

This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Keep up the good work.

Education Agent | Study in UK

nursing scrubs said...

Although I understand hands-on education, I am a big fan of old fashioned studying.

Anonymous said...

Truly the blogging is spreading its wings rapidly.



Education Consultants Pakistan

MikeMcilveen said...

What did we gain from SteveH and Allison, if indeed they are separate people? :p Love to see their respective blogs/digital identity.

Allison said...

My identity is quite public if you bother to look.

www.msmi-mn.org

SteveH said...

An ad hominem last word on an old thread? You have nothing new to add to the discussion? The last time I checked, my name hasn't changed and I don't have a blog. What you see on KTM is what you get. The only agenda I have is quality math education for all kids.

Glen said...

What did we gain from SteveH and Allison?

Quite a bit, actually. I've gained enough useful insights from both Steve and Allison that I find reading their comments to be worth my time. If you haven't gained as much, it could be because I'm paying attention to their ideas while you seem preoccupied with their "identities."

Catherine Johnson said...

You don't get accepted to speak at national conferences by submitting sessions like "You just have to do the work".

Love it!

Catherine Johnson said...

What did we gain from SteveH and Allison?

Quite a bit, actually. I've gained enough useful insights from both Steve and Allison that I find reading their comments to be worth my time.


Ditto that.

Half the reason C. has survived K-12 math for as long as he has is the help we've had from ktm commenters & writers, SteveH & Allison foremost among them.

Catherine Johnson said...

My guess is that the broad consensus at KTM is, "of *course* testing doesn't improve student learning." Any more than weighing yourself daily caused weight loss.

Hey Mark -

I haven't read the thread, but having just seen this I thought I'd say that I believe the research showing that testing itself improves student learning. I use that research in my own self-teaching & I try to use it in working with C. (He's resistant, which is why I say I 'try.')

I've told him about the research & I have him a couple of very nice articles about it from Chronicle of Higher Education. He now tests himself while studying.

Here's one of the studies: Test-enhanced learning: taking memory tests improves long-term retention

Catherine Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Catherine Johnson said...

And here's Carol Gambill's method of teaching algebra, which relies on daily quizzes.

Sunburn Treatment said...

Interesting, thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

If you want to see the mind blowing article with real facts and figures, this has really tremendous impacts on readers.

Web Hosting

Boundless Technologies said...

Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic.


Web Hosting

Sidra shahid said...

It’s great to see good information being shared and also to see fresh, creative
ideas that have never been done before.

Cctv Karachi
CCTV CAMERA IN PAKISTAN
CCTV CAMERA KARACHI
EVERFOCUS KARACHI
EVERFOCUS PAKISTAN
Happy Times