Deeper Learning is the current term for an old idea. The notion is that schools spend too much time focused on the acquisition of knowledge, especially knowing facts. In the past century, several alternatives have arisen to dethrone the prominent role of knowledge in schools: project-based learning, inquiry and discovery learning, higher-level thinking, critical thinking, outcome based education, and 21st Century Skills. Now it is deeper learning."

These ideas represent a variety of approaches to curriculum and pedagogy. They are not all the same, but they share one characteristic. All are advertised as transcending, and therefore superior to, academic content organized within traditional intellectual disciplines.

The Banality of Deeper Learning

*21st century skills"*are gone?

Really?

That was quick. At least, it seems quick. I was just hearing the words "21st century skills" for the first time in 2005. Eight years ago.

What is the life-cycle of obfuscating jargon in K-12, anyway?

AND SEE:

Why students have to memorize things

## 7 comments:

"...but they share one characteristic."

Low expectations hidden by fancy talk. Many of these educators keep complaining about traditional math (presumably in K-6), but that hasn't been around for 20 years in many school districts. Our schools have used Everyday Math for at least 10 years, and before that it was MathLand for many years. Educators talk about the importance of balance, but skills are left to trusting the spiral. It doesn't work. They increase the range of abilities in a classroom with full inclusion (tracking by age) and somehow think that vague differentiated instruction techniques will make it work. Now they talk as if engagement and motivation are all they need. The onus is on the kids and parents. Just send home notes telling them to work on math facts. STEAM is now big and I don't know why. Art has been a part of science for ages.

Amazingly, this changes to traditional textbooks, direct instruction, and nightly homework in most high schools. Any integrated math curricula that are left have to get real and show how they can prepare kids properly for AP Calculus. Meanwhile, K-6 educators remain out of touch with reality. They just pump kids along and never see the big filter. By then, it's too easy to blame kids, parents, peers, and society.

If "21st century skills" are gone, then good riddance. The chronological arrogance of such a phrase has been nails-on-a-chalkboard horrific to me for years now.

Deeper learning, or whatever, is something I can get behind. It lets me hide what I actually do (the old stuff, the stuff that works) behind a much more convenient veneer.

New jargon and new "ideas" come around often enough that no one kid manages to get through K-12 under just one regime. Particularly unlucky ones (usually those in urban schools with bad scores) may get 4 or 5 during their schooling.

One cynical (smart?) teacher once told me that he generally avoids putting up the posters and other paraphernalia of newly required programs until at least December. That way a goodly portion of them will already be clearly on their way out and he can save himself the effort. It's not that anyone will say that they are going away...but you can tell as the jargon doesn't catch on, as the PDs become more generically named, etc.

It's hard to understand why the general discussion of "Math Wars" has not progressed past the same basic issues and arguments over the last 10 years. Tom could have written this same article back then. Many of the things I talk about sound the same as 10 years ago.

One change I've seen is that there is little argument anymore about the traditional high school math path of algebra, geometry, algebra II, pre-calc, and calc. There are issues about whether the non-STEM-track students need this or not, but some educators talk about engaging math in high school, not specific classes that prepare those students for alternate paths, like nursing, journalism, or technical vocational schools. One can easily look up those alternate requirements and define proper high school math paths for them. High school math should be all about defining different paths to colleges and careers, not elective-like classes that cater to the vain pedagogical whims of the teachers.

Integrated high school math has lost the battle. They have to prove that they prepare students properly to take the AP calculus test. AP tests are huge in keeping high schools honest. It drives the math curriculum back to algebra as a freshman.

AP also drives the curriculum back into middle school. Our school got rid of CMP specifically because it did not provide a proper coverage of algebra to allow some kids to get to geometry as a freshman. AP also helped with language instruction because students wanted to get to a second year language course as a freshman.

However, our change in math hit a brick wall at 6th/7th grades. Kids have to make the nonlinear transition from Everyday Math to a proper textbook in pre-algebra. I'm not sure how educators justify the mental pedagogical shift between the top-down, in-class group work, engagement-is-king ideas of K-6 into the traditional textbook, direct instruction, and nightly homework of a proper pre-algebra class in 7th, where teachers try to toughen students up for high school. In our middle school, the 4th and 5th grade Everyday Math teachers are mixed in with the 7th and 8th grade traditional math textbook teachers. The key difference is that our state now requires that from 7th grade on, teachers have to be certified in the subjects they teach. The 7th and 8th grade math teachers must see that their students are seriously lacking in basic skills. Everyone loves balance, but the skills portion of the balance is not getting done in spite of all of the fancy talk of deep thinking or whatever. That has to be obvious to the 7th and 8th grade teachers. Many of these are bright kids. Our high school math teachers used to trash the students coming in from our middle school back when they used CMP.

I view it as a pedagogical wall between 6th and 7th grades where the subject-certified teachers will NOT question their lower grade colleagues. Many of the arguments about critical thinking and understanding only apply to the justification of math curricula in K-6. They have lost the battle for the later grades.

Deeper learning (and it's ilk) will have no effect on high school math and math in 7th and 8th grades for most schools. Our schools will not go back in those grades. The battle now is for the pedagogical soul of K-6 education. This is where kids are ruined in math so that STEM careers are over by 7th grade. Talk of deep learning is only a desperate cover for allowing bright kids to get to 7th grade without anything closely approximating the skills they need to be successful. Ideas of full inclusion, "trust-the-spiral" trust-the-engagement, differentiated instruction, and we can only bring the horse to water clearly don't get the job done. They have put the onus on the student and hide behind talk of deep thinking.

I consider it a smoking gun that the highest PLD level on the PARCC test just means that the student should be successful in college algebra. They specifically do not deal with STEM preparation in K-6 even for their top level. Even so, these educators talk about how critical thinking and deep understanding are somehow the best math for all in K-6. They know it doesn't work, but it's all they have. It's all they have ever been directly [!] taught.

Montgomery County, MD has countywide exams in various math courses and various other subjects, and the poor results were recently reported in the Washington Post. Unmentioned in the article was the fact that the countywide course descriptions are likely to be accurate only for those schools which have mostly kids of affluent and highly-educated parents; many schools don't have kids prepared for that level work, so it really offers "algebra I" etc. One regular commenter on Joanne Jacobs said that, when she (and my kids) attended the county schools, only those kids who passed algebra I and the other tests with a very high score and no test prep, when first offered in 7th or 8th grade, would be really ready for solid college work (including calc BC for those who wanted it) by HS graduation. I agree with her. BTW, about 15 years ago, the Board of Ed was shocked, shocked! to discover that each school was setting their own passing score (in some cases as low as 20%), which parents and students knew in the mid-80s. It's all smoke and mirrors, designed to obscure the fact that some kids are unable and/or unwilling to do serious academic work - and schools refuse to offer any voc ed alternatives.

Integrated math is not bad per se. I'm using Singapore's secondary math program, "Discovering Mathematics" and it is excellent. Much more rigorous than the "California Algebra 1" textbook that I've got sitting on my bookshelf as well.

Just because some of the more popular American "integrated math" programs have been duds does not mean that there is an inherent problem with the concept.

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