Thoughts on Systems

Emil Sit

Exploring Math Curricula

There are some articles making the rounds today on reddit about math education.

Seattle allows great diversity in its math curricula. This is not without risk:

In Seattle, schools have a lot of autonomy in how they teach math. The district has adopted textbooks and provides guidelines and timelines for teachers to follow, but doesn’t require them to do so. […] As a result, math education across the district is a patchwork of reform and traditional math, varying sometimes even grade to grade within the same school. […] That, coupled with the district’s school-choice system, means there’s no guarantee that students will be able to pick up where they left off in math if they transfer to a new school.

Consistency in methodology per student seems important; the problem here sounds like one of too many cooks. The trick is to allow flexibility in conjunction with standards without the problem of teaching to the test, an issue often raised in Massachusetts.

I still think teaching the ability to abstract is what’s ultimately needed. Mark Shuttleworth has the same idea; he blogged yesterday about his project to help develop curriculum that enable students to learn analytical skills through programming.

That sounds like the goal of the Seattle system:

The goal is to give students a better grasp of the underlying mathematical concepts, make lessons more relevant and help build a better foundation for understanding more advanced math. […] Reform math also emphasizes estimating and being able to analyze whether the answer derived is correct and reasonable.

This part at least sounds pretty reasonable, though I wouldn’t have chosen to call the whole thing “reform math.” However, the article also mentions things like having students “reason it out themselves” and encouraging the use of calculators because that’s what adults do. These sound less reasonable and reminds me of the parable of Myron Aub, by Isaac Asimov.

I’m very curious what will come of the ”where’s the math” conference, where educators and parents will have a chance to discuss this.

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