Sunday, March 31, 2013

Constructivism in Math Education

America is flat on its butt when it comes to mathematics education.  One reason for our collective failure is a poor attitude towards math.  As an example, consider a news story on the CBS Morning Show, March 3, 2013, about a new museum devoted to math.  The article begins by immediately calling math an unpopular subject, a painful subject, and says, "Not only do most of us not like it; we're also not very good at it."  A political scientist, Andrew Hacker, became famous when the New York Times published his editorial, Is Algebra Necessary? on July 28, 2012.  How can we excel in math when we denigrate and disparage it?

All too often people who dislike mathematics are force to teach math.  My son had a middle school math teacher who avoided teaching math for the whole first week of school.  My son was concerned and I made inquiries.  I discovered his math teacher used to be a social studies teacher.  Obviously she avoided teaching math because she did not want to teach math, but she was stuck with it.

Then you have people who don't like math but are stuck teaching math teachers.  People who think math is painful try to create a method of instruction they believe will make math a pain-free subject.  We now come to the other major reason America fails in mathematics education.  We refuse to use methods that work because we are wedded to failed methods, like Constructivism, which holds that "the primary role of teaching is not to lecture, explain, or otherwise attempt to 'transfer' mathematical knowledge..."

Constructivism is more commonly called Discovery Learning, where children are asked to discover on their own how mathematics works.  Plano, Texas, public schools use discovery learning and the result is a very healthy tutoring industry.  Plano teachers are told by administrators that they are supposed to be "a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage," so parents have to pay for tutors.

Half way through the school year my son's freshman English teacher finally hands back a marked paper.  There is no explanation of why the teacher does not like some sentences, but at least they are marked.  My son came to me, pointed to the first marked sentence and tells me that no one he knows can explain to him what is wrong with the sentence.  That is so sad, picturing a class of students begging for instruction from people they know.  That is discovery learning in Plano ISD, making the kids beg for help because the district does not believe in instruction.  Fortunately, I know about writing and could help my son.

South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Finland all excel in mathematics.  Home-schoolers in America use books and programs called "the Singapore Method" because they have the freedom to choose what works.  It is time our schools abandoned failed methods, like Discovery Learning and Connected Math, and copy methods that work. 

I  hope and pray that when the Plano ISD eventually gets a new Superintendent that we get a person that believes in teaching, believes in instruction, and believes in the acquisition of skills.  We need a Superintendent who can rip out the cancer of Discovery Learning and Connected Math and provide the children of Plano with the instruction they deserve.

We are having an election in Plano for the school board.  Now is your chance to ask candidates if they believe in the Discovery Method of teaching.  Just remember, football coaches instruct their teams because they want victory.  If we want victory in mathematics, we should want instruction for our children.  It is time to get rid of Discovery Learning and Connected Math.