In the recent American Educator article entitled “What’s
Sophisticated about Elementary Mathematics?”, Hung-Hsi Wu makes the case for
the need for mathematics teachers in elementary school (beginning no later
than fourth grade) who have advanced content knowledge of the math they are
teaching. Wu supports this recommendation by describing the complexity of the
mathematics behind two elementary math topics, addition of whole numbers and
division of fractions. He hopes to show that elementary mathematics is complex
and more than just teaching mathematical procedures. His descriptions of the
mathematics and the connections and reasoning that need to be taught support
the recommendation of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel for the need for
elementary teachers to be mathematically proficient. He states, “There appears to be no hope of
solving the problem of giving all children the mathematics education they need
without breaking away from our traditional practice of having generalist elementary
What are your thoughts on the recommendations of Hung-Hsi
Wu? What are your thoughts about what is
needed to prepare teachers for teaching elementary mathematics content and
Dock and I drove through town in the early morning today to meet with folks at a Boston school where we plan to try out prototypes. He described that we'd like to do iterative testing, how the technical term is formative evaluation, and then simply said that we'd basically like to do some play testing. I like that focus on play. :)
It makes me happy that the development team is so concerned about how excited kids are to learn math. One of the producers asked me to note when kids look bored when we run through a prototype lesson so that she could get a sense of which parts of the units may need a more interactive component integrated or something. The engineers have created math games that they happily play in the office but want to know if kids think they are cool too. One engineer in particular can't wait to go into a classroom with me to see the types of kids and the setting in which her product would be used. We told the principal we met with today that we'd like to bring in an engineer at some point to observe, to which she exclaimed, "Yes! I want to see an engineer!" :)
I'm a big fan of this emphasis on engagement - I think the best kind of learning comes from when kids want to learn. That's why I love looking at children TV shows, museums, and other informal educational settings that are forced to capture a kid's attention because it's the kid's choice of whether to engage in it and learn. I like "edutainment" - the hybrid between education and entertainment. In schools, kids pretty much have to go to class, sit and listen, but I think that "play" element is still so necessary. When I lived in California, one of the school districts held summer institutes for cultural exchanges among teachers and parents. In a session with the Persian community, I remember a parent expressing how she never understood why teachers try to make math fun. She said math was never framed to be exciting back in her country - that the teacher just told the students that it was hard, perhaps it's boring, but it's necessary, so just do it. Other parents chimed in with their agreements that there doesn't need to be math games or projects to make the subject exciting - it's OK that it's just not exciting.
To this day, I'm still confused about comment and the desire to not make math fun. Maybe the parents expressed that concern because they thought the time spent to make math fun was taking away the time to teach and master more content? So, if there was a "fun" way of teaching the same content without using more time, perhaps they'd support it or even prefer it? Or maybe it's simply the "fun" part that is the issue - maybe they felt that having students be disciplined enough to do something "boring" builds character?
For now, I'm totally part of the let's make learning math fun camp, but I'm curious and confused about the other side.
I’m Cathy. I’m invading the “Math Hub” with some thoughts of my own.
So, who am I? Officially, the sign
on my cubicle says I’m the Producer of Formative Evaluation here at Tom Snyder
Productions. When my parents ask me what my new job is, I tell them that I help
make sure educational products do what they are meant to do and withhold the
fancy, scary grown-up title. Ultimately, I’m just someone who likes to convince
others how cool some things are. Through this blog, I hope to give you a glimpse
of how educators and kids are helping us develop a math product and why that
feedback loop between those folks and our developers is, well,
I’ve long pondered about the
research that goes into educational toys and products. I remember bouncing
around a story idea about that near the holidays during my newspaper reporting
days. Unfortunately, there was no big toy company in town, so not enough of a
local angle to do such a story. But every time I drove to Los Angeles for figure
skating practice, I’d pass by the Mattel headquarters, sit in traffic, and often
wonder again. Maybe one of these days, I’ll just pop in and be like, “hey, can I
learn about what research you do for your toys?”
In the meantime, I’m going to use
this space to let you in on some stories about our product testing, subject you
to some ramblings I’m sure, and hopefully stir some good conversations. Stay
tuned and join in!
I enjoyed attending last week's National Math Panel Forum in Washington. Like the first forum, the specific objectives of the gathering weren't crystal clear. However, the opportunity to mix with folks representing federal and state policy, the various fields of mathematics, pre- and in-service teacher development, math education, publishing, assessment, research, and more was invigorating and provocative. I felt I learned a lot, and I hope that the efforts to capture collective thinking in targeted breakout sessions lead to valuable recommendations.
However, I did have one nagging concern from the gathering. When representatives of the Obama administration talked about the need for STEM education and incentives to extend it, I got a little nervous. My anxiety is that schools become satisfied with students doing fun projects like building model bridges and designing software games, and they neglect the rigor of the science and math that make the bridges and games work.
I do love STEM. I've created scores of science and math programs that engage students with compelling contexts requiring a deep understanding of the content. We have to make sure, though, not to stop with the context -- the manipulatives, the spreadsheet, the stuff students are doing. Those activities, the Technology and Engineering, are vehicles for engaging with, learning, and applying the Science and Math. Students need to know how and why thinks work so that they can use the concepts in other compelling (and mundane) situations. The National Research Council report -- Taking Science to School -- from a few years ago does a nice job of summarizing how hands-on science often became a fun manipulative experience for students. They looked very engaged, but they typically couldn't explain the science. As we move forward now with math, we need to be cautious that STEM doesn't sTEm.