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A Guide for Parents and Teachers

This is a plausible idea.


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We can all imagine that timed tests could be stressful for children. However, I think it is also important to point out that a skilled teacher should be able to use these kinds of teaching methods in a healthy and supportive way. In fact, it is not quite clear which research Boaler is citing when making this claim. On the other hand, the potential benefits of timed testing are clear. This is because they can then devote mental effort, which is relatively limited, to other aspects of solving a problem.

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By using timed tests of maths facts such as these, we can determine that students have learnt them to the point of automatic recall rather than that they are working them out using some kind of strategy. This is so important that I would encourage parents to supplement school maths with these kinds of timed tests at home, especially if they do not form part of the school programme. Another aspect of mathematics that has gone out of fashion is teaching children the standard algorithms for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. The first three of these involve arranging the numbers above each other in columns and working from the smallest place value, such as the units, up to the largest place value which might be tens, hundreds, thousands or more.

Instead of teaching the standard algorithms, many educators prefer students to invent their own strategies for performing these operations. The extent to which children actually invent them is questionable because they all follow a similar pattern — they are basically variations on ways of doing mental maths. For instance, if you want to add 25 to 47 you might take 3 from the 25 and add it to the 47 first in order to make the 47 up to The standard approaches are far more powerful because of the way that they work from small to large.

They also require a strong understanding of place value and develop understandings that are needed for higher level maths. For instance, students of Mathematical Methods, a higher level maths course for Year 11 students in my state of Victoria, are required to do polynomial long division, something that is tricky if they have never learnt ordinary long division.

The case against the standard algorithms seems to be that they can be learnt without understanding, something we will return to below. A paper by Kamii and Dominick is often cited as providing evidence that invented strategies are superior to standard algorithms. However, in my view it does not use the strongest experimental design. Moreover, when Australian researcher Stephen Norton completed similar research using more complex calculations, he found the reverse effect; an advantage for standard algorithms.

So children should be exposed both to mental arithmetic strategies and the standard algorithms. The idea of developing an understanding of mathematics is often set in opposition to students learning procedures for solving problems. Actually, it is teachers in Western countries that tend to do this.

East Asian maths teachers also want students to understand but seem more relaxed about whether this comes before or after learning a procedure. The reality is the common sense idea that procedural fluency and understanding develop in parallel with one feeding into the other. The idea that procedural fluency can somehow be harmful to understanding is probably as absurd as it sounds and I am aware of little evidence to support it. Maths is often seen as boring or hard work. Many students are turned off by the subject and there is constant commentary in the Western media about the need for more maths graduates or graduates from the numerate science, technology and engineering disciplines.

This leads to a lot of woolly thinking: We need to make maths fun! We need to make it more engaging!


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    We need to make school maths more like what professional mathematicians do! It seems likely that students will be turned off a subject they find frustrating and in which they have little success. On the contrary, gradually gaining mastery will make it more appealing. A good start for parents would be to ensure that children know their maths facts, whether they learn these at school or not. View all posts by Greg Ashman. In Australia John Sweller also argues that repetition, rote learning and being able to automatically recall basic numbers and times tables are very important.

    My argument , coming from a special ed. Children who are well taught even those who find maths challenging have a better chance of improving their maths abilities and actually developing an interest in maths.

    Common Core Math Standards, Math Wars and the New Math: A History | Time

    Knowing maths facts has a life long advantage. Good research based interventions in maths teaching just as have been shown in reading, are worth their weight in gold!

    Year 4 Addition - Stage 5 - Primary School Maths Operations - Parent & Teacher support

    Reminds of me of a bizarrely bad PD by Professor Peter Sullivan I once attended where he told primary school teachers to give students the most difficult question on a concept first so that all students struggle and then get easier. Apparently when you finish off with the easy ones and the struggling students get it- it builds self-esteem. Thanks Greg, very good read. And of course point 5 is especially relevant for language teachers too.

    The New Math Strikes Back

    Good post. Memorisation of any kind seems to be discouraged. I am finding this is still a problem in high school. That was absolutely invaluable and they were both really proud of themselves for accomplishing that task. Again, any memory work was outsourced to parents not done in schools where it should be standard. Creativity requires structure and discipline.


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    After outlining the debates surrounding fuzzy maths and referring to the work of experts in the area of the psychology of learning mathematics, Hirsch states:. I believe you will get strong agreement from them on the following points: that varied and repeated practice leading to rapid recall and automaticity is necessary to higher-order problem-solving skills in both mathematics and the sciences. They would tell you that only intelligently directed and repeated practice, leading to fast, automatic recall of math facts, and facility in computation and algebraic manipulation can one lead to effective real-world problem solving.

    Anderson, Geary, and Siegler would provide you with reliable facts, figures, and documentation to support their position, and these data would come not just from isolated lab experiments, but also from large-scale classroom results. The Australian academic, John Sweller, is also highly critical of the belief amongst progressive educators that learning somehow arises intuitively or by accident.

    In arguing in favour of direct instruction, as opposed to discovery learning, Sweller states:. Beginning with discovery learning in the s and extending to the constructivist learning techniques of the s and s, enquiry based instructional techniques have gained a considerable following amongst educational theorists… In all cases, learners are required to discover information that needs to be learned rather than having the same information presented to them.

    There is no aspect of human cognitive architecture that suggest that enquiry-based learning should be superior to direct instructional guidance and much to suggest that it is likely to be inferior.

    Well said Greg. Hoping that might shake some things up a bit. On another front, it seems here that the conversation is really starting to shift. Primarily I think, because parents are fed up. Anna Stokke and Dr. Rob Craigen, have started somewhat of a revolution www. First of all, there's parental angst : "Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of teachers 85 percent believes that these new approaches are hindering the reinforcement of learning at home because 'parents don't understand the way math is being taught.

    They're just grumpier kids and teachers at the middle school level, an expert panel offered to explain the teacher-reported disparity between age groups, at a discussion of the survey results on July Core advocates and educationists discredit doubters and seem to forget the recent history of unpopular math reforms. But who could forget the Math Wars of yore?

    And who would want to when Tom Lehrer's novelty song "New Math" is still so delightful? As a quick survey of mid- and late-twentieth century Math Wars will show, every stab at reform has had roughly the same aims. Common Core math is no different—it's meant to make problem-solving processes simpler and more uniform and to let students build a grounding in basic "number sense" skills before they'd start to solve rotely. The reforms in the s, when there was purportedly a numeracy crisis in America, and again in the late s and s, when "anti-racist math" was a thing , shared the lofty aim to make the deeper experience of math accessible to a wider audience.

    The spark that started today's Math Wars is the urgency of now to make American schools internationally competitive by whatever means—the model for new new new math finds its roots in Japanese teaching styles. The main opponents of New Math tend to be a loyal troop of disgruntled parents who just want to help junior with his problem sets; math professors who argue the building blocks of basic number sense don't make a speck of difference in really mastering complex mathematics; and pretty much the whole don't-tread-on-me bloc.

    Math wars: The division over how to improve test scores

    Although I didn't witness the last Math Wars, their aftereffects touched my youth when my father, schooled in antebellum mathematics, unhelpfully helped with me my math homework by some "in my day" method. Then, to stifle my griping, "But teacher says…," he explained the mental math shortcuts ordinary Americans use every day: These same reasonable tricks, "counting by tens" and " tape strategy ," are part of what Common Core math requires kids to learn and demonstrate.

    Kick a number like to the nearest multiple of ten, remembering the difference for your final answer: minus is not as easy as minus , which is obviously ; just remember to take away the 2 you knocked off on the front end when you're done, and you get Mentally it takes mere seconds, and explaining it is fairly simple. But that's just where we hit a wall: Teaching multiple solutions, and letting children choose the one that comes most easily in practice, makes sense—but the more methods on offer, the more rules there are to govern them.

    Teachers new to these multiple methods stick to the rules, or else risk getting something wrong. And it's not just teachers. I asked a young woman at the Fordham Institute talk, who turned out to be a math curriculum designer, if the standards intentionally ingrain intuitive math-problem-solving practices in order to make the kids' little lives easier.