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[Xmca-l] Re: Fwd: NYTimes.com: Why Do Americans Stink at Math?

Hi Greg and Larry,

Funny about Japan.  Somebody I know (who is in the arts and not the social sciences) recently returned from studying in Japan.  When I asked him about the education system there and the way they learned (and granted he is not a math teacher) he was confused.  His views were not that different from the findings you mention of Mazur.  They do a lot of testing, and they pass the test, and then they don't care at all about the underlying ideas, don't carry any of it with them.  Their task was to pass the test to get into the right university, to get the right job, to get the right social position.  Can we say the same thing about the Harvard physics students - they aren't really learning physics, it is just part of their everyday tasks they do in order to get into Harvard, to get the right job, to get the right social position.  Once the take has ended there is no reason to carry it with them.  Then Larry what is the "teaching craft," is it teaching students how to get into Harvard, or how to get into the State school, or how to get out of high school, or how to get a higher test score so we can get a raise?

It's interesting reading about Sylvia's work again after all these years I think that this isn't mathematics to the diary workers, it is just what they do, part of their relevant everyday activities (same thing for the Brazilian street children I guess and the waitresses that King Beach studies).  We are the ones to abstract these activities out and say they are mathematics and relate them to these completely artificial subject boundaries we create to organize traditional classrooms.  When you think about it in human history this is a relatively new thing.

From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] on behalf of Greg Thompson [greg.a.thompson@gmail.com]
Sent: Monday, July 28, 2014 11:46 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Fwd: NYTimes.com: Why Do Americans Stink at Math?

Seems that there might be a deeper problem here: the need for schools to
sort kids by testing them. If we see that as the primary function of
schooling (which it arguably is in the U.S.), then the old way of teaching
math works great. Only those most dedicated students who don't have to work
jobs during high school (i.e. upper-class students) are going to have the
time to spend doing this frighteningly rote work (and parents' pushing is
important here too).

And the old method of teaching also happens to be well suited to the most
essential functionary of any sorting system: THE TEST. Those kids who
willing to regularly flog themselves with insanely rote math and science
problems will come out on top on these tests. I think Eric Mazur's
experience demonstrates this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwslBPj8GgI).
Mazur is a Physics teacher at Harvard who changed up his tests to evaluate
students on elementary concepts like the force exerted on a car and a truck
when they have a collision. He was shocked by what he found. His Harvard
students who could solve incredibly complex physics problems (many of whom
had aced their AP Physics exams in high school) were consistently getting
these elementary physics problems wrong! These students had learned
incredibly well how to solve recipe Physics but they had no idea about how
the basic principles of Physics worked.

One question I have is whether tests on a large scale will ever be able to
capture the kinds of embodied knowledge that Scribner's dairy workers and
the Brazilian peanut-selling youth have. It seems like this kind of
embodied knowledge is what Green is suggesting is included in the Common
Core. But I fail to see how this could ever be accomplished in a
traditional classroom.

And I don't think that this is just a problem of doing a better job of
teaching teachers how to teach the "new" way. Dewey pointed us to this
"new" way of doing math almost 100 years ago and yet, as Green notes, we
keep coming back to the other way of doing things. The problem here seems
to be with the broader context of American education - something that Green
seems to miss entirely.

What is needed is a deep consideration of what it is that American schools
are doing; why they exist; whose interests they serve (and consequently who
has the greatest impact on shaping policy and such). Seymour Sarason seems
to me to be one of the best in this regard (Consider his book, The
Predictable Failure of School Reform: Can We Change Course Before it is too
- and note in searching for this URL, I tried the URL "seymoursarason.com"
- suggested on the wikipedia page - and got an advertisement, entirely in
Japanese, for how Japanese housewives can make money in the cell phone

With these questions of the importance of cultural context in mind, I
wonder: how does this real-world math work in Japan where, according to my
stereotypes of Japan's educational system, sorting by testing is an
essential feature of Japan's schooling system?
Is this method of teaching perhaps not as common in Japan as Green
Or, is the impulse for sorting by testing less pronounced in Japan than I
Or is it something different altogether?

On Mon, Jul 28, 2014 at 1:55 AM, Larry Purss <lpscholar2@gmail.com> wrote:

> Mike, Andy,
> Yes, a great article.
>   The insights that were generated by a person from Japan observing the
> degree of *private* individual classroom teaching [with the
> resulting isolation of teachers in America] in contrast to Japanese
> teachers engaging in ongoing *lesson* dialogues.
> The centrality of ongoing *lesson talk* as what is needed to sustain change
> contrasts with the common practices of teachers in American schools left to
> figure out best practice alone.
> How do we shift our practices in schools to encourage ongoing dialogical
> *lesson talk* among teachers?
> Larry
> On Sun, Jul 27, 2014 at 9:44 PM, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:
> > This story about the resistance to common core standards may be of
> interest
> > to several members of xmca.
> > Note that Sylvia Scribner appears in the story (!).
> > mike
> >
> >
> >
> >      Why Do Americans Stink at Math?
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Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
883 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602