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

Comments below

On Jul 30, 2014, at 11:33 AM, Greg Thompson <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com> wrote:

> I was hoping that somebody might be able to comment on the situation of
> schooling in Japan and whether or not these hypotheses about the Japanese
> situation of schooling might bear out:
> 1. Teachers in Japan have time to develop their craft. 600 annual hours of
> contact time for teachers in Japan vs. 1100 hours of contact time in the
> U.S.


> 2. There is an ideology of childhood in Japan that values childhood greatly
> and treats them as qualitatively distinct beings from adolescents and
> adults, and thus suggests that they should be protected from the cruel and
> harsh practice of "testing". But this also means that elementary school
> teachers are held in high regard.

Yes. However, it doesn't necessarily follow that this is why elementary school teachers are held in high regard

> I guess the first seems a bit more factual but the second is more of an
> hypothesis, but if they bear out as important factors for enabling the kind
> of learning that Green describes, then it seems to me that even if there
> were to be a huge push for training teachers in the U.S., teachers would
> quickly revert to what we currently lament about teaching in the U.S. not
> because they are bad teachers or don't know how to teach in the more
> complex manner but rather simply because, with some rare exceptions, it is
> IMPOSSIBLE to teach in the more desirable manner given the ridiculous
> amount of contact time and the fact that in the American ideology of
> childhood, the teaching of children is not valued particularly highly.

This doesn't follow. It is possible and it is possible in highly urban areas (and I amy misunderstand you use of the word 'rare'). That doesn't mean that it is necessarily valued or supported by the powers-that-be. There are a few more things to add to your facts: There is a national curriculum in Japan and there is a reasonably effective mentoring system (largely teacher instigated). A 'fact' (and perhaps this is anecdotal) is that when it was first realized that some interesting things were happening in Japanese schools (e.g. lesson study), the collegiate Japanese community was caught, to a large degree, unaware. 'Master' lesson are published by teachers.

> In light of this, it seems a Sisyphean feat to try to change teachers'
> teaching practices without changing the cultural context in which those
> teachers work. And changing cultural contexts is perhaps even more
> difficult still.

That was why I suggested a look at the Netherlands (which seem to do as well or better than the Japanese). Of course, some of this can still be explained because of cultural differences and how teachers are viewed.

> Maybe we should stop looking to teaching practices in formal schooling in
> the U.S. as a site of change?
> Maybe better to look outside and beyond schools altogether?

Perhaps we should do as you suggest (and, to a limited extent and in a sense, something like this has been done). However, it might also be a good idea to look at teaching practices in a thoughtful way. I have seen very little of this happening over the years. I was just talking to a colleague today and, although we love our work in urban areas, we admit to making only a small dent. We also admit to being underwhelmed by views of education prevalent in many schools of education. It is getting steadily worse.

> Too pessimistic?
> -greg

Pessimism is fine, but simply pessimism can be self limiting; however, that is an opinion and not a fact.


> On Wed, Jul 30, 2014 at 6:02 AM, Ed Wall <ewall@umich.edu> wrote:
>> Perhaps something of interest re this thread.
>> Ed Wall
>> http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/29/opinion/joe-nocera-teaching-teaching.html?_r=0
>>> Some general comments (and I apologize for being so late to the
>> conversation as I have been out of email contact)
>>> Magdalen Lampert and Deborah Ball were both at Michigan State in the
>> late 80s. They both taught what might, in part, be an early version of the
>> Common Core to their students. I also taught math methods beginning in the
>> late 90s and also emphasized such an approach (I also did similar as a K-12
>> math teacher before moving onto college teaching). There is little 'new'
>> math in the Common Core - perhaps a bit of 'old' math. However, there is a
>> very strong emphasis on kids making sense out of what they are doing (I
>> apologize for being brief, but this is a moment between meetings at a
>> conference devoted to such 'strange' notions as helping kids making sense).
>>> There are problems with the Common Core as written down: it is being
>> forced down teachers' throats; it has been tied into high stakes testing
>> (which, by the way, occurs at places in a student's life in Japan); there
>> are some debatable differences in the age sequencing of topics; teachers to
>> be have often not been prepared for such teaching in their college courses;
>> and more.
>>> Some of these problems may be ironed out with time; however, the
>> training and culture of teaching (see Jackson and Lortie, even if somewhat
>> dated) in the US is still a bit grim.
>>> So a few summary points:
>>>    Teaching that is, more or less, in sync with the Common Core has
>> been practiced for years in the US. Teacher training that is in sync with
>> the Common Core has been available for years in the US. Lesson study
>> Japanese style may be more possible with an agreed upon core (although one
>> might look to the Netherlands to see what works well for them rather than
>> Japan).
>>>    An interesting question for those of us who are involved in teacher
>> training might be "Why do so many teachers find the Common Core Standards
>> so threatening - factoring out the forcing and testing)?" What (from the
>> 4th grade standards, for example):
>>>      • Use place value understanding and properties of operations to
>> perform multi-digit arithmetic.
>>>      • Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
>>> do some elementary teachers find difficult and threatening?
>>> Again apologies for being very, very short about a very large and very
>> complex problem.
>>> Ed
>>> On Jul 28, 2014, at 2:25 PM, Katherine Wester Neal <wester@uga.edu>
>> wrote:
>>>> What an interesting article! I am thinking about the lack of focus on
>> specific contexts in the article's discussion of teaching and learning to
>> teach as a practicing teacher. Is it possible to go about such change (from
>> "old" math to new math or Common Core math) with little/no consideration
>> for what kinds of teaching might work in a particular school culture or the
>> social context of a given classroom? I think less of a standardized
>> approach (here, everyone do this) and more focus on what works locally
>> (here are some ideas; now decide what might work for you) might help
>> teachers learn to teach Common Core math in a way that actually works in
>> their particular context. To adapt phrase from Magdalene Lampert, it might
>> bring about more sustainable change as they are "re-learning teaching" in
>> their schools.
>>>> Because Common Core math is so different, perhaps this re-learning
>> teaching requires a radical new approach instead of the same old
>> professional development. Learning through the Japanese jugyokenkyu method
>> sounds like it might be very useful, but there doesn't seem to be a push
>> for reforming how teachers learn once they are in the field. (Except that
>> if enough of their students fail the Common Core-aligned tests, they will
>> eventually be out of a job.)
>>>> It seems nonsensical to implement incredibly high-stakes tests without
>> significant investment in re-learning teaching and with, as far as I know,
>> no research on how to learn to teach Common Core as a practicing teacher.
>> I, too, wonder about how these issues are handled in Japan?
>>>> Katie
>>>> Katie Wester-Neal
>>>> University of Georgia
>>>> ________________________________________
>>>> From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu>
>> on behalf of Huw Lloyd <huw.softdesigns@gmail.com>
>>>> Sent: Monday, July 28, 2014 12:58 PM
>>>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>>>> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Fwd: NYTimes.com: Why Do Americans Stink at Math?
>>>> On 28 July 2014 16:46, Greg Thompson <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com> wrote:
>>>> [...]
>>>> These students had learned
>>>>> incredibly well how to solve recipe Physics but they had no idea about
>> how
>>>>> the basic principles of Physics worked.
>>>> Greg,
>>>> I would say the ethics of the situation go deeper than simply (un)learnt
>>>> capabilities, but rather to the development of the student's creative
>>>> capabilities (or, rather, the stunting of them).
>>>> Best,
>>>> Huw
> -- 
> Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
> Assistant Professor
> Department of Anthropology
> 883 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
> Brigham Young University
> Provo, UT 84602
> http://byu.academia.edu/GregoryThompson