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


        I avoided this aspect as it is, I suspect, quite cultural. However, it is complicated. Perhaps a story (and it is true) will illustrate such 

        At some point in time calculus began to be taught to a select few students (who were accelerated) in their senior high year. Folks in admissions at very colleges saw a chance to structure admissions and began giving special preference to those students. This was in spite of math faculty indicating that high school calculus class was not always particular helpful. Parents, of course, became aware of all this and there became a mad push to have their child take calculus in high school to as to get along with a career in engineering or the sciences. An amusing (sort of) complication was that a number of students who really didn't like mathematics found out that they could actually skip college level math courses by doing calculus in high school. Again parents were interested.

      Thee is some interesting finger pointing (smile) going on in mathematics education. Math departments often point at math teachers as they seem to be ineffective. Math teachers point at parents because they seem to not be involved. Parents (and the public) point at schools of education because they invent things like the Common Core (smile). Schools of Education point at math departments as they are, sometimes, a bit problematic in their teaching styles.  Anyway, the grade issue is important and I, personally, can understand the concern. I as a K-12 teacher had to face this and had to convince parents (and they can be difficult at times) that what I did was actually thought through. I had one parent (he happen to be a mathematician - smile) who after talking to me about what I was doing indicated his main concern was that I didn't know what I was doing. I, hence, tell my math education students that they better have good reasons for their decisions (and that keeping records is part of teaching - some of Greg's situations could interfere here).
      I tell my students that parents deserve their respect and can be a powerful force in 'together' educating their child. I also tell them that many parents want to interact with their children and want to help them. Thus to send home work that children cannot do by themselves (i.e. there may not be a adult at home) or work the parent cannot understand is somewhat non-productive. Homework should, most usually, be practice (there are exceptions) and, I think, homework is a good idea for certain grades.

     Insofar as parental objections to the core standards go, some of this seems to be due to agitators (I have grumbled at some who have done this and should have know better - smile); some of this seems to have been stoked by concerned teachers, and some of this seems to be due to a lack of transparency by school administrators. 

     I use to take my brighter students to 'tutor' in another class. Then I would chew them out when they did the things your undergraduate did. It was, for them, a good learning experience (smile). I did something similar with my college students also.


On Jul 30, 2014, at 2:05 PM, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:

> I second Greg's appreciation of your comments, Ed.
> Briefly I want to introduce a slightly different aspect of the problem that
> I do not recall see being discussed -- PARENTAL objections to core
> standards.
> My take here is that the parents of the kids are themselves so heavily
> socialized to non-mindful teaching/learning of math that they not only
> cannot fully interpret the problems the kids are asked to solve, but they
> cannot even begin to formulate new ways of thinking about ingrained,
> taken-for-granted procedures they have learned. So their kids get bad
> grades and complain and they themselves complain because it seems like the
> teachers are doing a bad job (for reasons that have been discussed here).
> I see this problem a lot when my undergrads are helping 4-6th graders with
> their homework (never mind middle school or high schoolers). The undergrads
> have learned an amazing array of shortcuts for figuring out answers to
> already-quantified questions, but they get blown away if you ask, for
> example
> "Why do you invert and multiply when dividing a fraction by another
> fraction."
> And lets not exempt participants in XMCA. Check out the lengthy discussion
> in 2006 (June I believe, you can find it by googling the lchc site) of "why
> is a minus times a minus a plus and a minus times a plus a minus." Someone
> could get a neat publication (MCA would be glad to consider such a paper!)
> simply by analysing the fumbling discussion.
> There is a very long history of recognition of this general problem as has
> been pointed out. It is very difficult, and requires a well trained
> teacher, to engage in non-rote, non low level comprehension teaching
> practices given the impeding factors discussed here. Those who manage to do
> it deserve our deepest respect.
> mike
> On Wed, Jul 30, 2014 at 10:42 AM, Greg Thompson <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com>
> wrote:
>> Ed,
>> Thanks for this wonderfully thoughtful reply. Very helpful.
>> As for the teaching practices part, I entirely agree about the need for
>> thoughtful attention to teaching practices and agree that great things can
>> be accomplished locally. My sense, though, is that it takes great effort to
>> sustain such smaller scale interventions (i.e. to make more than a dent).
>> With regard to teaching practices, I would think that the way to approach a
>> thoughtful teaching practice would be to start with the real constraints of
>> context that teachers will regularly face and then try and figure out what
>> kinds of teaching can be sustained given those constraints.
>> That's where I'm most pessimistic. It is difficult for me to imagine
>> developing responsible teaching practices that could be sustained on a
>> larger scale given the cultural, institutional, and ideological context of
>> schooling in the U.S. [and I might add that it seems like the history of
>> teaching practice in the U.S. is a history where the same good ideas keep
>> popping up and then fading from sight almost as quickly as they appeared].
>> But I'm certainly open to ideas/suggestions for thoughtful pedagogical
>> practices that are sustainable in the U.S. formal schooling context.
>> -greg
>> On Wed, Jul 30, 2014 at 10:11 AM, Ed Wall <ewall@umich.edu> wrote:
>>> 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.
>>> Yes
>>>> 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.
>>> Ed
>>>> 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
>> --
>> 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