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[xmca] Early School Math Failure Sources

Esther-- Very interesting and relevant note to our general problematics to
which I add below your note. To keep the message stream short, I have
started this as new thread and add your note below: Roth is Wolf-Michael
Roth, editor of MCA. If you go to the
books section of xmca you should find his book on dialogism and math.

Esther Goody to mcole, eXtended
show details 9:18 AM (47 minutes ago)

[image: Follow up message]
Dear Mike,
       Hope you have caught up with sleep since Alaska!
Until now I have not looked at the "a minus times a plus" topic in XMCA,
supposing it would be about word games or something. Now I see it is about
'How and What to teach in school maths'? This is something I stumbled into
in my northern Ghana classrooms. The first Spencer Foundation grant was
about differences in learning literacy skills in L1 and L2 in high and low
authority classrooms. However a large section of the middle year report was
about reasons why kids were not learning school maths in the upper primary
grades in village schools.
       This was clearly different from the problem of not learning to read,
since reading was being taught only in English/L2 to village children who
never even heard this language. 'Solving' the reading skills problem only
required teaching kids to read first in L1. While observing a good
government teacher taking the upper classes through maths lessons on 'profit
and loss' (in English, of course,) it was evident that the kids did not
understand the meaning of what the teacher said. Basically they couldn't
follow the problems, and even where they did, profit and loss are not made
explicit in local calculations. Yet these were kids who are quicker than I
am in local market transactions - which are based on making at least a small
profit in each instance. But local market trading goes on in L1 of course.
There are several maths routines which are combined to do complex
calculations quickly. (The Brazilian work on street maths found local
routines critical.)
       In order to open up what was going on so I could follow, I started a
maths club after school and on Saturdays. (Thank you Mike for the idea and
model.) There were about nine kids in the upper three grades. Five or six
came regularly. I got them to tell me about what they did outside school
that involved making and selling something. Half the girls helped a
mother/aunt/older 'sister' with brewing beer in their compound to sell to
villagers who drop in to drink it there. One girl fried groundnut paste to
sell as a snack on the weekly market day; she did this with/for an older
'sister'. One boy salvaged torn bicycle inner tubes and made slingshots to
sell to his mates. Two or three boys reported working with others on their
fathers' farms (It proved difficult to glean much for profit/loss from farm
work, since this involves long-term reciprocity.)
       For three of these activities in turn, beer-brewing, frying
groundnut snacks and making slingshots) we sat together and worked out
costs, and income. Then I would take the class, and lead the kids to figure
out what were costs and income. Finally I would try to put our 'findings'
into the formal 'profit/loss' format used in maths problems. Except for the
slingshots, it wasn't really possible to arrive at profit.
       Pondering this afterwards, it seemed to me that in effect there was
an M1 in the village in which children become skilled by participating in
everyday activities. Formal school maths (M2)ignores this, and as children
'learn' maths 2 they do not relate it to solving everyday problems they
already do easily in M1. When I mentioned this recently to a USAID
consultant who usually works in rural Egypt, he agreed strongly. We both
think the same thing probably happens in US and UK schools where a single
language is involved.
       Is any of this relevant? Worth pursuing?

Can you give me more to go on for the references about dialogue involving
ROTH? Does he have a first name. Can you recall any titles?

               Cheers, Esther


I think that the dissociation between everyday math practices, language
comprehension, and school math/language practices
is relevant, Esther. Clearly memorization of alogrithms sans understand in
school practice is a common element. But you have
the advantage in your work of being able to identify and work from local
practices where math calculations and relevant concepts
like profit are identifiable and when you can create a proper activity like
your Saturday school, really lay out the contrasts and
start to figure out how to draw upon these "fuinds of knowledge" (Moll and
colleagues) to bridge everyday and school (in principle,
if not in practice if teachers do not buy in).

The 3-4th graders who are my current focus of attention do not have regular
jobs such as selling and buying things but we ought to be able to do a
better job of finding out where everyday math does enter their lives other
than in situations where they are present but adults are involved in the
action (paying the bills, shopping at the store).  We try to fill in by
creating activities, some based on
games the kids are familiar with (bingo, various card games which we modify)
or building a garden where you have to figure out
how many boards of lumber for the sides of the raised beds, how many cubic
feet of dirt, how much water, etc).

How about sending an article on your project to MCA!!

(PS-- Have you voted for an article for discusssion???)
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