Thursday, March 13, 2008

And They Have the Nerve to Call It "Reform Math?"

Watch this video "Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth"

Depending on your age, you might have learned basic grade school math calculations like 26 x 31 and 133 ÷ 6, using what is now called the "standard algorithm" (see the video). If the multiplication procedure below looks familiar, you learned math the "old fashioned" way, or according to what is now called the "Singapore method" or the "standard algorithm."
You also then probably learned "long division."

If the "standard algorithm" above looks unfamiliar, you might have learned the new "reform math," "everyday math," "fuzzy math," or "rainforest math," and you might have been taught nitwitery like the "partial products multiplication" or "partial quotients division" (instead of "long division"), or the "lattice method." Too bad. You didn't learn math.

After watching the video above, I am furious to see how math is being taught today. If I was a parent, I would really, really be furious, and I would be at Borders right now buying Singapore Math books. See previous CD posts on "rainforest math" here, here and here ("We don’t teach long division; it stifles creativity.”).


At 3/13/2008 10:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly as someone who grew up with the "new math" in Ontario. I have since been tested and found to have a math aptitude, an ability that was never revealed by the inadequate method of math instruction that I learned.

Without a strong foundation, one cannot learn higher math. A recent study tied math and science education to GDP growth.

The fact is that teaching generally attracts and retains teachers who lack math and science skills. In order to give students the skills that they will need in the 21st century, the education system needs to be evaluated and areas of deficiency need to be remediated. Training people to the level of mediocrity serves neither individuals nor the competitiveness of United States.

At 3/13/2008 10:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sigh. Having taught math at the college level, I'm absolutely convinced that entire generations of students are being completely screwed over by the "alternative" methods foisted upon them.

You either learn how to handle math yourself, or you need to learn how to deal with getting handled by somebody who really knows math.

At 3/13/2008 10:49 PM, Anonymous fred said...

Indeed. Way back when New Math was being introduced to my school I was fortunate enough to be a wrong side of the tracks kid and shunted into old math.

It was college before I realized what the New Math was about and just how inappropriate it was for the junior high level. The New Math was too abstract. It was not practical math.

It is like the difference between an electrical engineer and an electrician. An electrical engineer can design an electrical system with any voltage, frequency, and mechanical configuration you want. An electrician has mastered and can do practical application of the electrical system we have.

Old math can deal with the check books, tax forms, and lumber we have. New Math was not intended to be practical.

At 3/14/2008 1:15 AM, Blogger KauaiMark said...

Try teaching this crap when you learned it the old way...

At 3/14/2008 3:12 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

I wrote about this over on Cassandra's blog, "Villanous Company"... This is nothing but another stage in the eternal incompetence of School Boards:

First, God made idiots... This was for practice. Then he made school boards.
- Mark Twain -

The "New Math" of the sixties was based on a true concept -- it is possible to derive the existence of integers from the interactions of sets, i.e., "set theory". From integers, you can build to the four basic operations, and thence to fractions etc. The idea was to start with something even kids have a real natural understanding of -- sets and grouping -- and build from there.

Now, the problem with this is that they just threw it down to teachers without teaching them WHY the "New Math" was being taught that way (assuming they were capable of learning, always a valid concern) -- so THEY couldn't answer a young student's questions because they had no friggin' clue about it in the first place.

Likewise, there is probably a rational basis for this "Newer Math", but, as before, they've spent no time on training or alternative methods if it isn't getting across. The net result is the same as before -- Johnny Can't Add. Which is only complimentary to the fact that He Can't Read, Either.

Remember -- the goal of organized education long ago ceased to be teaching. It has long been a two-pronged goal:
a) Indoctrination. Make 'em into good little sheep.
b) Stupification. Make them associate learning with intense pain. That way, they'll never learn enough to ask questions, much less grasp the answers (to say nothing of if the answers make any kind of sense).

The net result is the modern Lefty Democrat. All the brains of a cow and half the horse sense.

If you want your kids to learn, don't send them to public school, and pay close attention to any private school you might consider.

I think people should re-establish the old "little red schoolhouse" -- if ten or twelve families got together, pooled the funds they'd use to send their kids to private school, less 25%, they would almost certainly be able to create a functional LRS using those pooled funds to hire a teacher and rent space and buy materials. You could probably even lessen the cost by making it a co-op that people buy into and "sell themselves out of" as their kids grow up. That model had kids learning algebra at 12 and latin and greek before they left high school.

If there was anyone in history I could go back and assassinate, I'd put serious consideration into Horace Mann.

At 3/14/2008 3:15 AM, Blogger Tod said...

I tend to look at these new approaches as bad implementations, but not necessarily poorly intentioned. I tend to think the problem is more fundamental, our education system is still driven by momentum from days when we could expect a large number of students to drop-out very young to work on the farm or some such thing. Primary school in that situation had to be somewhat complete rather than just a foundation for secondary education. Today this not realistic and we'd be better to teach more logic (a linguistic skill) earlier and worry less about getting 6th graders ready to go out into the world.

At 3/14/2008 6:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just google "Everday Mathematics" if you want to get really p*ss*d about what is going on.

Fortunately, I was turned on to this garbage just as my kids' school district was forming a committee to see if they should implement this program. Thanks to the internet and blogs like this we (the parent part of the committee) were able to kill that idea. Having never been actively involved with teachers before, it really gave me some insight into the public education system.

Mark, didn't you have a post a while back about the SAT scores of teachers being some of the lowest in colleges/universities? Parents need to get involved and work to influence the administrators of our school systems and hold these people accountable.

At 3/14/2008 11:13 AM, Anonymous ZH said...

I'm an undergrad math major, and I am lucky that I went to private elementary and high schools that taught math the old way. I do tutoring for both college and high school students taking math classes. Most of the students I tutor who learned "new math" have no clue how to solve even simple problems unless it is spoon fed to them. I teach them the standard "old math" methods of problem solving and most of them like it more. A few who had previously strongly disliked math actually began taking a liking to (or at least an interest in) math.

"New math" was intended to make math more interesting for students, but I have found it has the opposite effect. When you can't solve anything but the simplest problems that are spoon fed to you, you will not be interested in math or anything math related when you get older because in real college level math classes you have to be able to solve problems that are not easy or spoon fed.

At 3/14/2008 1:57 PM, Blogger KC said...

I went to a school district that taught the "old math," I think I would have done better if I had learned the "new math."

I never did particularly well in math, and I think because the old math method teaches a mechanistic (or algorithmic) method that does not teach understanding. On the other hand, the new math, using "clusters" makes intuitive sense to me. It is how I eventually taught myself to do math, and how I solve problems in my head. I stuck with math, and eventually passed College Calculus. However, I always thought that math was poorly taught at most levels.

Simply teaching students to get the answer on paper, with out understanding, is no better than using a calculator to get the answer without understanding.

At 3/14/2008 2:19 PM, Anonymous fred said...


Old math can be taught badly, too. It just takes a little more effort to do badly.

At 3/15/2008 12:27 AM, Anonymous Machiavelli999 said...

OK, hate to be the contrarian here, but I am going to say that I am pretty good in math. I am an electrical engineer. I was always in honors math and did pretty well on all standardized tests.

And eventhough, I never used those methods formally, I have always done all my mental calculation in that way. By that I mean, if I have to do 26 x 32 without a calculator or paper, the way I think about it is 20 x 32 + 6 x 32.

This way is probably the way taught to people who can solve problems really fast in their heads. For math geniuses this method works fine. But I can see how people who aren't naturally talented at math need the old method. It works and its reliable. But its a fallback.

If you master the thinking behind the other algorithms, I believe it will allow you to do mental math easier.

At 3/28/2008 3:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe this "new math" would work if it was supplemented with traditional methods. Both sides have their advantages and disadvantages. New math encourages student exploration which is something all mathematicians, engineers, scientists, etc. all need. Traditional math encourages a concrete foundation of simple arithmetic facts and algorithms...can you think of a mathematician, scientist, engineer who does not have this concrete foundation? Math with the absence of exploration means there can be no growth or development. Math with the absence of basic arithmetic facts and algorithms mean there can be exploration but only in the most elementary fashion...again no growth or development. To me there is a solution...traditional methods supplemented with understanding and vice versa.


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