Monday, June 25, 2012

Hey board of education members! Read this!

I found a great story on Slate.com (link below) detailing the nation's problems with math and science education thanks to a friend and former co-worker of mine, Tasha Kates.

The story explains that technology is destroying the standard teaching method for math and science by making it easy (and fun) for students and teachers alike, while dumbing it down and using incorrect examples and analogies.

It says that many things worth learning in life aren't exactly fun and even uses a sports example:
“Some of the best basketball players on Earth will stand at that foul line and shoot foul shots for hours and be bored out of their minds,” says Williams. Math students, too, need to practice foul shots: adding fractions, factoring polynomials. And whether or not the students are bright, “once they buy into the idea that hard work leads to cool results,” Williams says, you can work with them.
The same analogy could have been made with musical instruments. I was bored as hell learning and practicing scales over and over again. But it drilled the fundamentals of music into my head. And because of that, 20 years after leaving high school, I can still pick up a trumpet and play it, as well as read music.

On the education level, the same analogy could be made with foreign language. Sure, teachers make it fun. I thoroughly enjoyed Bruce Stassburg's Latin class in high school. But there was no cheating. He drilled conjugations into our heads starting on day one ... and continuing for four years. If today's math teachers taught Latin, we would have used an electronic Speak & Spell, no doubt.

One of the things the story mentions is that the graphing calculators used in most schools today are completely unnecessary, something I've said for a long time. Amazing considering the nearly $100 every parent has to shell out for these unnecessary calculators.

Personally, I've always though the calculators were unneeded because after students leave the classes which use them, they almost never go on to talk about sine, cosines, etc. In fact, to be quite frank, I have no idea what those terms mean. I just remember that they go along with those calculators.

One telling point in the story is the fact that 89 percent of high school math teachers believe their students are ready for college math at graduation and only 26 percent of college math teachers believe their students are ready when they get there. That's a huge disparity. (63 percent for those of you without calculators)

I'm not saying that American math teachers are bad. And I'm not saying they're lazy. One teacher oft-quoted in the story had to rebel against his school board to be allowed to keep a chalk board in his class instead of going with one of the new "interactive whiteboards" that seem so popular today.

I think we get seduced by technology. I know I do. If it has electricity running through it, I like it. If it also has an Amoled screen, I like it even more. I'm hardly a technophobe. I read books and play games on my Android phone. I have a work laptop (Mac) as well as a personal one (Windows). I have the internet on my TV (GoogleTV) and I've been coveting a Kindle. But I still know how to use a typewriter, a pad of paper, and read a real honest-to-goodness book. Just because something is shiny and noisy and makes us go "ooh and ahh," doesn't mean it's a useful tool for education.

And it's not just math and science where technology is taking over. The Niagara Falls School District several years ago started giving laptops to all students. Tool or distraction? I don't honestly know. In the Lockport City School District, many students are using iPads on a regular basis. Are they learning with them? Again, I don't know, but my daughter told me she loves playing MineCraft.

The story even takes potshots at standardized tests, showing statistics that they don't actually help kids to learn anything and actually hurt in terms of teaching kids how to learn.

I can't really speak to "how things are" in high school now. It's been 20 years since I exited those hallowed halls. But I remember that when I was in high school, I didn't really feel like I learned much (aside from Latin conjugation). What it felt like to me was that I was in a holding pattern until I got to college and my maturity caught up with my brain. I felt like I was learning how to learn. So if we aren't teaching kids how to learn, but instead are making it "fun" and "easy," then what the hell is the point of education system?

Seriously, check out this story on Slate.com ...