Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Day: July 15, 2011 (page 1 of 1)

Some people actually like mathematics

I just posted this over on Joanne Jacob’s blog in response to some of the comments from her readers.

I recommend reading Keith Devlin’s "The Math Instinct." He makes an interesting argument, which he supports with research, that the math people learn in schools is virtually never used outside of schools, except by a very small percentage of people.

First, he shares research which shows that people have a high rate of accuracy when solving mathematical problems using self-made strategies in such contexts as the supermarket, etc… He then points out that the longer people have been out of school, the MORE successful their strategies are. In other words, remembering the school math strategies for solving problems is a hindrance when trying to solve real life math problems. Further, he points out that only a tiny percentage of people are able to use the school math strategies (which are highly efficient in many ways) to solve problems.

The problem, according to him, is one of an inability to transfer knowledge gained in one domain, and in one style of learning, to another domain in our lives. In other words, knowledge gained about algorithms in schools, regardless of the curriculum used, is too far removed from the actual applications of the math.

So it seems to me that this means that it doesn’t matter if the kids memorize some algorithms as a kid, that this should not be the primary purpose of mathematics education.

Another interesting point to make is that mathematicians, engineers, and other professionals who use mathematics are often not the best at arithmetic, but excel in problem solving and applying math they’ve learned to different contexts. They become a profession that uses mathematics because they are able to use it creatively.

I’m really sick to death of everyone worrying about whether or not kids know how to multiply 6 by 4 and worried that no one seems to be concerned about whether or not kids know WHY we would want to multiply 6 by 4, and HOW this is useful in their actual lives. 

If you don’t think that we have a serious problem with numeracy (the ability to think mathematically and apply mathematics to different contexts), see this map of numeracy levels (including ALL adults aged 16 and older, so like all of you who learned mathematics the old way):

It paints a pretty scary picture of the problems in numeracy across Canada, in one of the best education systems in the world.

Maybe if we spent a lot more time doing engaging mathematics and applying what the kids learn in context, we might actually have a generation of people who USE mathematics, rather than a generation that complains about how awful math was when they grew up, and how horrible they were at it, but then asks their kids to do the same thing they did.

Some people actually LIKE mathematics, believe it or not.

 It’s a bit strong, but so were the comments on her blog.

Second BCed chat coming up July 25th at 7pm

Chris Wejr ( @MrWejr )  and I polled the #BCed chat channel on Twitter and found out that Monday nights work best for most people. So we are going to try to hold either weekly or biweekly chats about education during the year.

We plan on having our first chat on Monday, July 25th at 7pm. There seem to be enough of us still active on the #BCed Twitter channel during the summer time to make a chat worthwhile. Our first topic, as chosen by people who submitted responses to our survey is: "What should personalized learning look like in our schools?"

Please join us, and if you can invite a colleague who is not on Twitter to join in from the sidelines.

Trial, error and the God complex

Tim Harford has some great points here. I recommend watching his video.

"I will admit that [the process of using trial and error to solve problems] is obvious when schools start teaching children problems which don’t have a correct answer, stop giving them lists of questions, every single one of which has an answer, and there’s an authority figure in the corner behind the teacher’s desk who knows all the answers, and if you can’t find the answers, you must be lazy or stupid…When a politician stands up campaigning for elected office saying, ‘I want to fix our health system, I want to fix our education system, I have no idea how to do it. I have half a dozen ideas, we are going to test them out. They’ll probably all fail, then we’ll test some other ideas out, and we’ll find some that work, we’ll build on those, and we’ll get rid of the ones that don’t." ~ Tim Harford

Imagine we used an iterative process to solve the our problems in education. Our current system assumes that there are people who know the best solution already, and that all we need to do is implement it everywhere. Obviously this isn’t true. Our education system is far to complex to be something that any one person can know how to solve, no matter how smart they are. 

Imagine we had a public policy that was designed to promote innovation in education. Imagine people were expected to experiment more, and share their results. Imagine we had the mindset that no one could solve the problems in education alone, and that no single theory is the best theory. Imagine we found actual solutions to the education system, even if we didn’t complete understand the solutions, rather than changing policy on 4 or 8 year election cycles with little positive effect on the system.

That would be refreshing.

Assessment during professional development



Image credit: uconnlibrariesmagic


If you are running a professional development session for teachers, and you recognize that teachers are learners, how are you assessing their learning? Are you embedding formative assessment within your workshop? Are you providing an option for summative assessment of the learning, either at the end of the workshop, or in a follow-up session?

While I don’t think you should be giving grades to teachers for workshops, you do need to provide some way for your participants to receive feedback on what they’ve learned. Feedback in some form while learning is critical. Otherwise, how do you know your participants are learning anything?