I read this article on cnn’s website today. It’s about how parents today are often rebelling against the new constructivist math programs (TERC, Chicago Math, etc) that have taken over the elementary (and some middle) school’s math curriculums by teaching them traditional problem solving skills like long division.
As a former math teacher, I have been preached to by both sides of this war, and believe me if you think the parents are up in arms, you should see the behind the scenes wars carried out in Math Department meetings.
I am a firm traditionalist, which puts me in a solid minority—the ones who admit it. Most math teachers I know are, to some degree, supporters of traditional math at least some of the time. But because the schools we teach (in my case taught) for effectively gagged us, we taught the traditional math furtively with a worksheet here or a side note (here’s one more way to do it) there.
As I contemplate Emby’s education, which as the child of two parents who view education as their only religion, I have no guilt and no hesitation over stating now, when she still has 16 weeks until she’s born (as of midnight) that she will be getting traditional math every day at home.
As a middle school teacher, few things pissed me off more than getting “advanced” sixth graders who didn’t know their times tables. Who couldn’t divide to save their lives. Who had gotten straight A’s from the constructivist program, but were going to get nowhere in Algebra without serious review. I spent every September each year doing review and basic curriculum to get them ready for the exam that would determine if they would be admitted to the exam schools in Boston—things they SHOULD have known by sixth grade.
I then had to teach elementary school for the last two years and I got down and dirty in constructivist curriculum…and it only made me hate it more. Not because I didn’t understand it–I’m a solid math student and teacher, but because giving students three approaches to learning multiplication in three days only confused them, and that the curriculum expected it and said “hey, that’s cool, they’ll get it again next year, so move onto this other topic” convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is harmful and wrong.
Why is it wrong to do constructivist approaches for 8 years? Because they don’t do it AT ALL in high school. There is no way to do a constructivist approach to teaching Calculus. To understand why Calculus works, you need to know HOW TO DO CALCULUS, which is why it’s a very advanced math course that you can’t take at MIT until you’ve taken something like 3 or 4 other Calculus courses. The same, at heart, is also true of advanced Algebra. Doing proofs is learning the why’s of Geometry, but if you are faced with a Geometry problem, you need to have your formulae memorized and ready to go.
I see the constructivist approach as working for some kids (and hey, maybe Emby would be one of these…but I doubt it) but generally it’s something that should be used in a supplementary capacity for a kid who isn’t getting it.
Honestly, it’s times like this that I think putting my Master’s Degree in Education to it’s best use will mean homeschooling my kids.