Sunday, January 17, 2010

To help everyone remember I will do a quick recap

I used to blog for my old company, but they took the blog down. I am
not actually allowed to own the writings I put up on that blog, but as
I reference them on occasion in my writing I am putting those articles
up in my archives here for reference sake. I'll put the tag GS on those
articles noting that they were originally published on the

To help everyone remember I will do a quick recap. I started a few weeks ago talking about new math and old math. At the end of that post I said it was really more of a question of classical vs reform teaching (progressive, I switched words). Last week I tried to get more into that but ended up doing a quick history of the US educational system. By no mean is this a complete history but helpful to the non-US readers.

In short the difference between new math and old math is the emphasis of the curriculum. In new math the emphasis is on understanding concepts and in old math the emphasis is on being able to solve problems. While this relates to the history of education in the United States because even from the very first laws concerning education (about 150 years before the U.S. existed) the purpose of schooling was to give citizens the skills necessary to be better citizens. It was in the late 1800’s that schools specifically to teach educators stated and these educators really started asking, “if the purpose is to make students better thinkers why are we concentration so had on the skills and ignoring the understanding.” Thus progressive education was conceived. (in by no means a completely accurate summary of the history of the US education system)

First lets define classical and progressive education. I know that there are some education scholars who will disagree with me on these definitions, but this post is written mostly for parents and students trying to figure their way around the education world. First classical education in my definition is the direct instruction type model or Trivent model, that is the teacher lectures or demonstrates the lesson and students listen and take notes. While progressive education will be more student centered. The teacher will often introduce a lesson, problem, or idea and allow students to explore or struggle with it for a while, then recap or summarize the learning or ask the students to reflect on the learning.

The basic argument for classical education is that students will cover a lot more material and usually score better on standardized tests. The basic argument for progressive education is that students will "own" the knowledge and be able to apply it to a variety of situations instead of being limited to the one specific situation they learned it from.

The question about which method is the right one to use is fairly simple to answer. Obviously, it is both. Even in the most constructivist schools there will be occasions where the teacher may want to quickly cover a skill or demonstrate an idea and ask the students to take notes or remember. (Often a quick review or in preparation to learn a higher level skill) At the same time even the most teacher centered schools will have moments when students are asked to think and or reflect. (Many Science experiment are almost required to be student centered)

So why is there a big argument between the teaching methods? That is a more difficult question. Part of the answer depends on how you think student learn, part depends on what you think students should know, part depends on if you feel you should cover a lot of topics or go in-depth in just a few.


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