Thursday, February 25, 2010

Oh to be in School

A few days ago, before I wrote yesterday's post on the horrors of preparing for the ISAT, I wrote this

Oh to be in a school that allows a teacher the freedom to really teach. Instead we Buckle Down and do our best to meet some adequate standard on the ISAT test.

It's not that the kids can't do it. The real problem is that the students are just bored silly and tired of proving what they know and what they can do for a school system that seems completely irrelevant to the life they will lead when they grow up. Don't get me wrong some just haven't learned the skills, but a significant number just don't want to do it.

I sit and watch students taking an ISAT practice test and they don't care. They work harder on trying to communicate without tipping off the teacher than they do on the actual test.

We are not testing their knowledge or even their ability to do math. What we are doing is proving to our students that school has nothing to do with the real world.

Oh to have the time and freedom to participate in the Flat World Project. To explore or just converse about what we are learning. Instead we fight to keep quite and on task against students who want only to be engaged in something anything.

Today I went to a professional development class focusing on hand-on math for middle school and high school Algebra and Geometry.

Why do authorities like state and federal governments insist on measuring effectiveness through the use of paper and pencil tests while regional offices of education promote teaching hands-on math?

The problem with the paper and pencil tests is that they try to simulate the real world. In so doing they make the world seem stilted and contrived. They are also looking for the right answer, even if there is more than one acceptable way of finding that answer.

With hands-on type of math students solve a puzzle. We all love to solve puzzles, even if some people are better than others at doing so. But like the ISAT tests these hands-on math programs are still a simulation of the real world. In the end it can feel stilted and contrived or at the very minimum students just can't transfer the skills to another medium.

At the end of the day we want our students to know how and where to apply math concepts to problems in the real world. This means students have to know the concepts and where to apply them, which hands-on math does a great job of teaching. Then students have to know how to solve the process which is the purview of the "traditional" math curriculum.

In the end I think math should start with a hands-on curriculum allowing students a lot of time to explore and discover concepts on their own. But we also need to spend more time debriefing our students, a fatal flaw in many a classroom. We need to take our discoveries and make sure our students understand what they mean and where they are applicable.
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