Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Group Discovery ???

One of the marks of "new math" is discovery learning. But it's more than just discovery learning; it's "group discovery learning". Students are expected to come to knowledge of mathematical facts and procedures through "communal discovery".

You've heard it before. Only what your child discovers himself will he really grasp and remember. He must "own it" to be able to "use it and truly know it".

Now, let me see. If we want everyone to make the discovery himself, why would we put them in a group? That is exactly the opposite way you have every person discovery on his own. The whole group discusses and comes to an action, tried and agreed upon by the group. (Of course, someone in the group had to make the suggestion, to begin with, but never mind that.)

Now, remember through all of this, the purpose is for each student to make the discovery for himself -- so he can "own" that knowledge.

If you're in a group, how can all students come to "discovery" -- of a math procedure -- at the exact same moment? Someone in the group will come to the discovery first. Must he or she remain absolutely quiet? Must he hide his procedure? Remember this is a group discovery.

So, if someone else in the group makes the discovery, I guess no one else ever gets to "own" anything! Be First or Lose Your Shot at It.

By the way, the teacher is very quietly staying to the side, offering no guidance. And once the answer is agreed upon, the teacher is not allowed to check to see that the procedures were used correctly. Later, no drill will be given for students to use for practice. And there is no memorization of facts -- the facts can be 'rediscovered" on the spot, whenever they are needed.

In a traditional classroom, a teacher gives students an opportunity for small discoveries throughout the lesson, but he or she carefully directs the lesson and teaches precise methods, so that all students learn the most efficient procedures. Then the students practice and practice the steps under the supervision of the teacher. Following the guided practice is the independent practice, during which kids do more practice. Teachers are available to guide students and reteach if necessary. It is during this practice that some students "discover" and learn. And as the procedures are practiced over the next days and weeks, still other students may finally make the discovery on their own. But that "discovery" is just as real as the "discovery" made earlier by other students. In the meantime, the student has been able to successfully get the proper answer on the work because the teacher had taught just that.

I disagree that there is no discovery in a traditional classroom. There is. I see it every day.

And I don't think that it is possible for all students in a new math room to "discover" every single fact and procedure without input from the teacher.


Barry Garelick said...

Good description.

If you haven't seen it already, you may want to read my 3 part article on traditional math.

The post contains my email if you wish to contact me directly.

Concerned Teacher said...

I've read the first one, more than once and have them all linked on my sidebar right now. I reeealllly needed to link to them, I know, but I wanted to finish reading them all first. Plus, I was under the gun to get this post finished.

I definitely would like to contact you a little later through email about a change in my curriculum.

Thank you for your support.