Friday, June 13, 2008

Is Your Student Being Taught "Fuzzy" Math?

Parents may wonder if their student's math curriculum is "fuzzy" math. Here are some general identifying marks of "fuzzy" math:

1. Very little practice (You might have someone tell you that new studies show that too much drill kills interest in math. That is not true -- it makes students efficient and confident.)
Lack of pencil and paper work -- in the "fuzzies' minds it's bad to do a lot of pencil and paper work.
2. Individual problems on the homework are
not actually graded. Students are given credit if they show that they "tried" to do it. It doesn't even matter if they successfully solved the problem.
Calculators are used to do what children should be learning to do mentally. Some people may even be so bold as to claim that there are students who will never learn all of these math facts anyway. Calculators are said to be sufficient.
4. (Almost exclusively)
student-centered activities. Students work in groups to figure out something, and the teacher may not even be involved at all.
5. There will be little or no instructions, certainly
no explicit instructions. Activities are student directed and teacher input is lacking. Students are sent home to figure it out by themselves and the next day the class is asked by the teacher if there were any questions.
6. "
Real world math" is what it's all about. It's one of the buzz words. After all, who doesn't want students prepared for the "real world".
7. Students are told to
write paragraphs explaining all of the steps that are used to solve the problem. Or students are expected to write about how they feel about math. Or as Walter Willaims referenced, students write on such topics as "If Math were a color, what what that be?" In other words, students are writing their math. So much for the benefit of symbols and digits to help solve a problem efficiently, in the least amount of time.
7. Math books are huge,
thick books, and pages are filled with visual "clutter" which distract students' thoughts. (For some "adhd" or "add" students, these pages can be a disaster. It is no wonder it takes them 50 minutes to do a 15 minute assignment.) There is a lot of "non-math" content such as photographs in color and motivational stories which are meant to "inspire" kids to greatness, I suppose, but which have no place in the middle of a math assignment.
Patterns, patterns, patterns. Looking for patterns, drawing patterns. Probability will be prevalent by 4th or 5th grade. And much time spent on data analysis projects (finding the mode, the mean, the median) starting in elementary school. What is appropriate for a high school course is inappropriate for elementary chldren. The time spent on one "projects" may be days and will indeed use lots of pencil and paper. Notice here: It's OK for them to do pencil and paper work. It's just not OK for me or you to do pencil and paper work on traditional math practice.
9. And here's one dead give-away that the curriculum takes a "fuzzy" math approach:
Students are given problems in one lesson, for which they are not at all prepared. Students spend much, much time on these problems, only to discover that the
concept is taught a lesson or two later So if your student has no idea what is being asked, look ahead and you'll probably find that the concept is coming up. This is called "discovery learning" because students have a wonderful opportunity to "discover" the concept on their own. Imagine your 4th grader being forced to "discover" how to do long division with no input from anyone else!!

I'm sure there are more I've overlooked. One more thing that is obvious: Your student is (perhaps suddenly)
discouraged, thinks he/she is not smart, gives up trying. I know one student who had been in my 5th grade class and was an excellent and a very diligent student. What didn't come naturally, she learned by shear determination and perseverance. How sad I was to hear that she was threatening to kill herself because her high school math was so hard for her and she didn't think she was ever going to get it. Her teacher's approach was to assign the algebra/geometry lesson, forcing the students to teach themselves, and then ask if any of the stusdents had any questions or problems. If there were no questions, they proceeded on to the next lesson.)

So, do any of these ring a bell to you? Well, if so, you must rescue your student as fast as possible. Go to Kitchen Table Math for insights how a family rescued their own student. It took lots of hours after school, but the results made it worth it.


Jean said...

"This is called "discovery learning" because students have a wonderful opportunity to "discover" the concept on their own. Imagine your 4th grader being forced to "discover" how to do long division with no input from anyone else!!"

Actually, I lived that in 5th grade; my 4th grade teacher didn't teach us much math and in 5th grade we were supposed to know it already. Somehow I had gotten to the age of 10 without realizing that you can ask the teacher for help if you don't know how to do the assignment. One of my clearest and worst memories of elementary school is sitting there, trying every way I could think of to do those long division problems and completely failing. It was one of the things that convinced me I was just bad at math--I was 19 when I figured out that I actually quite like math.

Now I homeschool and use Saxon.


(I originally posted this on KTM-2 and was requested to post it here as well.)

senoj3 said...

Here are three other identifying concepts of "fuzzy math."
10. Group grades and Group work. Students work together to take tests, "discover" math concepts (which were discovered centuries earlier), or for projects. Individuality is discouraged and group work is the norm.
11. Tests are in the form of essay questions, rather than actual math problems which must be solved. There are very few answers on tests that are actually numbers -most answers are in the form of a written paragraph with words, not numbers.
12. The "fuzzy math" teacher has a crazed 'look' in his or her eyes (when explaining the wonders of "reform math") that lets you know that this teacher is in danger of blindly following any cult leader that comes along with a new idea. The math teacher/educrat easily says things like "these kids will have throw-away calculators one day and will not need to know math." Or perhaps, "I never liked math as a kid either - No one really likes math."