Thursday, July 17, 2008

Head First, Calculator Second

Wow, did I locate an excellent page on "fuzzy math" procedures and thoughts, entitled "Everyday (Fuzzy) Math is Dumbing Down our Children", written by Ian Shapira. You people in Virginia may have already read Ian Shapira's writings.

Some of his observations about Everyday Mathematics follow:

"There is a 23-page chapter that teaches nothing but how to use a calculator." Shapira goes on to explain his own take on why so much space is used for teaching how to use a calculator: ". . . the odd algorithmic methods taught in the book for solving math problems are so confusing and unworkable that the students must resort to using a calculator in order to solve math problems."
"The most surprising thing is that the total number of pages in the book devoted to teaching algorithms using whole numbers is 11 pages! That's correct! There are only 11 pages in a 400 page book devoted to explaining algorithms using whole numbers. Only 3 of those pages offer instruction on standard algorithms. . . . On page 50 the book states: 'Finding a percent of a number is the same as multiplying the number by the percent. Usually, it's easiest to change the percent to a decimal and use a calculator.'"
"The preferred Everyday Math are crutches. The crutches are needed because the students are not taught the standard algorithms. The lack of skill in standard algorithms ends up crippling their ability to solve math problems without their crutches. The EDM crutches become cumbersome and hold children back when they are later exposed to to more advanced math problems. Their crippled minds are unable to sprint ahead in math, because they trip all over the crutches imposed upon them by EDM."
"One of the alternative algorithms that is a standard method taught in Everyday Math was authored by a first grader!"
". . . students are expected to invent their own algorithms. Adding to the silliness, the authors of Everyday Math expect the children to invent their own algorithms before they are taught any standard algorithms."
". . . The Everyday Mathematics advocates admit that the standard algorithms used for the past 100 years are 'highly efficient'. One might ask: If the standard algorithms are 'highly efficient,' why replace them with invented and other non-traditional algorithms? The reason is that the Everyday Math advocates are not satisfied with a 'highly efficient' method. They want the 'most efficient' method. In their view the most efficient method is 'mental arithmetic or a calculator.'"
There is so, so much here to read. This article helps all of us identify "fuzzy math" programs, whatever they may be named. Everyday Math is only one, and they all do their damage. The sad thing is, once the damage is done, it's very difficult to go back and redo 4,5,8 years of damage.