Vito Prosciutto: Teaching community college math on the road to a PhD.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

No royal road to geometry? 

Catholic School Blogger approvingly quotes a Newsweek article which makes a case for the chalk and talk approach to teaching math. The problem is that while many reforms have been failures, it doesn't change the fact that the way that we've always taught math just doesn't work for a lot of students. The more I teach, the more I think that math teaching isn't appropriately responding to technology like computers and calculators. I think that what's happening is that the traditionalists are drilling the wrong stuff (loads of arithmetic) while the reformers aren't understanding how to approach the deficiencies in instruction. (e.g., attempting to make problems "easier" in ways that invite mindless button pushing on the calculator rather than playing around with the actual mathematical ideas).

There's a lot of mathematics that we teach which, in the real world, is put off onto calculators and computers. No one should be proud of, for example, filing their taxes without using a calculator, if not actual tax software. And I doubt anyone would hire an accountant who insisted on doing all his calculations by hand. And I doubt that anyone really wants to trust their loved ones to a car whose engineers felt that it was better to do all calculations on the computer.

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