Thursday, March 13, 2008

US Math Curriculum

The National Mathematics Advisory Panel is reporting out today:
The group also weighed in on the long-running math wars, pitting traditionalists, who favor a focus on memorization and drilling, against those who argue it's better to emphasize concepts and allow students to make connections on their own. Students need to know math facts and have automatic recall, Faulkner said, but they also need "some element of discovery."

"I think this panel has gradually evolved to the view that most members believe that most effective teachers draw from both philosophies at different times," he said.
This sounds about right. Kids simply have to memorize one-digit addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division as a foundation for all other math. Without it, you don't get an intuitive feel for the scale of numbers.

Beyond that, my other pet peeve is the huge dumbing-down of high school algebra. When I took Algebra I, we were factoring quadratics by the end of the year. When my kids took Algebra, they didn't even cover simultaneous linear equations in the first year.

The other thing that has to be acknowledged is that there's a wide range of abilities in the student population. A fair number of kids can power all the way through to calculus by the end of high school. A lot of others are going to hit the wall early in their study of algebra. Not to recognize this fact does a huge disservice to the math-capable kids, who don't learn what they need to, as well as the low performers, who never manage to learn the more advanced arithmetic skills that would enable them to, say, run a successful small business.

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