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Monday, September 30. 2013
Just back from an extra-long weekend around my old haunts in Oxford (UK). Same old, same old, and tourist-free in September.
But here in the USA, we have New! Improved! Education’s shiny toy syndrome.
A while ago, I mentioned how my math education was almost destroyed by New Math. Even my math teachers didn't get the point of it even though they were required to teach it. Base Nine. Base 11? WTF? I am not an Einstein and do not need my math deconstructed. Base 10 is plenty enough to keep my brain challenged.
Once I recovered from the now-discarded New Math (it took me 3 years), I was fine. One regret I have with my career, among others, is that it does not require any sophisticated math. I still believe that the Calculus is a beautiful gift from God and the real shiny toy of education.
And statistics remain a perfect tool to fool juries with no math knowledge.
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Re: New Math
Wow. New math ruined my math progress as well.
I went to grade school from 1957 to 1964 and somewhere in there, probably in seventh grade, it all fell apart. :/
But here in the USA, we have New! Improved! Education’s shiny toy syndrome.
That is a good way of putting it. Instead of focusing on what has worked in over 2,000 years of classroom instruction, Ed Schools concentrate on, as it put here, the new shiny toy that will reinvent everything, which must be universally applied even though there is not yet any documentary proof that it works.
I beg to differ on New Math. I did well in Math through 8th grade, getting a good grounding in basic arithmetic operations, but found math boring. In 9th grade I encountered New Math- University of Illinois style [UICSM]- which we called Illinois Math. My 9th grade math teacher, though a family friend and a Phi Beta Kappa math graduate, was a poor teacher. I taught myself 9th grade math using the book- the teacher was useless.
For the first time in my life, I enjoyed math. Even with a poor teacher, I enjoyed 9th grade math. While math was previously a boring series of rote operations, I got excited by seeing the underlying structures behind math. The emphasis on proofs from 9th grade on ignited my enthusiasm for math. Things were so no just because a teacher said they were so. One could prove it. I found it empowering to construct proofs.
New Math- or in my case Illinois Math- was not for everyone. Many -perhaps most- of my classmates were floored by the demanding proofs. After my junior year, a classmate who was 11th grade President, wrote "No more math misery" in my yearbook.
Decades later, I had a Geometry class with a professor whom I found out had met Max Beberman, the founding father of Illinois Math. My professor said that while many teachers who taught Illinois Math/New Math had abandoned trying to teach students basic arithmetic skills, Max Beberman said that had never been his intent.
New Math/Illinois Math in the hands of a skilled teacher like Max Beberman - or in the hands of the teacher I had for 10th and 12th grades- was a wonder. With less skilled teachers, not as good. Also bear in mind that Max Beberman developed UICSM not at Generic Junior/Senior High. but at the University of Illinois lab school. That is, he developed it using students who were much better than the Lake Wobegon "better than average."
There was something lost when New Math/Illinois Math was used by less capable teachers on less capable students. I also suspect that those who do not have a good knowledge of basic arithmetic operations, before they encountered New Math, had difficulty.
The Illinois Math was just another disaster from the ed schools. An early version of "constructivist" learning, it was basically starting from a clean slate and asked the student (an elementary student mind you) to develop an "arithmetic" from first principles. A friend of mine who started out as a Physicist and is now a Music Professor whose son is my daughter's age agreed with me that this completely ignored how real children learn. His statement that "all children are not Gauss!" is absolutely on the mark. What he did not add was that most all teachers are not mathematicians. They are mostly Normal School grads!
I will admit my disliking of math all of my life. Even though I was a good student. I used to think I was 'bad' at it and held my nose while completing my homework. The only math I ever liked was geometry and that was due to the theorems portion when you could find many ways to answer the question!
However, my senior year of high school I took Trigonometry (no, I never did get to Calculus and got the dreaded 'liberal arts education' which allowed me to avoid it). My teacher was scary. He would pick out students who didn't finish their homework or didn't know the answers, put them in front of the classroom and humiliate them.
This terrified me. I made sure I did my homework no matter what. Somehow I ended up with an A in the class, even though I despised it!
I didn't appreciate math until I was an adult. Wish I could retake everything now. I just wasn't mature enough for the topic, I think. Or lazy.
I was fortunate to have been taught in government schools by largely very good teachers who hadn't gotten the memos from Educrat Central. It also didn't hurt that I ended up having a bit of an aptitude for math. I was perplexed to find out in the early 1970's, while a grad student, that the last math curriculum planning operation that had an actual mathematician on board had been disbanded, leaving Ed Psych and EdD folk running the asylum.
I always loved math, but I will admit some teaching assistants I endured as an undergrad tried my patience and fortitude mightily. When I got to grad school, I had some extraordinary profs who had we students build up most of classical mathematics from foundational axioms (algebra, analyis, topology) using the Socratic method. That internalized the 'road map' for me, and it has served me very well.
The "same old, same old" in American public schools is Education's latest "shiny toy." That is certain. Math is not immune. I taught high school math for 25+ years and can testify that I rode in and out in more than a few shiny toys - not nearly as many as elementary teachers, however. I noticed that some of the comments indicate some math and number lovers. It's a curse.
The worst thing is the Education Ph.D. Ph.Ds are suppose to do research. So they experiment on children. And they aren't "successful" unless their new improved education method is adopted. Doesn't matter if it works because it'll be 20 or so years before anyone convince those vested in the new method that it is wrong. Actually, they start dying out and the victims of their new, improved start getting into positions to offer their new and improved.
Teaching is a vocation. It isn't research. It isn't academic. It is a skilled job. You need masters of the skill who did the work, not some book taught moron with a peckerhead degree.
I too love the Calculus. I was never very good at math, mostly through lack of effort, but when I encountered college Calculus the combination of a good teacher and I guess a bit of maturity it all clicked. I scored a perfect hundred on the final exam pissing off my classmates and just thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of mastering a complex subject. Math is about understanding and applying the rules and pattern recognition. If you can grasp the rules and learn to apply them to a variety of problem sets you can do math.
When I first took Calculus the professor was Chinese and difficult to understand with his thick accent. He would spend the entire class period with his back to the class writing equations on the blackboard with his right hand while erasing the panel to his left with his left hand. He would be explaining the equation in front of him which he was blocking from view. After filling the blackboard he would shift left and keep writing. I believe he knew calculus but I know he couldn't teach it. What saved me and most of the other students was an exceptionally will written text book. I still have the book 52 years later and still enjoy reading it to refresh my memory.
I was part of the first group of kids afflicted with the SMSG (School Mathematics Study Group AKA New Math) at my school. Base 12! Set theory! It totally rocked compared to boring old arithmetic.
The fly in this happy ointment appeared in 5th grade. It was a split class with 5th and 6th graders together. Poor Miss O. was horrified to find none of her 5th graders could do long division. Oh Noes! Remedial math time.
Funny thing is, as a computer programmer, that base 2, base 16, set theory stuff comes in quite handy for cryptography, linear algebra, graph theory and general low-level coding.
My folks moved around a lot; i went to ten schools in ten years. It seemed like every time I went to a new school, I would have to relearn English grammar and math. I could usually get good grades by writing good papers and in lit but for the life of me, I can't parse a sentence. I write well; I just don't know what the parts are called. Unfortunately for me, I never had a good math teacher until college. Aside from changing the teaching styles, as well as the concepts, I don't think I ever learned the coherent basics of mathematics. I had changed schools in the middle of Algebra II in high school, for example and I could not convince the teacher that I didn't know what she was talking about. She would tell me that I just needed to keep up. It turned at that Geometry was a prerequisite for that class and in my previous school, that wasn't the case.
I would ask my high school math teachers, "What is this good for?" and I would be told, "You will need it in college." Since I planned on joining the Navy, that was an immediate disincentive. Later, I would learn to use certain kinds of math in navigation, plotting contacts in Combat Information Center, using a Dead Reckoning tracer and much more. Then, after I got out, I rebuilt engines for a while and used more. Finally, I went back to college to take chemistry and then it clicked. I think that instead of teaching so much theory, if I had just been told this is what it is used for, I probably would have learned it.