"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Friday, November 28, 2014

How Should Teachers Teach Math?

Seeing little children enjoy math through games and manipulatives does seem promising. Having the pupils engaged in what they are trying to learn seems the best way to go. The proof, however, still depends on whether students are indeed learning. For this reason, it is always important to gauge how much learning really occurs during these activities. Teachers are increasingly using child-centered activities, introducing calculators, and even utilizing music and movement to help students learn how to add and subtract numbers. The question that still needs to be answered, however, is whether these schemes actually work. Unfortunately, the answer from research is no. The following is an article published in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis:

The findings in the above article are in fact no different from what British educators have found by observing classrooms in international math exams' high-scoring Shanghai as described in a previous article on this blog, How Should Teachers Teach. The work by Morgan, Farkas and Maczuga looks at students grouped according to various levels of having mathematical difficulties. Unfortunately, most classroom teachers gravitate towards student-centered activities and use of manipulatives when facing a classroom of pupils particularly challenged in math. This does not help as the above study demonstrates. Children experiencing difficulties in math need direct explicit instruction from teachers. This is a large study. It involves more than three thousand classrooms in the United States. Yet, the conclusion is the same to what was observed in Shanghai:

Above copied from the World Economic Forum

Improvements in education require paying attention to research. Oftentimes, what goes on inside classrooms is determined by what is fashionable or attractive on the surface, Education must be guided by evidence. In this case, it is quite clear: The old proven method by which we learned mathematics from our teachers decades ago, "chalk and talk", remains the most effective way.

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