Since I have been delinquet (OK, absent) in blogging I thought I would get back in the saddle by posting a guest blog.

In my travels I meet lots of smart people. Gerry Varty has the unique ability to understand the "ivory tower" thoughts and the reality of every day teaching. Recently he shared a few thoughts about a favourite topic of mine, the currrent state of education vs the good old days. Jamie Vollmer calls this "nostesia", a combination of amnesia and nostalgia.

Anyway here is Gerry's communication...........

Every so often, somebody spends a few moments telling me about how the world is heading straight to Sheol in the proverbial handbasket.

That got my attention.
'They' removed basic facts from the curriculum?

How dare 'They'?

In that case, I sent them on a treasure hunt through the
Program of Studies to find where those concepts were indeed taught, and
connected them with somebody who teaches them.
They seemed surprised to discover that they had a misconception about
what was in the curriculum, but remained confused about why they thought it
wasn't there.

I lost a lot of sleep over that one... Was it the
resources? Was it the activities? Was it the focus on 'developing personal
strategies', or 'making sense and meaning' that replaced 'rote learning'?

While we're on the topic, why DID we replace rote
learning, since it worked so well for all of us?

All of that came back to me when my friend asked me the
question about Basic Facts, and it has been bubbling around in the cauldron
since then.

Until last night, when I read these lines on another teacher's blog...

"I'm not opposed to memorizing facts. Somewhere
along the line, I've memorized the various spells in Harry Potter, the
positions on a football field, and the lyrics to my favorite songs. I've
memorized lines from conversations, verses from the Bible, and
"facts" regarding Social Constructivism, Social Constructionism and
Social Connectivism. I never crammed for a test. I never wrote out the facts in
isolation under the watchful gaze of a teacher with a timer.

I learned these things through immersion, critical
thinking, context and play."

( From a Blog post written by John Spencer:

The insight that came to me last night wasn't a blinding flash of inspiration; it was more like one of those things you have always known, but never really thought much about that just sneaks up on you and whispers in your ear ...

See, the new Program of Studies doesn't 'do away with'
Basic Facts, Times Tables, Multiplication or Division, or Algorithms. The new Program of Studies recognizes that
those things are important enough to learn them well, in context, and that
there is a need to understand the 'Magic' of mathematics, from numbers and
arithmetic all the way through to Algebra, and beyond that to Calculus.

Math isn't a series of disconnected and discrete
routines, any more than a bunch of parts flying in close formation is an
airplane. Mathematics is about
generalization, about inductive thought, about pattern and order, about
abstract relationships, and yes, it's about basic facts and algorithms.

In fact, it's the THINKING that goes into basic facts and
algorithms that creates the more complex and interconnected parts of
mathematics.

Without that thinking, you just can't get to higher math,
and that's the lesson here. 'Rote
Learning' wasn't good enough for us, either.
That's why so few of us understand polynomial algebra, motion
trigonometry, functional relationships, and related rates. We all took enough math to understand those
things, but very few of us know enough math to TEACH them well, and most of us
gleefully bailed on math the first chance we got ...

At the end of the day, it's still important that kids can
DO multiplication and Division, and KNOW their basic facts. But it's more important than ever that they
UNDERSTAND those things and can extrapolate them to new situations, make
conjectures about possible solutions, and generalize what they have learned to
form the base for learning new ideas.

The contradiction here is that memorization just might
not be the best way to LEARN those things.

Gerry Varty

@Vanishing_Pt

I think by memorization, you mean, memorization without context, without understanding.

ReplyDeleteI naturally memorize (as in commit to my long-term memory) that which is useful to me, and which I use often. We often skipped the "useful to me" part in our previous systems of math education, and focused only on the second piece.

Great post Gerry.