New Math – New Technology = Failure by Elizabeth Green

The Saga Begins

  • This article starts with a story how Tekeshi Matsuyama, an elementary teacher in Japan in 1978, started teaching math by encouraging discussion so that students could better understand math’s procedures, properties, and proofs for themselves. This turned math from dull and boring memorization to challenging, stimulating fun. Ironically, the ideas that the Japanese use came from material he found in work done by America’s National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (N.C.T.M.). When a disciple of Matsuyama, Akihiko Takahashi, visited the United States, he found that it was difficult to find people using the world’s best methods for teaching math to children in the country that invented them. The same thing happened in the post Sputnik 60’s when another new math failed to catch on and there are previous historical examples of the same phenomena.

The Real Problem

  • The trouble starts when teachers are told to put innovative ideas into practice without much guidance on how to do it. The Common Core math standards are like earlier math reforms, only further refined and more ambitious. It also has a broader reach than organizations like the N.C.T.M. Unfortunately, these reforms have arrived without any good system for helping teachers learn to teach them. Typical Common Core training is about four days for all standards.
  • When done right, the standards can make math more concrete so that students don’t just memorize their times tables and other facts. Rather, they understand how math works and how to apply it to their real-life situations. In practice, however, teachers are unprepared, students are baffled, and parents are furious.
  • Such inadequate implementation makes reforms seem like absurd policy. (I certainly think so.) As a result, many people on the left and right of the political spectrum are battling to put a halt to Common Core implementation.
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