Sunday, March 3, 2013

Skills required.... Not quadratic formula....

So prior to teaching I was an engineer and manager for about a decade.  Then I started working on my masters in instruction to teach mathematics.  I was 33 years old when I started, was successful, and could no longer do the quadratic formula from memory, because .... wait for it.....   I did not need to.  But I could do algebra on demand, could find the quadratic formula on google to get roots, and could use the math I knew to dig in and solve problems.  The true reality of math required for being successful.

So as we start chasing the Common Core and its requirements we need to take pause and ask what is really needed.  Math has natural beauty, it ties together processes and our world - that is what students need to see.  They also need to be able to take large problems and rip through them looking for patterns and possibilities.  Meaning they need to be good at Algebra, graphing and problem solving.

Yet I fear these skills are going to be considered low level by teachers looking at the core (get them done in 9th grade -- know 'em, then never forget them, which we know doesn't work).  Most of the standards in High School are well above that, leading to my fear that the Core will scare teachers into showing everything, proceduralizing everything and developing a bunch of students who think math is just memorizing (an old school Biology course).

Worst yet, it will lead to a group of students who do not want to attack a math problem unless it fits into a little box they have seen...  I see it often with students who transfer to my school, students who won't start a problem unless they know the "procedure" to finish.  The problems we need to solve in our world are not this clean.

The Core will not produce problem solvers unless we look at our students and test them for true skills.  Yet it remains to be seen it we are going to test well, or measure end results well...    If we don't it will be another program with all the right thoughts and none of the right results.