My kids have been back in school a mere two days following winter break, and I’m already completely dismayed. My son brought home a project where he earned high praise for concluding that 16 + 16 + 16 +16 = 63. My son is really good at math, and this was simply a calculating error by a little boy. What’s the teacher’s excuse, though? Either she missed this blatant error (and I say blatant because any adult can figure out in about a millisecond that there’s something wrong with the answer); or she didn’t realize it was an error; or she decided not to harm is “fragile ego” by pointing out the error. No matter the reason, she’s at fault in my book.
As for my daughter, she was in tears the other night struggling to deal with homework that involved pattern recognition in number strings. For example, she was asked to identify the next two numbers in this string: 1, 3, 6, 8, 12, 14, 19. While the answer may be self-evident to us, it wasn’t to her. I quickly figured out two things: one, the teacher hadn’t taught the class what steps to take to figure out the relationship between sequential numbers and, two, the teacher never bothered to explain why any of this mattered.
It’s point two that really gets my goat. What made Montessori wonderful was that the children felt that what they were learning was meaningful. Everything they were taught had a context that made it absolutely compelling to the child to learn the underlying technique. They were also taught math, not as a series of formulas, but as a series of almost magical steps that explain things. Thus, when I explained to my daughter the real beauty and utility of pattern recognition (using our tile back splash as an example and embarking on a rather muddy explanation of the Fibonacci numbers) she was mesmerized. From there, she was receptive to learning the steps involved in identifying patterns in number chains, and then she quickly mastered the material. All of this would have taken me minutes (minutes the teacher could easily have spared in her “busy” day), but for the fact that I first spent 30 minutes calming my daughter down enough to listen to me.
All of which gets me to today’s news story from California: the California state Senate refused to reappoint Joe Nu