Peter Wood has a tour de force editorial today in the Chronicle, titled “How Culture Keeps Our Students Out of Science”. Snippet:

Students respond more profoundly to cultural imperatives than to market forces. In the United States, students are insulated from the commercial market’s demand for their knowledge and skills. That market lies a long way off — often too far to see. But they are not insulated one bit from the worldview promoted by their teachers, textbooks, and entertainment. From those sources, students pick up attitudes, motivations, and a lively sense of what life is about. School has always been as much about learning the ropes as it is about learning the rotes. We do, however, have some new ropes, and they aren’t very science-friendly. Rather, they lead students who look upon the difficulties of pursuing science to ask, “Why bother?”

Jackie at Continuities is wondering whether the usual path through high school mathematics — Algebra I, then Geometry, then Algebra II, etc. — is out of order, and whether geometry ought to come first:

As far as I can tell the only difference between Alg II and Pre-Calc is that trig is taught during Pre-Calc and Pre-Calc introduces the concept of the limit. Functions are developed a bit more rigorously too.

The first semester of Algebra II is mostly a repeat of Algebra I as they’ve forgotten it with the year “off” during Geometry.

Why not then teach Geometry first? I’m talking about plane and solid geometry with an emphasis on reasoning, and right angle trig. Obviously there would need to be some supplementing needed (work with radicals, solving equations). Most students have “seen” the solving of equations in 8th grade (Have they mastered it? No, of course not).

I’m a little surprised you don’t hear about this sort of thing happening more often:

A Roncalli High School administrator is asking a judge to force the Internet site Facebook to identify the pranksters who hijacked his identity for a phony Webpage.

Tim Puntarelli, Roncalli [High School]‘s dean of students, and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese is suing Facebook and the anonymous creators of the false Webpage the suit claims contained false, embarrassing, and defaming information about Puntarelli and Roncalli High School.

The page creators used the Facebook page to pose as Puntarelli and send emails to Roncalli students, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in Marion Superior Court.

Facebook officials removed the page when they were notified of the site on April 18, but refused to disclose the identity of the creators without a court order, according to the lawsuit.

It’s apropos of this story about how a court ruled that a teacher who allegedly slapped a student while trying to restore order in a gym class was protected from battery charges under the state’s corporal punishment laws. Saying that what the teacher did — and it’s not obvious that anybody got actually slapped in this incident — under duress is protected under law, and saying that teachers “should” slap students — as if it were a first line of defense — are, of course, very different things. But I guess the interns writing the poll don’t really grasp that. (The headline at the link Sun-Times article is almost as badly off.)

The scary thing is that the voting is currently 51%/49% in favor of slapping as a classroom management technique.

Indiana, usually a non-factor in Presidential politics because the lateness of our primary, has suddenly become a hot place to visit by Democratic candidates. But it looks like Hillary will have to keep on looking for a place to stop in South Bend tomorrow:

South Bend school officials have rejected a request by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign to hold a rally in the Washington High School gym on Friday.

South Bend Community School Corp. board President Sheila Bergerson says Clinton’s visit would have interfered with the school day. She says plans called for juniors and seniors to attend the public rally.

School board members denied the request Wednesday night. Bergerson says she worried that the school corporation would give the impression it was endorsing Clinton.

Kudos to Washington HS for saying “no” to a disruption in the school day. And anyway, how is it that Presidential…

A federal panel examining K-8 mathematics education in the USA has made some forthright recommendations, according to this article in the NYT today. Unlike many federal panels, this one has an uncommon amount of common sense in its conclusions. For example, this finding that is striking in the way it refrains from choosing sides in the math wars:

Parents and teachers in school districts across the country have fought passionately over the relative merits of traditional, or teacher-directed, instruction, in which students are told how to solve problems and then are drilled on them, as opposed to reform or child-centered instruction, which emphasizes student exploration and conceptual understanding. The panel said both methods have a role.

“There is no basis in research for favoring teacher-based or student-centered instruction,” said Dr. Larry R. Faulkner, the chairman of the panel, …

One of my linear algebra students is an education major doing student teaching. Today he showed me this method of simplifying radicals which he learned from his supervising teacher. Apparently it’s called the “Illini method”. Googling this term returns nothing math-related, so I think that term was probably invented by his supervisor, who went to college in Illinois.

The procedure goes as follows. Start with a radical to simplify, say \(\sqrt{50}\). Look under the radical and find a prime that divides it, say 5. Then form a two-column array with the original radical in the top-left, the divisor prime in the adjacent row in the right column, and the result you get from dividing the radicand by that prime number in the left column below the radical. In this case, it’s:

Here’s a promotional video for a new math curriculum from Pearson called enVisionMATH. (It must be a sign of the times that grade school math curricula have promotional videos.) Watch carefully.

Four questions about this:

Should it be a requirement of parenthood that you must remember enough 5th grade math to teach it halfway decently to your kids?

Does the smartboard come included with the textbooks?

Did anybody else have the overwhelming urge to yell “Bingo!” after about 2 minutes in?

When will textbook companies stop drawing the conclusion that because kids today like to play video games, talk on cell phones, and listen to MP3 players, that they are therefore learning in a fundamentally different way than anybody else in history?

A. If math were a color, it would be –, because –.

B. If it were a food, it would be –, because –.

C. If it were weather, it would be –, because –.

I’m not sure exactly what the point of an exercise like this is — perhaps the curriculum is just trying very studiously not to get too deep into mathematics itself, thereby teaching math without the social stigma of being very enthusiastic about it. Or maybe the idea is to get kids to see math from a different point of view, as a sort of oblique path through math anxiety.

Either way, it’s the wrong approach. The only way to come to terms with math, conquer math anxiety, and appreciate (and learn) the subject is… to get good at …

I am a mathematician and educator with interests in cryptology, computer science, and STEM education. I am affiliated with the Mathematics Department at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. The views here are my own and are not necessarily shared by GVSU.

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