Making Education Fun, Creative - And Impossible

The Providence Journal, Sep 23, 2000
Op-ed by Stephen M. Hollister

I would like to comment on the Sept. 17 article by Julia Steiny in the Education & Employment section ("Math comes alive in Clayville").

She discussed the use of a new method of teaching math, called "Investigations," by Clayville Elementary School in Scituate. Investigations is one of the new ways of teaching mathematics that changes the role of the teacher to that of facilitator. It also eliminates the tedious rote memorization of basic facts -- "drill and kill."

I think that this is such a good idea that it should be applied to other difficult tasks, like learning to play the piano. Just think, no more tedious scales to practice and you can figure out for yourself how to hold your hands and position your fingers. You know, there is more than one way to solve a problem. Everyone should decide what works best for himself or herself.

You would also have groups of two or more taking lessons at the same time.

The teacher would pass out the music and the students would decide on the best approach to keeping time and to playing the notes. They would make an oral and written presentation about their solution and be critiqued by other student groups. The students would have portfolios to keep track of their best work.

Of course, the students would have to be able to play the music, but there would be no more nerve-wracking recitals. Instead, the students would tape their best attempt at the music at home and then make oral presentations to the parents and then play their tapes. Grading could be done using a rubric that takes into account all aspects: attitude, problem solving, oral and written presentation, and, oh yes, playing. Playing the piano should not be something for just the elite few who can adapt to the traditional approach to teaching piano. If piano teaching and learning is fun and creative, then there will be more people in the world who can say; "I like the piano!"

If this sounds ludicrous to you, then you should worry about what schools are foisting on your children in the name of improved math education. With very little oversight and very few (self-serving) studies being done, schools are using your children as guinea pigs for these new educational theories. These changes are not trivial. They constitute a complete reversal in their approach to teaching: student-group centered, rather than teacher centered, and a top-down approach to teaching material, rather than a bottom-up approach that focuses on fundamental, basic skills. At the very least, this is a high risk change to teaching and you have no choice in the matter. These programs may increase the number of students who say that they like math, but they will decrease the number of students who will be prepared to tackle the difficulties of algebra, trigonometry, and calculus.


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