Sunday, December 6, 2009

Out In Left Field

I haven't been around in education a long time, but I've been around enough teachers to see how very different we are all are in our philosophies of how children shoulCheck Spellingd be taught. I've heard teachers talk about the education "pendulum" that swings back and forth bringing with each swing a past idea that has been reinvigorated somehow. We have all been exposed to so many different approaches and for the "right out of college" teachers like myself, I was taught what is the current trend in education as were teachers 10, 20, or 30 years ago.

I have been pleased to see that so many other educators from around the country have been checking out the blog. I don't know about your state, but in the state of Indiana where I am from, it is the year to adopt a new math textbook. This is my 3rd textbook adoption and I am a little excited about it. For the past two years, everything in my district has been literacy, literacy, literacy. It's a breath of fresh air to talk about something new! I'm also a little excited because I love teaching math.

Being one of those "newbies" I was trained and taught the current trend in math education - inquiry math or as you may know it "reform math". If you are not familiar with these approaches, the philosophy is that children need to work with the big picture of math and form concepts for themselves in different contexts rather than being taught "the way" and numerous algorithms (like many of us were taught). People who believe in inquiry teach from situations rather than a textbook, look for thinking patterns in addition to the right answer, and are more of a facilitator during math rather than a "stand up at the board and talk" teacher. Doesn't seem like it can be that bad, right?

I feel very comfortable teaching in an inquiry math setting. I find that the inquiry approach meshes with my philosophy of children being actively engaged in their learning and being part of a learning community. However, that is not the attitude by all. Many people do not understand inquiry math and the benefit it can have for children. I've heard teachers talk about how it does not meet math standards, how struggling children fail with the approach, and how children see it as playtime and social time. I will be the first to admit that teaching in an inquiry classroom takes a shift of mind for all - teachers and students - and cannot be successful without the proper planning and implementation.

So what does this all mean when it comes down to math textbook adoption? Of course, schools want to stay current with best practices, but to what extent is it supported? What if your school made you teach in an inquiry math setting if you didn't support it or believe in it? To be honest, I find myself in the middle. I definitely see the extreme value of teaching inquiry math. I also value my students knowing "how" to do math. Yes, it is powerful to "discover" multiplication, but at some point, you need to know those facts to become more fluent in problem solving. So what am I going to do when I get my box of new textbooks materials next year? Nothing. I am going to continue to do what I do - teach my students what they are ready for. I don't feel to affected by this whole adoption. We already use many different resources in our classroom - Purdue University Calumet materials, Project M3, Math Out of the Box, Contexts in Mathematics, Mini-economy, Singapore Math, and yes, even materials associated with the textbook. Wouldn't anyone do that?

Anyways, I wanted to share a link with you. Dr. Katherine Beals is a professor and past teacher from Pennsylvania. She has a blog called "Out in Left Field" where she questions the use of approaches like inquiry/reform math, cooperative learning, and other approaches that are on the other side of the spectrum from direct teaching. Dr. Beals main argument is that these practices do not support the needs of students with autism or other issues and why math abilities of students from some European and Asian countries surpass those of American students. I was a little hesitant to read at first only because I know what my beliefs are, but I was surprised at how interested I was in her argument. I recommend you check it out. The link is below.

Out In Left Field -
What do you think?

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