Sunday, October 4, 2009

Standardization Kills Real Learning

I have not written about my math class much yet because I have been frustrated. My goal was to use the textbook as little as possible and to use authentic learning sources. The reality is that my scope, sequence, standards, and assessments are all mapped out for me with little wiggle room.

My first unit was on factors, multiples, and prime factorization. The more I think about these topics I find them to be quite abstract and separated from the "real world." The best real world example I could come up with was matching up hot dogs, ten in a package, with buns, 8 in a package, for multiples (Thanks to Becky Goerend for that tip on Twitter) to which another teacher responded, "I just let the extra buns rot in the frig."

This kind of example and others like it in the textbook just feel like the contrived story problems that drive students nuts. No one actually takes the time to figure out the right number of hot dogs and buns because nobody wants to buy 40 of them unless they are having a pretty big party!

I could have used multiples today when we bought candy for my son to bring as birthday treats for his class to make sure each student got the same amount. Instead we bought enough for each kid to have one package and we will eat the leftovers :) This is where math becomes too abstract and irrelevant to students because the questions that are asked in the book would never be worried about in the real world.

Although I do not have to use the textbook, each of our ten unit assessments (read tests) are already created for me by the district. I am required to use these tests. So on top of preparing (read teach to the test) students to take the MEAP next week (Michigan's assessment for NCLB) I feel that I have to teach to the test for every unit. I can not make an alternative assessment such as creating a mathcast or some other portfolio type project.

The push in this country to standardize everything in education to guarantee that each student receive an identical education is a fallacy and just plain ridiculous. It is time for the pendulum to swing back to professional teaching that is creative and individualized. We need to trust teachers to teach the right content at the right time for each student instead of trying to teach everybody as if they are in the same place at the same time. We need to start treating students as humans who are naturally curious, intelligent, and motivated by authentic learning experiences instead of as lab rats.

I am tired of hearing about how we are behind all of these other nations based on some test. The United States is still the creative center of the world. Last time I check the elite of the world stil come to our universities. This will eventually change if we continue down this overkill of standards and cookie cutter assessments that kill curiosity and creativity in our kids.


  1. Amen!

    I'm expected to differentiate my way to a standardized assessment. Or, I'm expected to differentiate, but not too far, because a little differentiation is OK, but too much differentiation might mean my students aren't getting a standardized education.

    Oy vey!

  2. I teach math and agree with your view of standardization. I work with students who attend a math enrichment program. I see every day how teaching to the test is destroying their creativity and interest in math. I have to constantly fight against it by showing students the joy of math that exists beyond the classroom.

    My students learn to program during my math classes. They can then apply the math they're learning there and in school to the games and apps they build. That's as close to a real use for math I can find, particularly for older students studying more complex ideas.

    I wonder, though, if every math concept needs a real world counterpart. I teach prime factorization as taking apart numbers to see what makes them work. The idea that every number has its own unique fingerprint can be interesting without application. And the ability to break down numbers makes future mathematical constructs much easier to learn. If students want a real world connection, I usually relate it to cryptography. They are fascinated by that topic.

    I recently published Math Apprentice, a multimedia site that connects math concepts with real world careers. I've watched the disconnect between school math and what really interests students grow and thought this might help bridge the gap. Students can experiment with math concepts that are used by video game programmers, computer animators, bicycle designers, and others. Your students may find some of the activities very interesting.

  3. @Colleen

    Thanks for commenting. You are much farther along in your math instruction than I am. I am very interested in how you have time to teach programming in your math class? We have just started the year and I already feel "behind" the pacing charts.

    I really like your description of prime factorization as the fingerprint of numbers.

    I have put your blog into my reader and am wondering if you are on Twitter. Do you have a link for your math apprentice site?

    Looking forward to learning more from you.

  4. @concretekax

    Well, I have the advantage of working outside the limits of the school day. I see my students for 90 min. I generally have the same group of students each year so they've been doing this for a while.

    I introduce programming by writing simple applets related to the math my students are studying. For example, when they were learning trig, I built a program that connected trig functions to computer animation. Kids generally want to know how they can do cool things like that so I used that curiosity as an opportunity to bring in some programming ideas. Now I'm doing it with middle school students as well. I wouldn't claim that my students are programmers but they are picking up some basic constructs and definitely see the value in learning this skill.

    I left out the url to Math Apprentice because I didn't want you to think I was a spammer. Here it is: Click on Explore the Math to get to the activity.

    I'm colleenk on Twitter but I've been very quiet there lately. However, I do perk up when I see the words math or programming (or LOST). I look forward to learning from you as well.