Tuesday, March 22, 2011

3/22/2011 Math Learning

Yesterday I was talking with my sister on the phone, and she educated me that "Singapore Math" is not a crunchy-granola math approach at all, where did I get that idea?

Though most home-schoolers do so for religious reasons, perhaps I was fooled by the Web sites and other things I read that indicated that the non-uber-religious homeschool set (the crunchy 10%) liked Singapore Math because of its alternative, visual, non-"rote" approach. My sister explained that it does certainly include some memorization and repetitive learning, which I guess all math learning has to have some of.

Today I ran into one of my favorites Dads that I've met through this crazy parenting journey. His son and Julian were pals in preschool, and now this Dad is back at TLC preschool for his daughter. He told me today that he's homeschooling (yes, you read that right, he is homeschooling -- first Dad I've ever heard of who homeschools!) his 1st-grader, because he felt that his local school was teaching at too low a level, especially in math. He said in kindergarten, they did practically no math at all, like addition and subtraction. Personally I'm fine with that, though it can set you behind for first grade. Then he added that his family is considering moving into the Cupertino school district, and I briefed him on my opinions on that.

Moments later, I ran into a mom who works at an elementary school, but isn't a teacher, and doesn't have a kid in school yet. Her oldest is Katrina's age and entering kindergarten. She told me about an online math curriculum ("GG math" or something??) that she seemed to think was great. It also promotes visual learning, demonstrating concepts through colorful blocks and such, and that the kids don't need parents to read instructions since it guides them through the exercises.

She was probably taken aback by my reaction, which wasn't supportive at all. Any homework that demands computer time from elementary kids would irritate me to no end. Why can't that visual conceptual learning be done without the bright screen and colors? It also doesn't scale up to 3 kids. She said it was just 20 minutes, but that's assuming they're focused for that whole 20 minutes and don't wander off and Web-surf for Nerf guns. With all 3 in school, they're all 3 supposed to take turns for 20 minutes on the computer? NO THANKS!! Or get their own? NO WAY!! We're talking little kids here!

I'm no teacher, so what the heck do I know, but I hate the idea that you have to resort to screens to get kids to pay attention and learn. Even if it works, my gut says it's a net loss with a major long-term downside. Sure, typing and Powerpoint are handy tools (just like the Basic simulator "Quite Basic" that Gabriel was using yesterday), but they should never be the centerpiece of any curriculum. If there really is no other way to teach something -- who wants to do Powerpoint on paper? -- then teach it, but "visual conceptual" math learning doesn't need a computer application, and the computer can easily distract from the point. Computer science is different -- teach that, fine. But that starts on paper, with binary arithmetic.

I sure wish my home-schooling Dad friend had been there to hear the Mom's description of this online visual math learning program. I think he comes more from the Tiger-Mom school of thought than the "visual conceptual learning" place, though it seems most parents light up at the idea of "online learning." Dave and I, both Silicon Valley engineers by trade, lean heavily Luddite on this.

To calibrate, here's a sample of Julian's first-grade homework from last week.

And a sample of Gabriel's math homework from last week. He also does word problems and filling in charts and boxes, the visual abstract stuff, which he hates.

This was all so much easier 40 years ago when I was learning it! Or was it??


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