Dr. Stat

Dr. Stat is a Statistics Professor. This blog is his opportunity to share ideas and opinions about education (especially math education), politics, and whatever else comes up.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Intel Science Competition & Foreign Born Students

From The New York Sun, 1/31/05, p. 11, by Andrew Wolf

"It appears to me that there are a disproportionate number of foreign-born students among the finalists and semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search competition. Moreover, many of these students appear to have received their early education in their country of origin, not here in America. Is there a lesson here?I think there is. Education practices in America are designed to "level off" all students into the vast middle ground lest we damage the self-esteem of those performing at lower levels. "

We teach math at the lowest common denominator, eh?

Once upon a time, there were teachers with "less" education than today's teachers, who nevertheless produced students who could do math. Today's teachers are "educated" in all kinds of "methods" for teaching math, like discovery learning, cooperative learning, etc., but in the end they aren't getting results. Reading journals of Math education gives the idea that if we could just find the right combination of activities or the right order to teach topics in or the right explanation for those difficult concepts, our students would learn better. Folks, we've been trying this approach for 50 years and gone nowhere but down. People used to know how to teach math effectively. But don't expect the Academic establishment to admit that they've been spinning their wheels for 50 years or so!

There's nothing more important than mastery of skills and concepts. It simply has to be done. There are many methods to achieve that goal, and a good teacher can use discovery learning, cooperative groups, and many other methods at her disposal to see that the job gets done. Drill and competative games are also valuable activities. But as long as educators think that going through the motions (following a particular stlye of instruction or lesson plan) is more important than insuring students learn (master) concepts and skills in a thorough and permanent manner, we are going to fail at the education game.