Teaching better by teaching less

November 13, 2009 at 12:47 pm 5 comments

I wonder if this idea would help computing education, too.  If students aren’t getting it, maybe you should redouble your efforts on a smaller set of goals and learning objectives?

Middle school students in every racial, ethnic and income group show greater mastery of mathematics — including algebraic reasoning, statistics and geometry — than they did three years ago.

Educators attribute much of the progress to Oregon’s embracing a national recommendation to drastically scale back the number of math topics covered in each grade.

via More Oregon students are getting math | Oregon Education – OregonLive.com.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Garth  |  November 13, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    But how much are they missing? Are they going to need the deleted topics/concepts? I alway wonder if the people who come up with these ideas believe they have had some brilliant insight. Of course students are going to do better if more time is spent on each topic but there is a point where kids have to work to learn. As a math teacher I do think we have a tendency to cram too much into a year but there is a responsibility to ensure that students are taught what they are going to need. Little Johnny may get terrible grades because he is getting buried with too much content but there is also the possibility that little Johnny get terrible grades because he is lazy or dumb as a box of rocks. Less content will not fix either of those problems.

    Reply
    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  November 13, 2009 at 4:19 pm

      Let’s assume that we have two options: We can teach a bunch of things at a shallow manner, so that student remember some things but don’t understand much deeply, or we can teach a few things deeply. The evidence from cognitive science is clear on this choice — understanding a few things well is much better than knowing a little about a lot. Things understood well tend to transfer. You can use them in more situations, and you can infer a lot of things that you don’t know. Marcia Linn used to spend an entire year covering what was supposed to be a month of eighth grade science in California, and her students did as well as any other 8th graders on end of year science tests, because they could infer the answers to the rest of the questions. We can come up with situations where students need to know things you skipped, but books like NRC’s “How People Learn” are pretty clear that students are better off understanding deeply a few things then knowing little about a lot.

      Reply
  • 3. Garth  |  November 14, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    I agree all the way, it is just the “baby with the bathwater” thing that make me nervous. I did the honors calc route in college. We covered about a fourth of the material as the regular courses but anything we did not cover we could derive or understand quickly. More is not better but sometimes less is not either. Finding that happy medium is the real hard part. I teach HS math and CS. Almost any HS curriculum committee with “traditional” teachers and administrators on it will fight tooth and nail against losing a topic. “We WILL do chapters 1 thru 12 in the brand new text book we just bought”. Most HS math curriculum is driven by a textbook. It is a fact of life most teachers do not like but simply do not have the time to correct. Texts like to cover everything under the sun. Until a popular publisher pushes a “quality not quantity” text I am afraid quantity will dominate the classroom. “My mind is made up, do not confuse me with facts” seems to be the approach to the quality vs quantity argument.

    Reply
  • 4. thoughtcounts Z  |  November 14, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    This is a completely plausible outcome, but the assessment is not well-defined. I don’t see a clear statement in the article about how exactly they are getting this statistic, that students have improved mastery over the past three years. Is it the same test as from three years ago? Or is it a test only on the new set of material being covered?

    It does seem pretty obvious that by going slower over less material, more people will understand that material well… and I suppose if you really are able to separate out the extraneous nonsense and pare down your curriculum to what really matters, you ought to do that.

    Please, though, for any teachers reading this: I remember what middle school was like for me about 15 years ago. I was bored all the time in math class (and a lot of other classes), and presumably that was with curricula that had “quantity.” I felt like we went over simple topics forever and ever. I can’t imagine what would happen if my teachers opted for so-called “quality” instead.

    Reply
  • 5. Private Schools in Atlanta  |  November 27, 2009 at 10:47 am

    I agree with Mark. I’ve often felt that the answer to the US not keeping up with other countries in math and science, could be attributed to the liberalization of curriculum to meet the agenda of “building a more well-rounded student.” I still believe that that is what higher education is for. Although, I’m open to argument, here.

    Reply

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