Math Monday::Teach Less Math in School.

I discovered last night that my favorite Math guru and total inspiration, Sue VanHattum (and her blog, Math Mama Writes was referenced in an article in Psychology Today, called When Less Is More, The Case For Teaching Less Math In School. Intrigued with the punk rock title of the article, I immediately went over to check it out.

It. rocked. my. world.

Seriously, go read it.

Right now.

Normally I don’t like people to leave my blog in the middle of my post, but I’ll make an exception…just promise to come back!

For realz, why are you still reading this?!

For all you who don’t want to hyperlink out of my little heavenly haven of bloggy goodness, I’ll sum up.

In 1929, the superintendent of schools in Ithaca, New York, sent out a challenge to his colleagues in other cities. “What,” he asked, “can we drop from the elementary school curriculum?” He complained that over the years new subjects were continuously being added and nothing was being subtracted, with the result that the school day was packed with too many subjects and there was little time to reflect seriously on anything.

Another superintendent replied back with a shocking answer….drop arithmetic. And why would he say this?! Read on:

“For some years I had noted that the effect of the early introduction of arithmetic had been to dull and almost chloroform the child’s reasoning facilities.” All that drill, he claimed, had divorced the whole realm of numbers and arithmetic, in the children’s minds, from common sense, with the result that they could do the calculations as taught to them, but didn’t understand what they were doing and couldn’t apply the calculations to real life problems. He believed that if arithmetic were not taught until later on–preferably not until seventh grade–the kids would learn it with far less effort and greater understanding.

Considering that we here at Child’s Play have intuitively done just such an outrageous thing as not seriously begin a math curriculum during early and middle elementary years, this really peaked my interest.

Benezet followed his outrageous suggestion with an outrageous experiment. He asked the principals and teachers in some of the schools located in the poorest parts of Manchester to drop the third R from the early grades. They would not teach arithmetic–no adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing. he asked the teachers of the earlier grades to devote some of the time that they would normally spend on arithmetic to the new third R–recitation. The children would be asked to talk about topics that interested them–experiences they had had, movies they had seen, or anything that would lead to genuine, lively communication and discussion. This, he thought, would improve their abilities to reason and communicate logically.

This, also is what we’ve done just instinctively. Math is more than numbers. Numbers are a way of expressing math, but at it’s core, mathmatics is all about logic, reason, problem solving, and a certain kind of thought process. And those things can be done without numbers at all, and strengthen a mind to prepare it for dealing with numbers later. But I digress.

So, how did his experiment turn out? The article goes in to greater depth, but in short:

Benezet showed that kids who received just one year of arithmetic, in sixth grade, performed at least as well on standard calculations and much better on story problems than kids who had received several years of arithmetic training. This was all the more remarkable because of the fact that those who received just one year of training were from the poorest neighborhoods–the neighborhoods that had previously produced the poorest test results.

Isn’t that so counter culture?!

Speaking just from our experience, since we’ve unknowingly recreated that experiment ourselves, our math abilities only took off when we dropped a math curriculum altogether.

What we’ve done instead is supplement our day with lots of critical thinking skills, lots of word play, lots of measuring, counting, and questioning, lots of diagraming and organizing…

And I can’t forget all the brain Teasers that get your mind thinking.

When doing math, think outside the box…especially if you have an outside of the box thinker!

link through to past Math Monday posts here

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6 Responses

  1. I am so blushing right now!

    I disagree with Peter, though. If those kids are in school, they ought to have math play time, instead of math lessons, but please don’t leave it out entirely. Benezet didn’t. Having kids measure is math play time.

    • Blush away, you rock! Lol

      I agree with you, and I think if Peter understood the semantics he would too. So many people equate ‘math’ with only one rote style (like school teaches it) that they feel they have to throw out the math with the style.

      I like how you put it…math play!!

      Sent from my iPhone

  2. what if you have a kid who is a total think in the box type?

  3. Love it! Playing and having fun with anything makes it memorable-why not math. And because we are learning all the time-why not life?
    Something else I love is that even though you’re an unschooler you are not afraid of “subject matter” Sure your not sitting down to specifically do math or carve out math time. You are showing how math is just part of your everyday life. Thanks!

  4. Thought this was great fun and just what I needed to read. THanks for sharing!

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