In the latest adventure of “John Dewey,” who’s studying to become a math teacher, he watches videos of math teachers using the discovery method.
This lesson was about parabolas, how the various constants in the vertex form of the equation for a parabola governed its shape, location and direction. He had them split into four groups, each group exploring what happens when you vary one particular constant. They were to use colored pipe cleaners to show the various parabolas on a poster. When through, the students all convened around the central table again and the teacher asked many questions which the students answered, some correctly, some not. There was no “That’s right, that’s wrong,” just more questions.
The teachers in both videos were extremely good at what they were doing, which brought home an unsettling realization to me: You can be very good at doing something that is absolutely horrible.
An ed school classmate thought students learn more by doing a lab. Dewey disagreed.
I said that the same information could have been imparted directly while still challenging students to answer key questions all in a much shorter amount of time. Reaction: Silence. Mr. NCTM moved on to the next comment from another woman who in all seriousness and with no sarcasm intended said “The teacher was very good at not answering the students’ questions.” There was unanimous agreement.
The teacher who pioneered new new math at my daughter’s middle school was very, very good. Most students liked his approach. When less-talented teachers tried it, students hated it. Some of the parents who got involved became leaders of California’s traditional math movement.