On Edspresso, Barry Garelick responds to an Education Week attack (requires registration) by T.C. O’Brien on “purist’ proponents of “parrot math,” who allegedly want students to “copy what the teacher says and give it back at test time” with no understanding.
Garelick defends learning math facts and skills.
The charge against the traditional approach is that facts and skills are learned in isolation and students donâ€™t connect them with solving problems. I donâ€™t doubt that there are traditional math books that are badly written; Iâ€™ve seen them. But Iâ€™ve seen just as many that are good; and in fact, I used them when I was in grade school. I have them, courtesy of the Internet. Addition and subtraction facts are presented along with word problems to show just how these concepts are applied. Multiplication and division are clearly explained with examples of how they are used: Six boxes of apples with 3 apples in each box totals how much? 6 6 6 which is 6 three times, or 6 x 3. Seems connected. I also seem to recall problems for which we were asked not to calculate the answer but to tell whether multiplication or division was needed to solve the problem.
I fail to understand how Mr. Oâ€™Brien finds such approach as a manifestation of â€œDonâ€™t make sense.â€ Achieving mastery to the point of automaticity is the goal, to free the mind to solve more complex problems.
I tutored a ninth grader who took about 45 seconds to figure out 6 X 3 = 18. I wouldn’t let her use a calculator. She was trying to learn algebra without fast, automatic knowledge of basic arithmetic. It did not work well.