Mad Minute math: Bad for kids?

Should we stop making kids memorize times tables and ban Mad Minute Mondays? asks Jill Barshay on the Hechinger Report. Flash cards, drills — and especially timed quizzes — are “damaging” for kids, argues Jo Boaler, a Stanford education professor in Fluency Without Fear: Research Evidence on the Best Ways to Learn Math Facts.

These cards promote mathematical insight and number sense promote mathematical insight and number sense by depicting numbers in different ways, argues Boaler

These cards promote mathematical insight and number sense by depicting numbers in different ways, argues Jo Boaler.

“Drilling without understanding is harmful,” Boaler told Barshay. “I’m not saying that math facts aren’t important. I’m saying that math facts are best learned when we understand them and use them in different situations.”

Number sense is developed through “rich” mathematical problems, argues Boaler.

Too much emphasis on rote memorization, she says, inhibits students’ abilities to think about numbers creatively, to build them up and break them down. She cites her own 2009 study, which found that low achieving students tended to memorize methods and were unable to interact with numbers flexibly.

Also, memorizing times tables is boring, turning off high achievers, she believes.

I memorized the times tables in fourth grade. It wasn’t boring, because it didn’t take very long. In recent years, I’ve encountered many students who use calculators for the simplest problems and have no number sense.

Moms pass math anxiety to daughters

Mothers may be passing math anxiety — and low achievement — to their daughters, according to research by University of Chicago researcher Elizabeth Gunderson.

Saying “I’ve never been good at science” or “I can’t do math to save my life” sends a negative message to children. School-aged children tend to emulate the same-sex parent.

Teachers can transmit math anxiety, the study finds. Elementary education majors — predominantly female — have the highest math anxiety of any major. A 2010 study evaluated first and second graders taught by 17 different teachers.

At the beginning of the school year, there was no connection between the students’ math ability and their teachers’ math anxiety. By the end of the year, however, a dismaying relationship had emerged: The more anxious teachers were about math, the more likely the girls in their classes were to endorse negative stereotypes about females’ math ability, and the more poorly these girls did on a test of math achievement.

Don’t tell your kids you were bad at math, advises Esther J. Cepeda, a Washington Post columnist and a former teacher. She dreams of outlawing parental and societal complaints about how “hard,” “useless” or “stupid” math is.

The Baby-Einstein people teach their toddlers to group, sort and count, writes Cepeda, who taught first grade and high school algebra. But many parents don’t play with numbers with their children. Kids start school without number sense. By high school, they’re asking: “Why do we have to learn this? When will it ever matter?”

Everyone should study algebra, argues Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle.

Toddlers and tablets

Long before they start kindergarten, American children are playing with education tech at home, writes Alex Hernandez in Toddlers and Tablets on Education Next. At the iTunes store, “9 of the top 10 paid education apps are designed for small children, ages four and up.”

Touchscreens are the most intuitive interfaces ever created for small children. I still remember the weekend morning in 2008 when our 18-month-old padded into our bedroom, grabbed his mom’s new iPhone off the nightstand, turned on his favorite song, and began pawing through photos.

. . . Leading app developer Duck Duck Moose believed it was designing for four- and five-year-olds when it noticed two-year-olds using its math apps. Dragonbox, an algebra program for children eight and up was being used by five- and six-year-olds. No one informed these kids that they weren’t ready for higher-level math.

Children do incredible things when they are free to explore and learn.

Parents are dubious about young children using technology, Hernandez concedes. He thinks tablets are seen as too expensive for grubby-fingered preschoolers. There’s also a backlash against excess screen time. Education apps should supplement, not replace, hands-on play, Hernandez writes.

App creators shouldn’t just try to teach pre-academic skills, such as categorizing objects or recognizing letter sounds.

 . . . research suggests that children’s ability to pay attention and control their impulses (i.e., executive functions) are better predictors of future academic success than IQ. Children’s ability to manage their attention, emotions, and behaviors; learn appropriate ways to interact with others; and be creative are equally, if not more, important but often harder to target than pre-academic skills.

But not impossible. App maker Kidaptive recently released a turn-taking game in which children paint pictures alongside two animated characters. Children using the app must literally sit and wait for the animated characters to complete their turns before resuming their own painting (defying many conventions of good game design). The metrics don’t lie. Kids are being patient and taking turns.

The best new apps will develop preschoolers’ executive function, creativity, number sense and phonemic awareness, Hernandez predicts. Schools may be slow to use these games. Parents already are buying them.

Number sense or nonsense?

Twitchy features Common Core math problems that try to teach number sense.

From News12WX RichHoffman?@hoffmanrich

3rd grade common core math. See image. I have a math minor and it doesn’t make sense to me.

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Saxon’s Core-aligned seventh-grade math book is riddled with errors, writes Michelle Malkin.

Can ‘number sense’ be taught?

First graders with poor “number sense” rarely catch up in math skills, concludes a University of Missouri study. But it’s not clear how parents or preschools can teach number sense.

What’s involved? Understanding that numbers represent different quantities — that three dots is the same as the numeral “3” or the word “three.” Grasping magnitude — that 23 is bigger than 17. Getting the concept that numbers can be broken into parts — that 5 is the same as 2 and 3, or 4 and 1. Showing on a number line that the difference between 10 and 12 is the same as the difference between 20 and 22.

Factors such as IQ and attention span didn’t explain why some first-graders did better than others.

Math learning disabilities often aren’t diagnosed till fifth grade, much too late, says Dr. Kathy Mann Koepke, of NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

David Geary, who conducted the Missouri study, thinks parents can help children develop number sense before they start school.  NIH’s Mann Koepke urges parents to talk to young children about “magnitude, numbers, distance, shapes as soon as they’re born.”

– Don’t teach your toddler to count solely by reciting numbers. Attach numbers to a noun — “Here are five crayons: One crayon, two crayons…” or say “I need to buy two yogurts” as you pick them from the store shelf — so they’ll absorb the quantity concept.

— Talk about distance: How many steps to your ball? The swing is farther away; it takes more steps.

— Describe shapes: The ellipse is round like a circle but flatter.

— As they grow, show children how math is part of daily life, as you make change, or measure ingredients, or decide how soon to leave for a destination 10 miles away,

However, researchers don’t really know why some kids get that 3, three and xxx are the same thing and others don’t. Children with poor phonemic awareness need to work harder to distinguish the sounds in a word. Perhaps some kids need to work harder — or differently — to see mathematical relationships.


Learning to speak data

Statistics is the new grammar, writes Clive Thompson in the May issue of Wired. The statistically illiterate can’t understand public policy debates, which increasingly come down to what the data mean. Is the economy improving? Do childhood vaccines increase the risk of autism? Is global warming for real?  Is the latest political poll reliable?

Statistics should now be a core part of general education. You shouldn’t finish high school without understanding it reasonably well — as well, say, as you can compose an essay.

Schools teach probability — red, blue and yellow marbles in a bag — and “a bit of basic data analysis,” responds Mr. D of I Want to Teach Forever. But math teachers often gloss over “problem solving, finding reasonable answers and determining what data is needed to solve a problem.”

Aside from problem solving skills, we don’t spend enough time on proportional thinking (everything from using percents to measurement and scale) and just plain number sense that everyone could use on a daily basis. What we’re left with is a nation of people who fear math, who run to a calculator for the most rudimentary problems.

Some people live the data-driven life, writes Gary Wolf in the New York Times Magazine.