Seeking the 'science of math' teaching
Basing early literacy teaching on evidence of what works -- the "science of reading" -- has taken off in the last 10 years. Teachers are being trained in the most effective ways to teach foundational reading skills. Districts are adopting research-based curricula.
What about math?, asks Holly Korbey on Education Post. Even more students are floundering in math than in reading. The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress scores show the greatest loss in math proficiency since 1990.
“Take every single thing that’s been written about the science of reading, and hit ‘find/replace’ for math,” said Sarah Powell, associate professor of special education at the University of Texas, Austin. She also leads a group of psychologists, cognitive scientists and math educators committed to evidence-based instruction, called, fittingly, The Science of Math. “Just as we know there are foundational skills in reading, there is the same thing in math. Schools have been swayed by sexy practices, but that’s not how people learn.”
Science-of-math advocates hope to make educators aware of the research on how children learn math, writes Korbey.
Research supports five main areas of math instruction that are linked to improved student outcomes: explicit, systematic instruction; visual representations and hands-on tools to help students “see” abstract concepts; teaching math language and vocabulary (nearly 500 terms by 8th grade); building fluency in math facts (like multiplication tables) and solving equations; and solving word problems.
Students gain vital fluency through practice, Powell said. Practice can often be the most important overlooked piece of math learning.“
As in the "reading wars," explicit instruction followed by modeling and practice -- "I do, we do, you do" -- fell out of fashion, writes Korbey. “Progressive” or “constructivist” educators favor students learning without much teacher input through “discovery” or “inquiry” learning.
“Direct and explicit instruction is what works best for reading and math in learners who are novices,” said Daniel Ansari, professor and Canada research chair in developmental cognitive neuroscience at University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. “Parents often think their child has a math learning difficulty, when in fact it’s lack of instruction, a lack of practicing math facts.”
Many classroom teachers have been taught that “fluency” is not the goal of teaching math, said psychologist Amanda VanDerHeyden, who's also active in Science of Math. Parents who can afford it turn to "the billion-dollar tutoring industry of Kumons and Mathnasiums."
“We need to give them the basic tools, and then play with them in many different ways so they can explore the beauty of math,” Ansari said. “But first they need the basic building blocks.”
Math teacher Barry Garelick, the author of Traditional Math, took on the misconceptions of "reform math" in 2014. The essay holds up very well. Like Ansari, he distinguishes between what works for experts refining their skills and what works for novices.