Traditional Math: An effective strategy that teachers feel guilty using

22nd February 2023

Book of the Month

Traditional Math: An effective strategy that teachers feel guilty using, by Barry Garelick and JR Wilson. This wonderful book is highly recommended for parents, grandparents, and teachers of all kinds who would like a solid guide to help youngsters learn math in a simple, elegant, and straightforward way.  As Stanford mathematician Wayne Bishop has pointed out, leaders in modern mathematics education often sadly and erroneously continue to push Freudenthal Institute’s discredited “reform” approaches to teaching math. On the uplifting side, as Bishop also points out apropos Traditional Math, “this book is a wealth of down-to-earth, logically presented topics from kindergarten through beginning algebra. The work will be effective for most mathematics teachers but especially so for those who have been indoctrinated with reform math but are recognizing its ineffectiveness and in need of solid ideas.” 

Barb will be using this book with her new granddaughter as she grows up!  

On a side note, Barb & her Hero Husband Phil raised their two daughters with twenty minutes of carefully designed extra math practice through use of the Kumon math program. The result of this extra “drill and kill” practice?  One daughter is now a Stanford trained pediatrician, and the second is a graduate level statistician.  Yet reform educators would have one believe that the decade Barb and Phil gave their daughters of tiny bits of daily extra math drill would turn the girls away from math. What reform educators characterize as “drill and kill” is actually all-important “drill to skill”!

It certainly wasn’t that the girls loved every day of their practice. (Take heart, homeschooling parents!) But that practice led to the solid internalization of mathematical patterns that the girls needed long-term for professional careers in STEMand for them to feel comfortable with and ultimately learn to love mathematics.  Incidentally, when Barb was recently in Vietnam, she learned that her daughter’s statistics graduate advisor rarely takes on students educated in the US, because he has found that US-trained students simply don’t have the comfort and ability with math of students from countries that use more traditional approaches to teaching math.  All those years of a little bit of extra practice a day for the Oakley girls paid off!  (And interleaving of math practice, as with Kumon and Smartick, rules!) 

Recognition of the need for change in K-12 education

And indeed, regarding the ineffectiveness of reform approaches to education, evidence continues to accumulate that conventional education approaches to teaching reading, writing, and math seem to be taking a great deal of children’s time without actually teaching these fundamental skills.  Some 65 percent of American fourth-grade kids, for example, can barely read. And when it comes to math, a recent analysis revealed that in 53 schools in Illinois, not a single student can do math at grade level. 

This perceptive analysis by Barry Garelick and Robert Craigen: “Reform Math: The Symptoms and Prognosis,” points toward what is needed to right the ship of learning and get children back on track, at least with math..

Math Teachers Everywhere!

For those who feel there might be something missing about modern math curricula, do NOT miss registering for Barb’s Learning & the Brain webinar workshop for math teachers (not to mention art, language, and other teachers) who want to see the latest insights from neuroscience about effective learning in math and other topics.

Do Intensive Learning Projects Work Better Than Slow Ones?

Here is a thoughtful and counterintuitive posting by the indefatigable Scott Young about why bootcamp-type intensive courses might sometimes work better than conventional spaced repetition.  (Certainly Barb found that her intensive training at the Defense Language Institute put her Russian language skills on a solid footing, even if they’d rusted a bit over the past fifty years.) Scott’s book Ultralearning, by the way, is a classic in the learning literature.

Tips for Fresh Subscribers!

A perceptive new learner named Yash wrote to ask:

“I am a new follower of yours. I have just enrolled in Learning How to Learn for Youth.  I wondered whether you have some tips for fresh subscribers?” [Learning How to Learn for Youth  is our different, shorter course oriented for younger people.]

 What a great question!  Barb’s answer was:

“Everyone’s a little different, because of their life schedules and needs and what-not.  But for me, one thing that works great is to make some forward progress in the course every day, even if it’s just five minutes of work.  There is truly something magical about 45 minutes a day, though, that helps the material click into place much more quickly.  It’s the consecutive, day-by-day work that will get you through.”

Do you have additional or different insights for Yash, or for any new subscriber?  If so, post here in Learning How to Learn, or here in Learning How to Learn for Youth.

That’s all for now. Have a happy month in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

View more Cheery Friday e-mails >