Monday, February 09, 2009

Math Wars UK

submitted to Math Forum moderators Feb 9, 2009:

The UK has its own math wars, likewise focused on how to counter the dumbing down that puts its students at a potential disadvantage in a global economy.

There's a brand of constructivism for early math education, but it owes nothing to USA text books marketed under that label, traces more to Caleb Gattegno than to Piaget, and focuses on developing algebra sense though a tightly designed set of exercises, in conjunction with free play.

The planned reforms focus on phasing in this algebraic style of thinking around the four operations (add, subtract, multiply, divide) prior to practice with numbers alone, i.e. the colorful Cuissenaire rods take the place of numbers, while on paper you have symbolic expressions naming these rods with letters.

This builds fluency with algebraic mathematical notation, while preparing students for more spatial geometry and computer language based investigations down the road.

A Stanford based think tank connected to Dr. Milgram, with ties to the UK, is also looking at Russian curricula for concepts. The USA is being studied for its use of open source and computer languages in higher grades, such as the groundbreaking work we're doing in Portland, which leads the nation in this respect.

I don't know of any USA K-12 text books that serve as a model for UK planning. That's true in the USA also: the current crop of text books mostly role model what to avoid at all costs.