So, the idea that students in the U.S. learn procedures and all too often don’t develop the concepts is not particularly arguable. “Successful” math students are good at cranking out answers. Some folks manage to figure out the concepts, but in spite of, not because of how it’s taught in too many places. (To y’all who are doing your best to focus on them, keep on fighting the good fight!)

EdWeek tells me here that some teachers in utah are doing their own thing with books. It will be all about *doing* math — math as a “learning experience.” So, I asked myself as an “active reader,” “okay, will they be doing math problems, or will there be experiences in tune with concept development?” I was encouraged by:

“She added: ‘We wanted to teach our students in a different way, to make sense of the mathematics and make connections.'”

… but then I read this:

“‘We’ve replaced the explanatory text with math tasks. … The book is really a guide to help teachers take students through learning experiences.’

The teacher’s edition does include explanatory text for each task, helping teachers understand the task’s goal and the particular standards addressed, and suggesting whole-class and small-group activities. The student edition has homework assignments for each task.

The authors say there’s plenty of places students may go online for explanations of particular concepts.”

Oh. Okay. We will explain the math to the teachers. The students — they get … homework. Of course, the “in class and small group activities” might be all about concept development (but no, I’m not holding my breath)… but leaving the language and explanation out and saying that there are “plenty of places to go online” — gee, what makes me wonder if maybe concept development is getting an even shorter shrift than those evil traditional textbooks?

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bstockus

October 3, 2012

I haven’t looked at these textbooks, but I have to say I appreciate what they’re trying to do. My main beef with print textbooks is that they are basically reference materials that include problem sets. They are not teaching materials. They do not guide me, as a teacher, through the intricate process of helping students develop understanding of a concept or skill. When I open a math textbook to a lesson, I see the same examples as the students, and somehow I have to divine how to turn that into a math lesson. If anything, this encourages a direct instruction model where teachers tell information to their students and hope that they understand it well enough to move on to the problem set.

The Utah textbook, on the other hand, is actually giving the teachers specific activities and tasks, complete with step-by-step directions!, that they can use to build concepts and skills with students. Will every lesson be a winner? Probably not. Hopefully they will take feedback and refine (or completely replace) lessons over time. But it’s a move in the right direction. Instead of assuming teachers will either teach the way they were taught or that they’ll figure out on their own how to incorporate new ideas, these books are going to be models for teachers of how to build student understanding.

I do agree that there is likely going to be a problem with giving the students zero reference materials of their own. I was impressed with the Investigations math curriculum for elementary school. In version 1 it was all teacher materials, but in version 2 they listened to their users and developed a companion textbook that students and parents could reference at home when they needed help doing homework. I’m sure students will likely seek out additional resources online, but it seems irresponsible to not provide any at all as a starting point.

xiousgeonz

October 3, 2012

Good points! I, too, deeply appreciate what they are trying to do. I’d love to know what some of those activities are… and hope that they figure out that the activities get a whole lot more powerful when we make that bridge to language and the “explanation” part. (I also like that they didn’t try to decide whether they were constructivists or not…)