Tuesday, April 19, 2011

John Mighton in the New York Times

A Better Way to Teach Math.


  1. What are your thoughts, FedUpMom?

    I can't help but be reminded of every New York Times article I've ever read about a fad diet. And the article contains a lot of things I've come to see as red flags: Obligatory reference to brain science? Check. Grandiose claims? (This math can be a "powerful tool to promote social justice"!) Check. Success assessed solely be reference to short-term standardized test scores, rather than long-term retention or competence or inclination toward math? Check. Emphasis on "extensive practice"? Check. (I see worksheets, *lots* of worksheets . . . and we may need to find some more instructional minutes.) Unquestioned premise that kids must be made to learn as much math as possible in elementary school? Check. Utter absence of dissenting viewpoints? Check. Evangelical fervor? Check.

    On the other hand, I have to admit that almost anything might be an improvement over Everyday Math.

  2. PsychMom adds:

    My child's teacher went to a workshop earlier this spring with Mr. Mighton and she thought he was cool. But as to what impact that had on her teaching or the kids...beats me.

    Worksheets still come home with really silly tasks. The latest one caused rancour in our household this weekend, and I suspect it is keeping my child in from recess today because it didn't get done.
    I'll describe the task... I'm assuming that instruction preceded the task in class as to what to do. The sheet had a 16 by 16 grid. I'm assuming they were to draw some sort of geometric design using multiple colours in a 8 by 8 corner of the grid and then repeat it 3 more times in the remaining sections of the 16 by 16 grid. Then they were asked to figure out what percent of the grid each colour took up.

    My child's design was quite elaborate. She was dividing squares in half, and was being quite meticulous. I asked her if she knew how to calculate the percentages. She said, "I don't get what any of it means"

    I bit my tongue.

  3. Chris -- I'm quite familiar with Mighton's work--I own both his books, and have used the Jump workbooks with my kids. (I've actually mentioned him a couple of times in comments on this blog.) As a true progressive, I can assure he is not enamoured of measuring results via test scores, but he has had a very difficult time getting his ideas heard (especially in my province of Ontario--his home province) because of the degree to which non-incremental, discovery-based math pedagogy is entrenched as gospel in our school systems. He is also very passionate about leveling the playing field in math, which he truly believes his method can do, and discovery methods can not. I suggest you try to find his books in the library. They are well worth reading, and give a much fuller picture of his ideas about math and education in general than this article does.

  4. PscyhMom -- But was this a Jump worksheet?

  5. Oops, that was supposed to be "As a true progressive, I can assure *you* he is not...." (And even then the sentence is grammatically wonky; I plead sleep deprivation!)

  6. Ha -- And mine was supposed to say "*by* reference to."

    I mean to go hard on the article, and on the way the program is being promoted, more than on the actual program itself, which I don't know enough about. But I do wish we could hear some back-and-forth discussion of the pros and cons of these different math programs, rather than just infomercials. Wasn't it just a few months ago that the Times ran an article about how revolutionary Singapore Math is?

  7. To NorthTOmom from PsychMom....

    I don't think it was but I don't know because I'm not aware if attendence at the workshop meant that they were going to adopt that method at our school.

  8. @PsychMom, that worksheet is exactly the kind of thing I've been complaining about. A meticulous kid could use up hours of time and learn no math at all.

    While you're biting your tongue, I hope you'll start teaching your kid what percent means. Believe me, the school won't do it for you.

    @Chris, newspaper reporting on educational issues stinks big time. You can actually get way more useful information on blogs (like this one!)