Tomasso

2007-07-31 01:46:07 UTC

From ABC News (July 31, 2007)

A leading educational researcher has called for a major overhaul of maths

teaching in Australian schools.

Ken Rowe from the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)

says maths questions in both primary and high schools require students to

have a literacy level that is often beyond their skills.

He has outlined his concerns in a submission to the national numeracy review.

Mr Rowe says it is turning students off maths.

"For grade three students for example, they have to read the problem and

then translate it into an algorithm and solve it," he said.

"Now that requires in most cases a Grade Five level of literacy before they

can even engage with the Year Three mathematics.

"The problem is usually put, well Jane has 52 pieces of fruit, Alex has 24

pieces of fruit, how many pieces of fruit do they have?

"So in other words you've got to be able to read what the problem is asking

before you can actually do the mathematics."

I guess I agree with the sentiment, but not with the example. I've noticed that aA leading educational researcher has called for a major overhaul of maths

teaching in Australian schools.

Ken Rowe from the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)

says maths questions in both primary and high schools require students to

have a literacy level that is often beyond their skills.

He has outlined his concerns in a submission to the national numeracy review.

Mr Rowe says it is turning students off maths.

"For grade three students for example, they have to read the problem and

then translate it into an algorithm and solve it," he said.

"Now that requires in most cases a Grade Five level of literacy before they

can even engage with the Year Three mathematics.

"The problem is usually put, well Jane has 52 pieces of fruit, Alex has 24

pieces of fruit, how many pieces of fruit do they have?

"So in other words you've got to be able to read what the problem is asking

before you can actually do the mathematics."

lot of exercises for primary school kids are sloppily worded. It's not that the

expression is complex or uses advanced vocabulary, it's that it is often

ambiguous and imprecise.

A couple of years ago I took some primary maths questions apart, and compared

what they appeared to say (ie, what a natural interpretion was) with what they

were actually asking for and what they problem details they were actually

providing. That is IMHO more of a problem for the kids than "read the problem

and then translate it into an algorithm and solve it".

Problem analysis is a special skill, but one well summarised by George Polya half a

century ago as:

1 Identify what you are asked to find out.

2 Identify what information you are told/given.

3 Identify what other information you need to use (assumptions, background knowledge).

4 Build a plan to use the information to determine what you are asked.

In practice, much of problem solving is an artform rather than a recipe (at least for

people who solve problems rather than talk about it). However, the problem analysis

is a necessary and fairly painstaking part. It's similar to gap analysis where you work

out what's present and what's missing (out of what's required). If a kid is determined

to address the first three points above the twenty or thirty words that are the "question",

in my experience they can get there, unless the person who wrote the question has

done the kid the injustice of writing badly.

If the raw material for the problem (exercise X in the textbook) is sloppily written,

it's not a problem with grammar or term, it's an impediment due to fuzziness.

At least when you deal with problems in the real world, you don't have to put up

with a poorly posed problem. You write the problem spec or requirements for

yourself. You know when you've finished that part of the work because it no

longer sounds sloppy.

Tomasso.

OBs literacy: The "reading" involved in reading more complex problems is quite

different from what is normally meant by literacy (in the junior school sense).

It can be more like the "reading" involved in digesting a Shakespeare sonnet,

and take the same amount of time.

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