I am officially over halfway through reading Stoll’s High Tech Heretic and will likely finish reading it before the end of the week. But, after I read an op-ed article entitled Clueless in America in yesterday’s New York Times, I thought this would be a good time to stop and share a few of my thoughts. Some points from the article include the fact that a kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds in this country and none of the political candidates seem to be addressing the situation. Quotes from the article:
From Allan Golston, the president of U.S. programs for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “In math and science, for example, our fourth graders are among the top students globally. By roughly eighth grade, they’re in the middle of the pack. And by the 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring generally near the bottom of all industrialized countries.”
Many students get a first-rate education in the public schools, but they represent too small a fraction of the whole.
Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, offered a brutal critique of the nation’s high schools a few years ago, describing them as “obsolete” and saying, “When I compare our high schools with what I see when I’m traveling abroad, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow.”
Said Mr. Gates: “By obsolete, I don’t just mean that they are broken, flawed or underfunded, though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean our high schools – even when they’re working as designed – cannot teach all our students what they need to know today.”
Some matters that I read about in this article came as a big surprise.
On to Stoll: First off, I agree with some of what Stoll is saying in the chapter referred to as Calculating Against Computers. A little disclaimer first: I am not a math teacher and I am also not exactly a math whiz. I did manage to earn an Associate of Science degree without computers. In fact, graphing calculators were the only type of “machine” that we were allowed to use. My students would say that I am “old school” and I don’t mind that because I am. I think that students should be taught to work algebraic equations out by hand and that their problem solving attempts should be a part of the test. By the way, I think a test for math should be of the paper and pencil variety.
Admittedly, it has been a few days since I participated in a math class. But, I do know that our school recently abandoned a software program called Accelerated Math because it was not helping most of the students learn high school math. The main problem seems to be that students in a classroom were left to their own devices to work math problems at their own level. Most of the math classes had 30+ students and I can understand how the concept of AM might appeal to teachers, but it didn’t work for us. Basically, it worked like this: Each math class had a library of 140 objectives; usually the teacher selected five for a student to work on a time. Using printed worksheets and scantron sheets, students worked on exercises and practices until they were ready to take a test. Being ready required a student to achieve 80% of an objective and to then to be able to move on, 80% must be achieved on the test over the objective. The practices contained a review problem from previous objectives. This is where our students got tangled. For the majority of our students, the review question was difficult because the ability to work the problems had not gone into long term memory. Most had learned enough to pass the test for the day. We have since gone back to math classes where the teacher uses textbook, chalkboard, and chalk in a way much similar to what Stoll seems to be advocating. Our students are doing better in math.
Accelerated Math is not a bad program, but it should not be the sole method of instruction. There are other programs that we use in our school such as A+LS software, which are good for practice and enrichment, but I think there should be a balance between a teacher-delivered instruction and software when teaching math.
Balance is another gauntlet taken up by Stoll. I don’t quite agree with his contention that, “…it’s possible to do perfectly well without any computers or high-tech teaching devices.” Yes, it is possible to teach a child the things he or she needs to know without a computer, but computers are used in all levels of education now and students need to know how to manage class work in this setting. High Tech Heretic is around ten years old, though, and I imagine computers are used even more now than when the book was written.
Another point that I agree with is that real live science lab experiments are probably better for learning than computer simulations. It could be because that is the way that I learned these subjects. Once more, we could strive for balance. Simulations might be used for an advance organizer and to stimulate interest. When the kids get to the real lab, they might know more of what to expect. Or, in cases of cash-strapped school systems, a simulation might be better than no class at all.
Yet another quote from the book that caught my attention was from Paul Roberts who writes multimedia essays, “The irony of the information revolution is that consumers neither like nor expect long, densely written texts on their computer screens. Long texts addle the eyes …” Stoll is lamenting the fact that the art of storytelling is lost using multimedia and he mentions all the fancy graphics, video, colors, and animation that are thrown into the story. I don’t think books will go away, but it is hard to read a book online. In fact, I think this blog has run too long and I am going to close it now because I personally have trouble reading long blogs. Many of the blogs in my reader I find interesting, but I just don’t have time to read them all and my eyes can’t stand the strain of reading very many long blogs at one time so often I opt for a few short ones. But, I do see his point that storytelling should not be lost.
Maybe there are some things that we can learn from Stoll to get our kids back on track and reduce our shameful dropout rate. I will have more to say in a day or two. (Shorter next time.)