Technolust?



#2

The editorial page of the February 16 issue of the St. Petersburg Times includes an opinion piece titled "More Laptops, less learning". The material was originally submitted to the Washington Post by Patrick Welsh of T. C. Williams High School of Alexandria, Virginia. Mr. Welsh has written other pieces on the educational system.

Mr. Welsh describes a problem at his school which has been given the name "tecnolust" that "... manifests itself in an insatiable need to acquuire the latest, fastest, most exotic computer gadgets ...". The piece quotes one math teacher as saying

Quote:
Math grows out of the end of a pencil. You don't want the quick answer; you want students to be able to develop the answer, to discover the why of it. The administration seems to think that computers will make math easy, but it has to be a painful, step-by-step process.

That sounds like several of the threads on math education which have appeared in this forum. To see the complete article as published in the St. Petersburg Times go to www.sptimes.com/2008/02/16/Opinion/More_laptops__less_le.shtml

#3

Excellent article, Palmer, thanks for the reference. This is a common problem in education today, affecting more and more school districts. Here in Louisville, a few years ago they gave every kid at selected middle schools an Apple laptop computer, for use in class and at home. Most kids just played games on them, which was predictable. I think they discontinued the program after one or two years.

The article is right, all the electronic gizmo's in the world are much less effective at getting students to learn than one passionate teacher.


#4

I had hoped that computer teaching plus self teesting and needed reviews would lead to better instructions, Possibly reducing our dependence on better teachers to educate us. Where did that go? Should students not expect to have the class material on the computer so they can learm at their own pace, st home or elsewhere. I have had some hopelessly inept teachers, martinets, too qualified or with mental quirks, the promise of progrrammed learning should not be overlooked. Possibly it would allow presentation of uniform cirricula in a uniform manner, with the feedback loop closed and uniform grading established. I see great promise in this teaching method, What happened? Sam


#5

Sam, my experience as a middle school math teacher (2 years) tells me that most kids at that age learn more from a teacher with great enthusiasm and innovative ways of getting them to learn. I have seen examples of "programmed instruction" that let kids learn algebra, for example, at their own pace using computer software. That is somewhat effective for some of the kids, but frankly most kids aren't attracted to it and, therefore, don't learn a lot from it.

I struggle every day with finding something that works. The old "drill and kill"--take notes from my lecture and complete this worksheet--most assuredly does NOT work with most kids. Our education system today is basically the same as it was 50 or 100 years ago. We have more technology, of course, but that does not lead directly to kids learning.

We have been through all of this on this forum several times now, and I don't have the answer. I just keep trying to find something that works.


#6

Don, I think my problem, as remembered at this distance, was that X and Y had no connection with reality. secant and cosecant had no meaning to me, in spite of the definitions. How can you expect someone to enthusiastically grasp what might ss well be tolkien philosophy? If it serves no direct function in our lives how can we respect or value it? I have solved many real problems and have no interest in contrived problems. Should we continue to put effort into teaching a subject with no connection to reality for most of todays students? Would it not be more useful to teach TVM or subjects more grounded in daily problems than algebra and trig?
Sam the non-conformist


#7

I've found algebra and trig to be quite relevant to problems I face routinely. Maybe your instructors and/or textbooks simply did a poor job of providing realistic problems?

#8

Sam, it is amazing that you mentioned TVM as something that would be useful to teach. As a matter of fact, I was planning on starting a discussion of that tomorrow with my students. I've been teaching my 8th graders algebra 1 all year, and recently I have started to focus on "practical" math. Last week I taught the kids how to keep a checkbook and track deposits and withdrawals. On Friday we did an exercise in which I was a new car salesman and they were going to buy a new car, having researched what the dealer actually pays for the car on the Internet first and what would be a fair profit for the dealer. So I played the car salesman and I showed them how he keeps going to the sales manager to see what kind of "deal" they can get. My students didn't want to really "deal," they wanted the car at their researched price, and it was educational for them to see how that new car buying process works. That's always been a pet peeve of mine.

So this week we will continue that process, and they will buy the car for X dollars, and then see how they can finance the car: dealer financing at 3% for 8 years, credit union for 5% for 4 years, or bank financing at 7% for 3 years. I want them to understand how compound interest works so they can evaluate which option results in them paying the least amount of interest over the life of the loan. This is information I needed in my life, and I figure they will need it too, and if I don't teach it to them, who will? Then maybe we will buy a new house and see how mortgages work, and settlement charges.

I'll still keep going on algebra too, but I think the practical side is important.

#9

Hi, Sam --

Quote:
If it serves no direct function in our lives how can we respect or value it? I have solved many real problems and have no interest in contrived problems. Should we continue to put effort into teaching a subject with no connection to reality for most of todays students? Would it not be more useful to teach TVM or subjects more grounded in daily problems than algebra and trig?

To essentially echo Eric's response, I'd say, "What's wrong with good old story problems, modernized appropriately?"

I always liked story problems in school becuase they represented practical applications of the mathematics. Others didn't perhaps because some analytical effort was required.


As for TVM, I didn't really apply it until I took out a car loan after college, and derived a formula for payment using my knowledge of series.

-- KS

#10

Quote:
Don, I think my problem, as remembered at this distance, was that X and Y had no connection with reality. secant and cosecant had no meaning to me, in spite of the definitions. How can you expect someone to enthusiastically grasp what might ss well be tolkien philosophy? If it serves no direct function in our lives how can we respect or value it? I have solved many real problems and have no interest in contrived problems. Should we continue to put effort into teaching a subject with no connection to reality for most of todays students? Would it not be more useful to teach TVM or subjects more grounded in daily problems than algebra and trig?
Sam the non-conformist

One man's "contrived" problem is another man's "real" problem. I remember the algebra or trig problems in school being challenging and fun. As it happened, I went into a field of work where I use algebra and trig on almost a daily basis, but not calculus and analytical geometry. However, I still find these subjects interesting. I am aware that "most" people do not.

IMO, there is as much importance to knowing fundamental mathematical concepts, chemistry, physics, biology, etc. as there is in knowing history, language, literature, and the arts, to a complete, well-rounded, basic education. How many kids these days are keen on the latter subjects, for that matter?

One must be willing to stretch one's mind a little to learn why X and Y are used, for example, or to see that the concepts involved in solving the "Train A and Train B" type of problem can be extended to other kinds of problems.

It takes a motivated student as much as a talented teacher. My personal observations [and through my wife's eyes (a teacher)] is that there are just as many talented teachers today as when I came up. If there are fewer motivated students, it is largely a function of the changing culture. Those that are not motivated will fill the ranks of "service workers".


#11

Quote:
Those that are not motivated will fill the ranks of "service workers"

Yeah, but they vote, and there's more of them than there are of us. That's why I hope everybody gets as well educated as possible!

#12

Quote:
I had hoped that computer teaching plus self teesting and needed reviews would lead to better instructions, Possibly reducing our dependence on better teachers to educate us. Where did that go? Should students not expect to have the class material on the computer so they can learm at their own pace, st home or elsewhere. I have had some hopelessly inept teachers, martinets, too qualified or with mental quirks, the promise of progrrammed learning should not be overlooked. Possibly it would allow presentation of uniform cirricula in a uniform manner, with the feedback loop closed and uniform grading established. I see great promise in this teaching method, What happened? Sam

I think that the problem with teaching by computer is that it depends very heavily on the desire of the student to learn. For example, back in the late 1960's Honeywell had introduced a land-line computer network which came with a self-teaching program. I routinely used that to introduce individuals to the network with it -- but those individuals had a strong desire to learn. The program had a relatively complex set of options to explain the material differently if the user didn't respond with the correct answer. I was curious about that so I tried playing dumb. After about four or five wrong answers in a row the computer would respond with something like "You are not trying."

The idea of programmed learning predates computers. In the 1950's the Navy technical achool system had bought into the idea that it wasn't necessary for a teacher to understand the subject being taught if only (1) the course syllabus was appropriately written and (2) the teacher had been properly taught how to teach from the syllabus. Unfortunately, the methodology didn't typically provide alternate ways to explain the material. That meant that the same words were used the second and third times around, but louder. If you were a Seaman Deuce and the course was being taught by a grisly old CPO who "knew how to teach" but wasn'r well versed in the subject being taught you quickly learned that it was a good idea to learn to feed back the expected response.


#13

Hi, Palmer --

Quote:
In the 1950's the Navy technical achool system had bought into the idea that it wasn't necessary for a teacher to understand the subject being taught if only (1) the course syllabus was appropriately written and (2) the teacher had been properly taught how to teach from the syllabus.

Unfortunately, the methodology didn't typically provide alternate ways to explain the material. That meant that the same words were used the second and third times around, but louder. If you were a Seaman Deuce and the course was being taught by a grisly old CPO who "knew how to teach" but wasn't well versed in the subject being taught you quickly learned that it was a good idea to learn to feed back the expected response.


Interesting example of a not-very-enlightened institutional attitude.

BTW, You might have meant a "grizzled old CPO" (a Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy or Coast Guard) teaching the "Seaman Deuces" (Seaman Second Class?). Gray is better than gory!

:-)


The second of two definitions of "grisly" from Random House has nothing to do with gore and horror:

"2. formidable; grim: a grisly countenance."

The first, however, is much more common:

"1. causing a shudder or feeling of horror; horrible; gruesome: a grisly murder."

-- KS


Edited: 18 Feb 2008, 2:37 p.m.


#14

Quote:
Interesting example of a not-very-enlightened institutional attitude.

BTW, You might have meant a "grizzled old CPO" (a Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy or Coast Guard) teaching the "Seaman Deuces" (Seaman Second Class?). Gray is better than gory!


I didn't mean "grizzled" which is typically defined as "hair streaked with gray". And I can assure you that when a Seaman Deuce persists in asking for an alternate explanation and the CPO persists in presenting the prescribed answer, only in a louder voice, then "grisly" is the right adjective. Ordinarily, Seaman Deuces were simply addressed by their last name. I understood that when I was addressed by a scowling CPO as "Seaman Apprentice Hanson" it was time to back off.

I did't mean to imply that the Navy methods were always or even frequently ineffective. The great majority of the instructors, particularly those in the technical schools, knew their subject and could give alternate explanations when needed. I suggest that the canned approach was a dogmatic methodology which was probably appropriate for some subjects.


#15

TIME has some meaty articles on education and teachers in this issue. It resolves to the time and money spent on the problem.
60 Minutes dealt with happiness and said the Swedes were the happiest. They pay 50% of their income for free education, free health care cradle to grave. Sam


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