Friday, April 25, 2008

Real world data on real world problems

For years I've seen the "real-world" word problems and "applied math" activities that dominate Reform classrooms shortchanging kids with autism. Their elaborate scenarios and multi-step directions stymie those with language delays and gaps in worldly knowledge.  Their multi-media, multi-sensory, interdisciplinary sprawl is too full of distractions for those who require streamlined, structured learning environments.

Now a new study by Jennifer A. Kaminski, a research scientist at the Center for Cognitive Science at Ohio State, discussed in today's NYTimes, suggests that, for all students, there's such a thing as too much real-world math:

The problem with the real-world examples, Dr. Kaminski said, was that they obscured the underlying math, and students were not able to transfer their knowledge to new problems.

Clever word problems have their virtues, but it would seem that students must also learn what's no longer fashionable to teach:  math concepts plain and simple.

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