Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Math projects and children with autism:

I just finished talking with a fellow "autism mom," whose son, like mine, attends our local public school. She told me how stymied he is by the middle school math projects.  

The organizational and the language arts requirements, the lack of structure and clear expectations, the general exhortation to "be creative"--all these pose problems for her son.

His most recent math projects included designing a playground, and designing a city.  He was stumped, and she ended up doing most of the work.

My son fares no better.  His most recent project:  

Design a board game using everything you know about math.  Make it colorful.  Be creative.

Stymieing another autistic spectrum boy:

Choose a number and design a wanted poster about it.

He eventually chosen the number 7, "wanted for being odd."

Perhaps these kids would feel less odd about math if it tapped their strengths (math) rather than their weaknesses (organization, language arts, graphic design).


Dawn said...

See, even though I was the right-brained child and loved creative stuff that crap still would have left me in tears. EVERYTHING I knew about math? Be creative? How creative?

In my experience reativity is what happens when you know the rules and have well defined boundaries - even if you end up jumping outside the boundaries. Throwing kids in front of the bus like those projects do just inspires fear.

lefty said...

Interesting... It isn't just the left-brainers, then.

Since this open ended stuff perhaps isn't serving any student well, I'm wondering if it's simply teacher laziness: it would take a certain effort to provide the necessary structure.

To the extent that parents step in and try to provide it themselves, we have yet another instance of schools outsourcing their responsibilities to parents.

K9Sasha said...

Who is the better artist - someone who's never taken an art class, or someone who knows all about line, space, perspective, color, etc.? Who is the better musician - someone who's never learned to read music, or someone who knows how to change from one key to another, how long to hold each note, when to use melody and when to use dissonance, etc.? While there may be a few people who are naturals, in almost every case the people who understand the fundamentals are able to use that knowledge to be more creative. This c*** about teachers simply telling students to be creative has no basis in the real world.

lefty said...

I also wonder how qualified teachers are to judge creativity. It seems to open the floodgates of subjectivity, and for favoring the students you want to favor.

Catherine Johnson said...

I can tell you what my normal son - along with every other normal boy I know - would do with an assignment to design a board game using "everything you know about math."

He would design a board game using 1 or 2 things he knows about math & call it a day.

The relative lack of anxiety & perfectionism in boys as compared to girls is deadly for boys. I have a terrific email from Niki saying boys just want to get stuff done. Ed says the same about men. Well, getting-stuff-done isn't what K-8 is looking for. Efficiency isn't a value. If it were, you wouldn't see schools adopting constructivist math curricula that put our kids even further behind their peers in Europe and Asia.

A friend of mine told me a great story. ("Great" probably isn't the right term.)

Her son's 5th grade teacher gave him back a little paper he'd written and told him to change a particular passage. He took it to his seat, sat down, changed the passage, and brought it back to her desk.

In the parent teacher conference, which the boy attended, the teacher told the parent that this rapid turnaround "hurt my heart."

She had expected him to take the paper home and put hours of thought and work into it.

Speaking as a writer who misses deadlines (a habit I aim to fix), I can tell you that in the real world rapid turnaround is the valued behavior. Not "take it home and obsess."

We HAVE to get male teachers back into the schools.