Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Speaking of projects: how one parent handles those mindless assignments

I've been meaning for quite some time to repost this comment from Glen at kitchentablemath. It's one of my all time favorites:

I have my fourth grader do a hundred fraction problems while I do his "cut pictures out of magazines" homework for him. I have him work through middle school math contest problems, tossing him hints when he gets stuck, while I draw on his poster board. I had him learn every country in Europe while I built miniature teepees in a shoebox diorama.

He gets good grades on his schoolwork, but other parents--I mean kids, of course--often cut and paste better than I do.

His teacher thinks he's a "natural" at math, but there's nothing natural about it. It's man-made. It's training--the same sort of training you'd do if you needed to teach someone to cut hair or build birdhouses: show them how, help them a few times, and put them to work.

She would be shocked if she actually knew the level of difficulty of the math and science work he can do, but we're careful not to let her find out. Last year the teacher found out and was nasty to him for the rest of the year. She liked him when she thought he was a natural, but when she found out that he had to work at math, she was outraged.

"It's not fair to me that you are willing to do that much work for your father, but aren't doing the same for me!" I thought that I--I mean my son, of course--was cutting enough pictures out of enough magazines for her, but she apparently thought she deserved more.

She wanted to discuss the "problem" with me. She was concerned about how I was using his time. (How ironic.) She said that their Everyday Mathematics emphasized "conceptual understanding" and was concerned that my approach might not lead to "actual understanding." The previous night he had solved,

"We have four times as many cows as horses on our ranch. If we sold 280 cows, we'd end up with twice as many horses as cows. How many cows do we have?"

He was in third grade. I almost asked her to go to the board and show me how SHE would have taught him to solve it, with "actual understanding," but that would have been cruel. I held my tongue to keep my son out of trouble and said that I tried my best to help him understand. We left it at that.

This is one of the top 5% of elementary schools in Silicon Valley, so almost all the kids are performing at grade level--and that's where they want to keep them.

And I've now found out that at higher levels, middle school and high school, it's almost standard practice for parents to take the mindless homework load off their kids' shoulders to free up time for them to do the portion of homework that is actually useful.

1 comment:

FedUpMom said...

Katharine, I hope you'll stop by my blog. We're discussing my efforts to improve the math teaching at my younger daughter's school.

http://kidfriendlyschools.blogspot.com/2011/01/reforming-math.html