Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Floors vs. ceilings: or U.S. math vs. Russian Math

A dear old friend recently wrote me about her impressions of her son's 1st grade math class and of the Russian Math class they are sending him to after hours.
I hate doing my son's public school homework with him. It takes him about 10 minutes and is so idiotic. I can't keep from hiding my disgust. What a waste of time.
I was just going over his work (1st grade). They began with worksheets he could have completed when he was 3. After 2 months, they began addition with equations in sequential order. (1+1, 1+2, 1+3...) Now, they color in pieces of pie to introduce fractions. It has improved through the year, but the progress is excruciatingly slow and many of the problems give you the answer in the diagram which means they really aren't figuring anything out.
We are enjoying a private program from a Russian Math school. I think it is similar to Singapore Math in that it addresses Math problems from many perspectives and builds very quickly while continuing to introduce new concepts. Much more challenging and fun too.
Russian Math began the first day by teaching them symbols (>, <, = and more). They then used these to compare two equations at a time. This taught him to add while at the same time compare numbers to get a sense of how they relate. They were also shown geometric shapes that fit into each other. They had to either combine two shapes or break apart two shapes. By the second class, they were comparing diagrams that demonstrated weights on a scale and comparing subtraction equations. 

Since then, he has learned how to measure the perimeter of different shapes and solve for X in equations. He can add and subtract multiple numbers in one equation, do simple multiplication, and measure objects in centimeters and inches. He can distinguish multiple shapes within a complex form and solve simple algebraic problems. In his free time, he began to add very large numbers (fifteen digits long or more) because of an exercise he did in his Russian Math class (around the 7th or 8th class).

I understand the public schools are teaching to the struggling student. But, I can't imagine how a dumbed down curriculum helps anyone. I could see using the current curriculum as a supplement for a student who is struggling. But, I don't really see how it is helping the majority of kids. The irony is, they have taken all other subjects out of the curriculum except English and Math. And, this is the Math they are teaching?
Precisely: it might seem from a distance as if the removal of all but English and Math means school days full of relentless academic pressure. Look a little closer and you see that the pressure is actually that of a relentlessly descending ceiling.

As for lifting the ceiling and raising the floor, getting my hands on the Russian Math series is high on my to-do list.


Anonymous said...

I went to school during the mid 80's before whole language and reform math took over. I remember a lot of boring phonics drills and having to memorize times tables, but we also did a lot of fun things like putting on puppet shows and plays. We had recess twice a day, and it was never canceled for test prep. The irony was that "drill and kill" actually made school more fun. It much more efficient then the discovery based methods being foisted on kids today so there was plenty of time for the more fun things.

Hainish said...

What, no math workstations?