Friday, February 27, 2009

Educational Philosophy IS Important, Apparently

Yesterday I went to my very first event as the mom of school-attending children. A meeting was called at the school to discuss the high school math program. While I don't yet have a high schooler, Emily will be one in the blink of an eye so I, and several other parents of 8th graders, attended.

Now I was totally clueless as to why the meeting was called. I do know that Emily has been complaining mightily about her math class. Homework is neither collected nor checked, let alone counted towards the grade. She says that her teacher doesn't really explain how to do things. I dismissed most of the complaints as being the mere grumblings of a girl who doesn't like math (a situation I am intimately acquainted with unfortunately!!).

Well, come to find out, she's right. All the way from kindergarten through 12th grade it's the same. The school has adopted a philosophy of being "inquiry-based," which means allowing the child to find the answers for themselves. Sounds good, but I don't think it works in practice, particularly in math.

In fact, it's working so poorly that the entire high school is being allowed to re-take their semester exams because such a high percentage of children got D's and F's. This will only happen, though, after mandatory math labs - 5 days a week! - for a month so they can get caught up to where they should be.

The department head defended her position, stating that they wanted to help children learn to think for themselves. Ok, I can understand that. But she said that they don't want to just give children the formulas or an explanation of how to find an answer. But isn't that what math is all about? I don't know anyone who would initially look at the equation 6C x 9(42 + c) = 83 and have any clue as to how to proceed without direction from a teacher.

As proof of this, a huge number of families have hired private tutors to help their kids. Let me tell you, for what we are paying in tuition, I can't imagine having to pay someone else to teach my kids what they should be learning in school. And many children were told that their parents were not to help them with their homework in any way!! Um, excuse me, but I am still the parent and I am ultimately still responsible for my child's education. That is the homeschool rebel in me coming out, but no one is going to tell me if my child is struggling that I can't help them understand. I'm not talking about doing the work for them, but talking them through the process.

I just don't get it. For many years we all managed to do this. Our teachers managed to collect, grade and return our homework, learning what we did and didn't understand in the process. The teachers helped us learn how to do these things and we learned. It was simple.

According to the information given in the meeting today the teachers will be moving towards a more direct teaching style and away from the inquiry based model. I hope that's true. My daughter and son, along with many other kids, deserve that much.


Catherine said...

When my daughter was five, we tried Miquon Math, which is investigational. They introduced negative numbers within the first month. She cried. She does much better with more direct instruction.

My husband just finished getting his teaching certification in math (although he is going to tutor and not teach in a classroom). He tells me that the most effective way to help all students learn is to do some investigation along with some direct teaching. Some kids learn best by figuring it out on their own. Others need instruction and practice. It sounds like your kids' school is doing the right thing, though, by dropping back and re-evaluating it's system.

A few years ago, the high school in our area went to the Core Math system (generally investigational) and the parents (and teachers) hated it. I think they stuck with it for 3 or 4 years. The parents were fussing because they couldn't figure out how to help their kids - and some of them were engineers. They're going to a combined investigational/direct teaching type thing now.

Hang in there. It sounds like the school cares that the kids learn the stuff.

Leeann said...


I have no math brain at all. You can instruct me directly or indirectly until the cows come home and I likely STILL won't get it!

That having been said, what the kids' school is doing is just beyond stupid. I hope they start adding some instruction.

Misty said...

just wanted to say happy anniversary!

Tracye said...

This post just made me angry. I would be soooo irritated if I were you. No, I'd be mad. To have made such a difficult decision to put them there vs. homeschooling (where they've been successful) only to have the teachers NOT teach, assign but NOT collect, check or grade homework (what's the point???), and tell students they're NOT allowed to get help???

It makes zero sense to me.

That math problem you posted... I looked at it and just couldn't remember where to start. I know I'm supposed to get the c's on the same side, but can't remember how to do it. And I've already learned it. How much harder would that be for a kid who's supposed to figure it out for themselves?

I really hope they make some changes. I'd be upset, too, if I were paying private school tuition but felt the need for a tutor, too.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you brought this up because when I saw "inquiry based", I ran and got the notes I had taken from a curriculum study group meeting I attended last week. One of the topics is a new science program the district is considering using. I noticed in the philosophy statement the words "inquiry based." I guess it's how one defines inquiry based. We have structured, guided and open. I plan to get more information on these types in our next meeting. I certainly do not want what you have described in your math program. That said, my dd's math class has kids working in groups to set up and solve problems. However, they do over all homework in class to talk about the corrections that need to be made and explain their mistakes. I guess the lesson learned is that we parents have to be involved and ask questions. School is very different than when I was a kid!

Jennifer said...

i'm with you there! i can see how as a former homeschooling parent, it woiuld be particularlly frustrating! remember- no matter what your schooling choice, YOU are still your child's best advocate! don't let anyone bully you out of that!


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