Loyola (Md) Physics Professor Joseph Ganem, who published a “Back Page” piece in the American Physical Society News on his daughter’s 8th grade math homework and observed the absurdity of assigning college-level matrix manipulations to students who haven’t yet mastered the basics of algebra, now has a piece in the Baltimore Sun for (let’s say) a more general audience.
Ganem’s argument is that the czars of K-12 math curricula have three basic problems – confusing difficulty with rigor, mistaking process for understanding, and teaching concepts that are developmentally inappropriate. He also takes a whack at legislators: “Age-appropriate development and understanding of mathematical concepts do not advance fast enough to please test-obsessed lawmakers.”
This blogger wonders whether Ganem is among the parents cited in a recent survey sponsored by the Intel Corporation. The survey report concluded that many parents find they are unable to help their own kids with math and science homework. (Leslie Postal’s summary at the Orlando Sentinel blog School Zone is here, and the link to the Intel release is here).
Of course, one reason we have public schools is so that children can learn more than their parents can teach them, so I don’t see any reason for the results of the Intel survey to cause a wave of soul-searching. But I, like Professor Ganem, find some of the work my own kids are being assigned in their science and math classes inexplicable – and I helped write the new science standards that are coming into force in Florida shortly. And, like Professor Ganem, I know what skills I’d like the science and engineering majors in my introductory college physics classes to have picked up in high school. Too often, they haven’t.