Posts Tagged ‘Are Chinese and Indian students using a spiral math curriculum’

Why So Many Elementary Students Aren’t Mastering Basic Math Facts — Part 2 (of 2)

July 16, 2011

One of the major problems with the “spiral” math curriculum is that in every grade, limited and  precious classroom math time is being wasted  on unnecessary math concepts, given the age of the students.  Those who have put the spiral curriculum together have moved math education from practical, daily skills to incorporating many advanced and unnecessary skills (for the age of the students).  Many of these topics could be saved for higher grades (6-8) and students would arrive better prepared, and intellectually ready.

Some important topics, which are covered briefly in the curriculum, but to which little or no time is devoted to practice or mastery of these important life skills:  making change for customers, knowing addition and multiplication tables by heart, knowing how to do the simplest operations without a calculator, being able to recognize a wrong answer when a wrong button has been pushed on a calculator, developing estimation skills, becoming competent in measurement and fractions (useful to every housewife in halving or doubling recipes on a daily basis).

Consider:  Are we not cooking anymore in American society?  Are we not hanging picture frames?  Are we not doing any home repairs or improvements ourselves?   Is there never a need to count back change?   Does no one sew or do woodworking for pleasure anymore?

There is also a great disconnect in many classrooms between the material students are working on, and on knowing the reason for learning it.  Instead of letting students feel that they are learning skills which can be useful to them NOW, so much time is wasted on learning concepts where the only use is for passing a test which seems useless to the child.  Younger elementary children are mostly concrete learners, and they love and appreciate fun concrete tasks to work on.

Here are five examples of the types of things I feel should be eliminated from the Grade 2 curriculum (for seven-year-old students):

Grade 2 spending time learning to differentiate between types of quadrilaterals.

Grade 2 spends time working on composition of shapes viewed in 3D.

Grade 2 spends time learning about congruent shapes.

Grade 2 spends time on learning about lines of symmetry.

Grade 2 learns about slides, flips, and turns of geometrical figures.

Are the Chinese or Indian students spending time on these things at age 7?  I doubt it.

In my opinion, more time needs to be spent on mastery of basic life skills in the early elementary grades.

One last point about the spiral curriculum.  Math educator Brian Rude feels that the spiral curriculum should not be thrown out entirely, but that the problems are caused from barely touching on subjects each time, instead of cutting a bit deeper, so that information is retained.  He points out, however, that if cuts are too deep, that there is a danger of never having time to return to that subject, and students will also forget.  He feels a balance between the two extremes is best.

–Lynne Diligent

Other Math Posts by Lynne Diligent:

Why So Many Elementary Students Aren’t Mastering Basic Math Facts — Part 1 (of 2)