In his comment to my post about calculator use, Robb Ponton
included some links to YouTube videos on this very subject. (Thanks, Robb!) One of these--Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth
--featured M.J. McDermott
, a meteorologist for a news station in Seattle, criticizing the reform math curriculum adopted in Washington. She couldn't find the math, she said, and was appalled at the way the materials encouraged students to use calculators. I would encourage you to watch it along with the replies and rebuttals that she received.
For me, the most interesting part came at the end when she described her experience of going back to college for a degree some 20 years after getting her BA. She found fault with her fellow students, most of whom were just out of high school, in three ways:
- They lacked an inability to work alone.
- They lacked math fluency and understanding of symbolic language.
- They lacked basic math skills and were completely calculator dependent.
I've heard the second two before but was surprised by the first one. She comments that the students were unable to solve problems without having to run out and get help and input from other people. The reform math books evidently include a lot of group work activities. She posits a vision of the lone learner, calculating away with paper and pencil.
As I listened to her, I thought about what I did yesterday. I work from home. Right now, I am working on a project in which I am developing online professional development content using video. To the untrained eye, I am working alone solving problems. But, look a little more closely. I am accessing the video on the web and using a blog to talk to others who are working on the project. I am creating my content in Google docs so I can share it with the other members of the writing team. My email and chat software is open and buzzing with messages back and forth. In fact, the collaborative tools that are available make it sort of silly NOT to share with others as I work.
This ability to easily collaborate turns the old production model on its head. You know, the one where students create something and then the teacher grades it. When I taught writing in the 80s, I had no way to really follow what my students were writing. We had to come to some arbitrary stopping point where they turned in a draft and I returned it with comments. This past semester, on the other hand, I wrote a paper online, with the professor essentially following along. As I do my development work, I want feedback as I go along rather than discovering after it's all over that I missed something essential.
I guess I just don't see the ability to work alone as a very important one so was surprised by her criticism. Is looking for help and input a bad thing, especially when the tools to connect are right at your fingertips? Maybe this is another digital native/digital immigrant divide: as kids grow up with the ability to communicate and share all the time in multiple ways will they also naturally become more collaborative?