math teaching in elementary schools

Much of teaching is not teaching what you are teaching.

When you plant seeds you are not just putting bits of organic matter in a hole in the ground. You hope that a process of your continued attention, a good environment, and basic nature will yield a desired outcome after time.

The education of our children is much a matter of establishing habits and starting a process of learning. Some skills, such as phonics or arithmetic, may have immediate application. But they are also just a start towards a continual development of skills and talents.

Mathematicians and math educators attended a “peace summit” to settle the math wars, reports the Washington Post. Participants were surprised to discover a wide area of agreement:

  • Heavy reliance on calculators in the early elementary grades is a bad idea.
  • Elementary school children must have automatic recall of number facts, meaning that, yes, they have to memorize multiplication tables.
  • Children must master basic algorithms. The meeting participants spent time defining the word “algorithm,” which means a set of rules for solving a problem in a finite number of steps.

[Joannejacobs 23 December 2004]

When a calculator is used as a crutch, rather than as a tool to implement an algorithm, then its operator becomes just another tool and not a human. Technology is often seen this way as a crutch and not as an enabler. This resolution seems to acknowledge this problem by putting away the technology and placing the emphasis on the human.

It may just be an appropriate recognition that we want our children to become humans and not machines and that it is the humanity that yields us the benefits of technological innovation, an understanding of the world around us, and a better understanding of ourselves.

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