Thursday, April 22, 2004

Math Curriculum "Dumbed Down"

OK, this is satire, but good satire always speaks some truth about the object of its fun. The article is about the math curriculum being watered down so that people will be more inclined to buy lottery tickets. (via Joanne Jacobs)

My soapbox needs a good standing-on at least once a day, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to weigh in on the teaching of statistics and probability in elementary schools. As part of my duties on the charter school's curriculum committee, I had a chance to review in depth the state math core curriculum and compare it with others. And the early emphasis on probability and statistics strikes me as terribly inappropriate.

I am all in favor of basic probability and statistics being taught to our math students, even at the expense of some higher level algebra, because in the information age you have to have the tools to wrap your brain around the information and make good decisions based on it. However, I am not of the opinion that children as young as five should be made to do this. I think it takes a certain amount of mental development to understand probability. Children who cannot tell the difference between imaginary monsters and toys under their beds are not in any sort of position to grasp that some events are more probable than others. Children who do not yet grasp the concepts of fraction and proportion are in no condition to understand how one portion of the circle spinner will lead to a more likely outcome, no matter how brightly colored the circle spinner is. And yet there is a probability section in every year of the core curriculum from Kindergarten on up. I do think the idea of having the students create graphs is a good one; however, they are not in much of a position to do any sort of analysis of the data more complicated than "which bar on our graph is the longest?". Other than that, this probability and statistics instruction at early ages is developmentally inappropriate.

UPDATE: Joanne also has this bit on calculator use. I've put away the soapbox for today, so you'll just have to read her take.