Whole Math: Same Problems as Whole Language
Why do we worry so much about math instruction, anyway? Aren't the "times
tables" useless nowadays? Can't kids just use calculators and computers?
In the same way that Whole Language
philosophies ruined the reading and writing ability of many of our students,
Whole Math "progressive" concepts are ruining their mathematical ability. As
with Whole Language, Whole Math techniques direct attention to the holistic
understanding of the concepts, this time in math rather than in text. But the
foundational skills - the basics - are ignoring in math, just as the alphabetic
principles, phonics, the rules of spelling, and proper handwriting, all are
ignored in the Whole Language educational philosophy. Unfortunately, both
"whole" styles of instruction pervade our nation's classrooms for both reading
and math . . . and it shows.
One of the worst intrusions of Whole
Math is a reliance on calculators to work problems instead of expecting the
student to use mental math and paper and pencil. Of course technology is good,
and of course calculators and computers are a standard tool that all students
should know how to use. They're fine for daily use for algebra and beyond.
But many of today's grade schools
are letting small children use technology at the expense of their own brain
development. Wanting to look up to date, the primary grades have tended to copy
the secondary grades in math instruction. That is a mistake.
Abandonment of mental math training
- no more memorizing math facts, no more oral drills, no more paper-and-pencil
computation sessions - denies kids the skills they need to be really good at
American kids used to rule the world
in both computation and problem-solving. We've lost ground in both areas,
particularly in computation, in recent years. When the basics go, it doesn't
take long for the higher-level thinking skills to go. Since they're the ones required
for original and creative use of mathematics in science and business, that's
scary for our future. We may be losing our edge.
The secret to numerical and logical
success in math class and beyond is being able to do math quickly and accurately
in your head. That's where "numbers sense" comes from. That's what kids need.
Good math problem-solving ability
comes from tussling out a math problem by yourself. When students in the
primary grades "do projects" in groups instead of spending "time on task" alone
with paper and pencil, they become weak, dependent thinkers, able neither to
compute confidently nor creatively solve problems.
This is why grocery store clerks
can't make change: their teachers simply didn't make them do a lot of "reps,"
memorization, math drllls and games, flash cards and other mental math
"Math by machine" can wait. Kids'
minds need math first.
Homework: For a practical parent's guide to math, see How Well Does Your Child Read, Write and Do
Math? by Ann Cook.