Tuesday, April 7, 2009

If Johnny can't read well
and follow directions,
then he can't do math

Jerome Dancis, Ph.D. (math)
Associate Professor Emeritus
Department of Mathematics,
Univ. of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742-4015
Math Education Website:

"Reading Instruction for Arithmetic Word Problems:
If Johnny can't read well and follow directions, then he can't do math"



Anonymous said...


Maryland's math profesors also wrote a letter against the new curriculum.

Here's an interview with Jerome Dancis (spot on):

Q: The following quote from Education World describes the Math Wars:

On one side of the conflict are the traditionalists who claim that students should learn math by memorizing and practicing basic facts and skills. On the other side are proponents of what is often called “whole math,” who deride the old “kill and drill” methods of education, claiming that children learn best when they discover, understand, and integrate knowledge through independent exploration. [1]

Would you say this is an accurate depiction of the longstanding debate over math education?

A: It is a common way the Math Wars conflict is misrepresented by many advocates for the Reform Math Movement. It only mentions differences in teaching styles while not mentioning the more important differences in curriculum (much weaker under Reform Math) and the even more important differences in the amount of mathematics learned (much less under Reform Math).

In fact, mathematicians advocate the importance of both conceptual understanding (Reform) and basic skills (Traditional). They are not mutually exclusive. Basic skills are necessary for conceptual understanding and problem-solving. [2]

In theory, the Math Reform Movement places great emphasis on conceptual understanding, but, in practice, the Math Reform conceptual understanding is at a very low level. Some of the Math Reform conceptual understanding is wrong and some of it is misleading. Math reform often mistakes vocabulary knowledge for conceptual understanding."

Anonymous said...

Math pedagogy is most like teaching a foreign language. Traditionalists are actually structuralists. Reform math is like learning greek, sanskrit, and latin simultaneously. Singapore is closest to the Natural Approach (and if you teach language, you'll know what I mean). You are repeatedly teaching a few key concepts to mastery as well as an appropriate amount of practice in basic operations. Reform math is exceptionally weak in 'number sense'. That is because the authors fail to understand that most children do not enter classrooms with that knowledge already engrained from home. They make too many poor assumptions about what students bring into the classroom.