It will take more than this to stop me from teaching math by inquiry

My blood is boiling after seeing this article from a mainstream media outlet.

http://globalnews.ca/news/2020209/is-discovery-based-learning-hurting-canadian-math-scores/

This is not new. I have seen articles like this one before and I have also dealt with the ensuing criticisms from the parents of my students. I am open-minded, reflective and I care a lot about my work. Because I want to do the best I can for my students, I take these criticisms to heart.

First, let me make a few things clear:

  • Assessment data is an essential source of information in guiding day-to-day teaching strategies and long-term pedagogical development.
  • Over the course of their careers, teachers must adapt their strategies in order to serve the needs of their students.

Now, let me make a few points that were left out of this article (and others like it) that call inquiry-based math instruction into question:

  • Just as teachers need to adjust their teaching strategies in order to meet the needs of their students, so too do assessment strategies need to evolve to reflect these changes. This article, citing Dr. Stokke’s report for the C.D. Howe Institute, doesn’t ask what kinds of skills are being measured or how “success” in mathematics is defined. Does success mean an ability to recall math facts quickly, or does success require an ability to apply math in a variety of situations, whether they are familiar or not?
  • The world is changing and what made students successful in the past, won’t necessarily make them successful now. Dr. Stokke’s comment that If I give you a phone number, you’ll forget it quickly unless you repeat it. If you repeat it enough times, it’ll go into your long-term memory”, is particularly ironic in this light. When is the last time you memorized a phone number? Don’t you just store your contacts in your phone? As Raj Shah explains, math is different now:
  • There are other reasons math scores could be declining. How about increasing class sizes? Or decreased funding for schools? Maybe the adversarial relationships between the provinces and teacher’s unions is making teachers feel disempowered or disengaged. Maybe it’s articles like this one that discourage innovative teaching.

Discovery-based math instruction is hard to do, and attacks like these make it harder, but I won’t back down. I have seen first-hand that students are more confident, more competent and more engaged in a discovery-based approach.

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