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School districts should have choice

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014 11:28 a.m. CDT

The State Board and the Legislature need to give Iowa schools the option of using either the Iowa Core Curriculum (proven loser) or the national Common Core (proven winner). 

As an indication of the lack of foundational education and training in foundational concepts the last 50 years, Iowa educators are actually discussing and claiming that the mnemonic  device to solve equations (Order of Operations) is a concept. Every educator claiming this is providing a clear example of why Iowa schools are falling behind other states and the rest of the world in math. 

As explained in the 98-page Iowa Core Mathematics report, a mnemonic device is a way of memorizing something.  An example from another discipline would be “ROY G BIV” as a way of memorizing the colors in a ray of light (whether a rainbow, prism, etc.). 

Memorizing the colors tells you nothing whatsoever about the foundational underlying science that is creating those colors. 

In a similar manner, Order of Operations tells you only the memorized set of steps to use to arrive at an answer to an equation, with absolutely no understanding of the factors involved in the equation, what they stand for, or their relationship. It also limits the number of ways a problem can be examined.

According to the 98-page Iowa Core Mathematics report, regarding standards:  “The first of these are the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics process standards of problem solving, reasoning and proof, communication, representation, and connections. The second are the strands of mathematical proficiency specified in the National Research Council’s report Adding It Up: adaptive reasoning, strategic competence, conceptual understanding (comprehension of mathematical concepts, operations and relations), procedural fluency (skill in carrying out procedures flexibly, accurately, efficiently and appropriately), and productive disposition (habitual inclination to see mathematics as sensible, useful, and worthwhile, coupled with a belief in diligence and one’s own efficacy).” 

Doing this effectively increases cognitive skills for critical thinking and problem-solving. All of these have been missing from Iowa math curriculum for the past 50 years, with memorized devices added to make it appear students might be learning something (aided and abetted by the regular dumbing down of the Iowa assessment tests).

Order of Operations is a memorizing tool so it fails to be useful in the goal of these standards.  Iowa educators do not know this.

My undergraduate degree was a double major in math and physics in a concept-based system at both the K-12 level as well as higher education (with the absence of concepts generation nipping at my heels). I did not encounter Order of Operations until I had completed my first double graduate degree program and began adjunct teaching in higher education to help with income while I completed my second double graduate degree program. 

Science and engineering do not use Order of Operations for problem-solving and critical thinking because it interferes with the ability to understand the information being processed, examined from a number of perspectives. I have had numerous conversations with people educated in other countries who have been appalled at the lack of foundational concepts in our math curriculum and the lack of understanding by educators to even understand something is missing. 

Ask educators in your school if they are considering a change in materials for their math curriculum to those provided by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (completely concept-based and for all grade levels). If they are not, there is little hope of students receiving a world class education. 

You don’t see textbook publishers being cited as competent contributors in a paper about curriculum.

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