Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Moon Challenge Revisited

John Kennedy, Sept. 12, 1962
There is no question that going to the moon in 1969 was hard, but what's even harder today is making math learning extraordinary. Imagine if we could make the common student statement "I'm not good at math" disappear. It sounds impossible, but it really isn't; it's just plain hard. John Kennedy put a deadline (end of the decade-1960s) on when man would descend on the moon. We as teachers should do the same so we have a target when we'll solve the math problem. The educational gurus have tried to do this before (e.g. No Child Left Behind) and have failed because the goals set forth were not realistic. So what is a realistic goal for math education?

Larry Cuban makes a distinction between complex and complicated problems. See link. Complex hard is different from complicated hard in dealing with problems to solve. The latter can be done through systematic planning and human control. A complex system is more like getting a student to succeed in school.

In math education (ME) we tackle this complex system and don't do very well. (See this.) We could make ME complicated if we stood the current ME on its head and opted for a more student friendly curriculum. For example, what would happen if we created "textbooks" that kids actually wanted to read instead of our current textbooks which focus on what teachers think students ought to endure because like spinach it's good for them? It's possible, but not very likely because solving ME's dilemmas are thoroughly complex.

Here's some ideas worth thinking about when you sit down to write a lesson plan.
"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too." John Kennedy
"Across the educational landscape, a broad variety of extraordinary teachers and exceptional schools employ technology to transform student experiences, facilitating deep engagement and meaningful learning.  But take a moment to re-read that last sentence.  Note the words “extraordinary” and “exceptional.”  These are words one commonly hears associated with teachers and schools where technology is used in ways that truly enhance learning.  My goal is to be able to someday re-write that sentence so that we can report that technology is helping ordinary teachers and schools to do extraordinary things." Barry Fishman (1)

1. Fishman, B. "It's not about the Technology" Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 06, 2006. ID Number: 12584

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