Tall, Dark, and Mysterious


Lest I ever consider teaching elementary school math in Georgia

File under: Sound And Fury, Those Who Can't, Queen of Sciences. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 3:49 pm.

…and lest I ever make the mistake of thinking that standardization is necessary compatible with high standards:

I’m writing an introductory math text for - swear to God - an Indian company that’s outsourcing work to me, howdoyoulikethemapples. In searching for some inspiration for applications of fractions, I ran across this teacher guide. Quoth the introduction:

The lesson is created for day 145 of the 180 day sequence.

No, really. Don’t go off on any pertinent tangents, teacher; you may fall behind schedule, and your students will never have a chance to

…review the concepts presented in the unit by creating a “how-to” booklet. Students will create an entry for each concept presented. Finally, in the next lesson in the sequence entitled Fractions, Decimals, & Percents Unit Review, Day 2, students will randomly choose one of their entries to share with the class.

This is a grade 8 curriculum, by the way. Math teachers: ever wonder why your students regard math as a series of disjoint facts and tedious procedures, devoid of imagination? I don’t anymore, but if you did, it might have something to do with the fact that eighth grade teachers in Georgia must

[e]xplain to students that to review the concepts in this unit, each student will need to create a how-to manual. Each of the ten concepts addressed in step one will need to be addressed in the manual. The manual should consist of a cover page, table of contents, and 10 chapters or entries. The manual should also be bound together in some way such as stapled, connected with yarn, or in a report cover of some kind. Encourage students to be as creative as possible.

Emphasis mine. Eighth grade is old enough to be tackling logic puzzles and word problems, but whoeever conceived this bastard curriculum apparently couldn’t think of any way to do mathematics in a creative way, hence the yarn. By the way, teachers are told to spend five minutes in the middle of class explaining the format of the how-to manual - this after the ten minute brainstorming session, but before the thirty-five minute period where the children make their books explaining fractions creatively with glue and yarn. Yes, that’s the whole fifty-minute class period. For the benefit of those teachers thinking, “Well, that’s a good start, but what I really want is to be micromanaged,” Step 3 is fleshed out in detail:

Allow time for students to complete the assignment. Monitor students while they are working and assist any students experiencing difficulty.

This guards against the possibility of the teacher choosing instead to release a box of firecrackers into the centre of the room and then tell the kids to go play.

At the bottom of the webpage is a series of links about how to modify this sorry-ass curriculum to better accommodate students with various special needs. There’s less objectionable stuff there, but the guidelines for accommodating gifted students are curiously vague, considering the source. “Encourage creative thinking and expression by allowing students to choose how to approach a problem or assignment.” What on earth does that mean in this case - allow them to pick which colour of yarn they want to use for the how-to book, hmm?


  1. it’s not just georgia. much of the middle school math curriculum in new york looks like this, too.

    - rabi — 11/3/2004 @ 2:27 pm

  2. Students making a fractions “how-to” manual in 8th grade? Very strange. *ponders* Personally, I always found there was only one way for me to learn math: working problems, and checking to make sure I get the right answer. That applied when I was in 8th grade, too.

    The “General accomodations for gifted students in the regular classroom” document is a bit vague, but I noticed that it doesn’t seem to be specific to math students, and certainly isn’t specific to that particular lesson plan. It doesn’t even seem to be specific to any given ages. Whoever put together that lesson plan seems to have appropriated it as a kind of all-purpose plug-in module for “exceptional” students, without really giving much thought to the matter. Gifted students would probably be studying Algebra and not fractions in 8th-grade, anyway.

    Now, please excuse me while I go weep at Bush’s winning a second term.

    - wes — 11/3/2004 @ 7:09 pm

  3. I’m laughing, but I’m crying on the inside. My word, I am not a trained teacher, but I manage to make math understandable and enjoyable for my kids without being given directions like that. Isn’t this sort of stuff covered in teacher college? Shouldn’t it be, so that textbook writers can write, uh, meaningful things?

    - Dreama — 11/4/2004 @ 1:06 am

  4. Now, now, - don’t get your blood pressure too high.
    Just because the suggested lesson plans are overly complete does that mean those plans are set in cement? At least they seem to be pushing the idea of key concepts for a given lesson, and an ongoing summary of “how do I do _______ when the problem I am solving calls for it.”
    Not so evil, and I don’t see how that excludes working on word or logic puzzles integrating the math concepts.
    A comprehensive standard plan is likely better than a vague one, especially if the kids are stuck with a teacher that doesn’t have your particular gifts to make the lessons relevant and interesting.

    And re your comments on falling behind: a lot of current public high school curricula (especially in Ontario) do not allow for teachers to digress much or at all. When students are floundering and failing the teacher can’t re-teach or review lessons to ensure the kids comprehend. If they do, they can’t complete the curriculum. Don’t blame the teachers - many of the teachers I know spend their lunch hours and after school hours trying to help the drowning. but I can easily understand how some teachers get discouraged by a board demanding they ram a rigid an overly ambitious curriculum down a huge class of unwilling throats. As I said in an old posting - it is difficult for teachers to continue to care about students who don’t care about what you are teaching, and who are not receptive to your concepts of how math is actually relevant to their lives.

    And by the way, I love them apples! Write a kick ass text book and maybe we will see it used in Canada! Right on (and write on!!)

    - littoral zone — 11/4/2004 @ 12:30 pm

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