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BC Prof Suggests Young Children Need Less Formal Math, Not More

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the all-in-favor-say-pi dept.

Education 427

DesScorp writes "Professor Peter Gray, a developmental psychologist and researcher at Boston College, recounts an experiment done in New Hampshire schools in 1929, where math was completely taken out of the curriculum of the poorest schools from the area until the sixth grade. The results were surprising; with just one year of math under their belts, the poor students did as well or better than students from better schools by the end of the sixth grade year, despite the fact that the better schools had math in their curriculum all throughout elementary school. Professor Gray thinks children are not mentally wired for the kind of formal math instruction that is taught in schools, and that we'd be better served by putting off the teaching of theory until the seventh grade. He scoffs at the notion that if children are failing with current levels of math instructions then we should double down and make them do more math in school."

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most people arent wired for math (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616090)

but some, including me, are. ill kill you before you take my math!

Re:most people arent wired for math (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616158)

Pre-7th grade math is boring as hell anyway. Give me a calculator and let me start with the interesting math.

Re:most people arent wired for math (2, Insightful)

Jhon (241832) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616216)

When pre-7th grade math is NO math, then 7th grade math will BE pre-7th grade math.

Re:most people arent wired for math (5, Insightful)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616654)

I think the point of TFA is that once a kid's brain has developed to the 7th-grade level, you can cover all the pre-7th math in a year or less rather than taking 6 years to do it.

Re:most people arent wired for math (1)

Zediker (885207) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616202)

Damn pythagoreans... Always hiding in the woodwork somewhere...

Re:most people arent wired for math (1)

Jhon (241832) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616274)

Actually, it's the Parmenidians you need to worry about...

Re:most people arent wired for math (2, Funny)

Zediker (885207) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616350)

For a second I though you meant the Parmesianians and curiously had a craving for italian food.

Re:most people arent wired for math (1)

vishbar (862440) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616422)

I see you were involved in his other study where children weren't taught punctuation or capitalization.

I didn't need math... (5, Funny)

nebaz (453974) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616138)

I graduated high school at 18 with no math, and I turned out fine. Next year, when I turn 16, I'll be able to drive, finally.

Congress (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616218)

You wouldn't happen to be the guy who does the numbers for Congress?

Re:Congress (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616484)

What? Congress needs someone to do numbers? I thought that was what legislation was for!

Re:Congress (1)

ciaohound (118419) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616502)

No, he works at McDonald's. Old joke: You can classify people by the questions they ask. Science majors ask, "What are the rules that govern the universe?" Engineering majors ask, "How can I use those rules to build useful products?" Business majors ask, "How much will it cost/how many can I sell?" Everyone else asks, "Do you want fries with that?"

Re:Congress (1)

bazfum (713603) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616748)

IT Guys ask "Are you SURE it's plugged in?"

As someone who was better than average... (2, Interesting)

Nemyst (1383049) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616140)

I can say that reducing math further than it already is would dumb down school beyond the point of non-return. We already are using the lowest common denominator enough, if we keep on this way you won't learn anything. I know someone whose child needs to get book from home during school because the teaching is so slow, boring and dumbed down that there's no point to listening when she grasped everything in the first five minutes.

For once, think of the bright children!

Re:As someone who was better than average... (5, Insightful)

e2d2 (115622) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616302)

I think you hit it spot on, it's not the curriculum, it's how they make it as boring as possible. I didn't enjoy math until I was actually out of public school and did that in my private life. When I picked up a Dover math book and learned the mysteries of such things as mathematical abstraction, that was exciting. At least more than learning maths verboten with no end goal in sight.

Another thing is the lack of math history being taught. Yes 1+0=1. But why? Where did zero come from? Where did numerals come from? Why was Algebra invented and where did it come from? What use is it? What about geometry? Who was Euclid? I could go on and on with fascinating topics related to math. These things are rarely answered. It's all about teaching you to understand one function, one algorithm, one technique, etc. Never to understand _why_. It downright sucks, they take all the fun out of a spectacular field. Thanks to their "teaching" me, I thought math had no room for expansion. Boy was I wrong. It's an abstract fun house where you can do whatever you dream up. To a kid, that itself should be reason enough to love any math.

Re:As someone who was better than average... (3, Funny)

e2d2 (115622) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616418)

Verbatim also. Verboten? Well it should be.

Re:As someone who was better than average... (1)

Nemyst (1383049) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616672)

Very true, history seems to be painted into a corner and isolated from the other courses most of the time, even though it should be integrated in order to be really compelling. Learning dates and facts you don't care about will never attract students, but learning where what you're using every single day comes from is insightful.

I also think we're sticking too much to the standard "teach them the basics, the necessary" formula. It is necessary, but it shouldn't be the ONLY thing. Math is full of quirks and fun things to ponder on. I think children could gain by being shown things like that on top of the necessary stuff because it's how you'll keep their interest high! I found maths boring during all of elementary school and most of high school. Only a few teachers realized that it was good to give some variety to maths, and so sometimes we were introduced to pretty much entirely unrelated but still nice stuff like 0.999 = 1 or the golden ratio or prime number properties or probabilities in poker, but it was all too rare. People in general need to see the applications ("What will learning this help me with?") of what they learn in order to find the interest to learn it.

Re:As someone who was better than average... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616326)

I think the general idea is that if you wait to teach it until they're ready, you can teach it quickly instead of dumbing it down the way it is now.

I'm not at all sure it would actually work out that way, but the option deserves to be investigated. Especially in light of the current situation, anything that could offer improvements should be considered.

Re:As someone who was better than average... (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616346)

I can see holding off on math, but NOT basic arithmetic. However, when you teach a kid how to add and subtract, do it with examples. Show him two beads have him count, show him two more, have him count, then pile them together and have him count them again. That way he has a basic understanding of what numbers are for and how they work.

I think they do this now, they didn't when I was in school. Then, it was all rote memorization.

Re:As someone who was better than average... (4, Insightful)

RobinEggs (1453925) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616458)

I know someone whose child needs to get book from home during school because the teaching is so slow, boring and dumbed down that there's no point to listening when she grasped everything in the first five minutes.

For once, think of the bright children!

If we don't force kids through things for which they aren't ready, the bright kids - like your friend's child - will stop suffering the endless days of boredom as other kids struggle pointlessly with it. Doing something like this counts as thinking of all children if it works. Get the bright kids some additional tutors, better classes, or some genuinely interesting side projects, don't simply insist that making the regular classroom any less rigorous, even temporarily, will punish the bright kids. Such insistence is exactly why we're here, failing, which is TFA's entire point: there's a hell of a lot more to improving childhood education, including the education of child geniuses, than simply doing more work at a higher level earlier.

Good for Peter Gray, daring to hypothesize the possibility of better results through some mechanism other than simply shoving more work down their throats at a young age.

Re:As someone who was better than average... (5, Funny)

flitty (981864) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616488)

We already are using the lowest common denominator enough,

Aaaand you just confused all of these kids.

Re:As someone who was better than average... (2, Funny)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616690)

I can say that reducing math further than it already is would dumb down school beyond the point of non-return.

Here in the US, we have an entire state that believes you can teach US history without mentioning Thomas Jefferson, and biology without mentioning evolution.

I think the point of no-return was reached for them some time ago.

Re:As someone who was better than average... (1)

skine (1524819) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616712)

I think the biggest problem with both primary and secondary school math programs is that they teach students how to do problems, and not to understand the concept of the problem.

For example, I'm currently a TA for a statistics class. It's easy to get a student to remember that if they want X in standard units given average $\mu$ and standard deviation $\sigma$, they use the formula $z = \frac{X - \mu}{\sigma}$, and if they want to find a number $X$ that is $z$ standard deviations from the mean, then they use the formula $\mu + z \cdot \sigma = X$ (if you don't get the LaTeX, please ask).

What is difficult is to make the student realize that they have memorized the same formula twice.

Re:As someone who was better than average... (-1, Flamebait)

zhrike (448699) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616724)

I can say that reducing math further than it already is would dumb down school beyond the point of non-return. We already are using the lowest common denominator enough, if we keep on this way you won't learn anything.

As someone who was better than average? Perhaps you need some help with statistics and correlation.

I know someone whose child needs to get book from home during school because the teaching is so slow, boring and dumbed down that there's no point to listening when she grasped everything in the first five minutes.

Your experience is anecdotal. This article cites a longitudinal study. Perhaps we should restructure all education based on your second-hand observations of someone who has a child.

But hey, why bother with that when we can arrogantly assume that we know better?

Do you actually think before

Well (1)

Dyinobal (1427207) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616162)

Well I can buy, that young brains are not always best suited for specific tasks, but it seems contrary to conventional wisdom to remove math till the 6th grade. I can't imagine walking around blind in that respect till I was 12 or so.

Re:Well (1)

ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616604)

I should point out that at least one educational theory agrees with this guy. A relative of mine once worked for one of the Waldorf Schools. [] While their high school education is mostly mainstream, their elementary school education is very different. Virtually no formal math or science training until age 8 or so, and they introduce reading a bit late as well. From my understanding (admittedly limited), they have a quasi-religious belief that children's souls aren't attached at birth, and only begin attaching around age 7 or so. Until then, you're better off training the body, not the mind, so they do a lot of work with arts and crafts instead of traditional core educational material. And no, the whole "soulless" thing doesn't mean they consider them evil or anything, they just believe that all people develop in this way.

I consider their beliefs nutty, but their graduates seem to do quite well. Maybe the nutty belief accidentally corresponds with the natural progression of a child's brain development?

Relevance? (3, Insightful)

HikingStick (878216) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616164)

Unless they are going to re-create the study today, I don't believe the conclusions can be held as valid. Too much has changed in the intervening years.

It is an interesting concept, however, though some would argue along a similar vein regarding reading: some kids are just not ready until they are older. I just don't think anyone in the U.S. today has the brass to re-create the study.

Re:Relevance? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616386)

They are, in fact, recreating the study today. Have you seen the kids that go to Boston College?

Re:Relevance? (4, Insightful)

Fallingcow (213461) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616392)

Even if they did re-create the study, and a bunch of schools started doing this, I can assure you that most of them would decide that "less math" was just as good as "no math" and far less scary, and that "6th-7th grade" could be cut back to "2nd grade" without affecting the results of the program.

From what I've seen, school administrators (principals up to and including district supers) are very good at latching on to (possibly useful) fads in pedagogy, but very bad at actually implementing entire programs; they'll go on about how important this is, and how the teachers must follow its principles, then direct them to do things contrary to it either because they don't actually understand it or because those parts are too scary. A couple years later they'll pick some other program to get excited about and it'll start all over.

Most of them also have a damn poor understanding of the scientific process, which might explain some of the above nonsense.

do the study again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616176)

I'm pretty skeptical of basing current decisions off of studies done nearly a century ago... perhaps if they did the study again and got the same results I would be more interested.

Many other explanations (3, Insightful)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616188)

There are many other explanations: First in the case in question, it may very well have been that the math teaching was so bad in that particular case that no teaching worked better than teaching math badly. Given how many bad teachers there are out there and how much they turn kids off of math, that wouldn't be at all surprising. Moreover, while it may be true that many kids aren't wired for mat, the best math students are wired for math at that age or much younger. Those kids need some form of organized input so that they can really take advantage of that ability. If kids can benefit from math instruction we can't say no to them on the off chance that it might hurt the more slowly developing kids.

Re:Many other explanations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616332)

You must not have been in a school recently. With "no-child-left-behind" in place, schools very intentionally cater to the slowest developing students.

Re:Many other explanations (5, Insightful)

Cassini2 (956052) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616538)

It may very well have been that the math teaching was so bad in that particular case that no teaching worked better than teaching math badly.

I tend to agree. The overwhelming majority of elementary school teachers are neither math nor science majors. It is quite likely the teachers don't understand the reasons for the math theory. They just know it should be taught. As such, they are not likely to be using approaches that relate the theory in ways that people (kids) would understand it. It is humbling to have a PhD in Engineering, and not be able to understand Grade 6 math homework. If I can't understand the lessons they are trying to teach with regards to digits and digit placement, then what chance do the Grade 6 kids have?

On another occasion, while in first year Algebra, I vividly remember suddenly understanding key concepts from Grade 7 math. For instance, why does one care that numbers have the distributive, associative, and commutative properties? that can be named and explained? The knowledge is not helpful until vector and matrix math is covered. At that point, data types exist where the associative and commutative properties may or may not apply.

I'm just not sure what is the point of introducing concepts to children, without the ability to explain the reasons for the concepts. Why teach math, with no text book? Why focus so much on obscure terminology, to the point that no one understands why you are even asking a question? Math is about understanding why things happen. Not wrote answers to naming conventions.

Re:Many other explanations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616558)

Right but when you're wired for math, three years of fractions kinda turns your brain off. I'm still amazed that they thought all of us actually needed that kind of beating. I just memorized to 16ths as that was as "bad" as it got with the homework.

Re:Many other explanations (1)

urusan (1755332) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616566)

Another explanation: the recitation class that replaced arithmetic caused the difference.

We'd have to run more experiments to be sure.

What about "parts of speech" (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616190)

I had way too many English classes dealing with things like participles.. Who cares, when will that EVER be useful?

Re:What about "parts of speech" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616312)

I don't know when you went through school, but I (born in '86) know I didn't learn that material. Any study of tenses only occurred in foreign language classes. It didn't hurt me that I know of -- I even say "If I were...".

Re:What about "parts of speech" (1)

mrnobo1024 (464702) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616334)

Being a common error, I think it's important to learn about participles so you don't end up dangling them.

1 trial is never, ever statistically wrong (1)

Kashell (896893) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616196)

And we should always proscribe policy change/medication/jobs/educational opportunity based upon it.


Many kids hate math (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616200)

If you delay math instruction then children could become emotionally invested in school and enjoy it.

Then you spring it on them once they're comfortable. Far better than having someone know for the rest of their life that they "suck at math'" because they weren't ready for it in 3rd grade.

Set Theory (3, Insightful)

Extremus (1043274) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616224)

During my undergrad in CS, a professor told us that children can manage set theory more naturally than arithmetic. In his view, set theory should be more prominent in children education. He said that during a course of categories (the meta-theory of set theory).

Re:Set Theory (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616364)

I don't know about US, but I did learn the basics of set theory at first. I don't know what "formal math" means for developmental psychologists, but certainly not the same thing as for people actually doing math - "formal math" would most likely imply Jarnik's calculus bible, widely considered the ultimate showdown of one individual's math awesomeness in these parts of world, and other doorstoppers like that for the other disciplines. We *did* have math in the elementary school. And granted, it was no "formal math", however. Nobody wanted us to do proofs.

Re:Set Theory (2, Interesting)

FroBugg (24957) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616370)

Even more interesting is that the way we count is completely unnatural. Research with both small children and isolated Amazon tribes indicates that our natural inclination is to count logarithmically, but we train our kids away from this shortly after they learn to talk.

Re:Set Theory (1)

GreatAntibob (1549139) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616462)

The notion that set theory should be more prominent in elementary mathematics education was one of the ideas behind "New Math" in the 60s/70s.

New Math didn't work for a few reasons. Teachers and parents weren't familiar with the concepts and had difficulty teaching students about set theory. It was also more difficult to address why and how set theory (and other New Math ideas) related to the real world. And the level of abstraction necessary for teaching the concepts was beyond several students. There were several cases of middle school children unable to handle multiplication (even if they could explain the commutative property and sort of how to work in other number bases).

Children may be able to handle the concept more easily, but they certainly won't see how it relates to the real world and will end up being unable to balance their checkbooks. Basically, going back and trying the same failed idea (but with a spiffy new name and adjusted philosophical underpinning) is probably not a good thing.

Maybe some of the rote nature of arithmetic can be reduced, but it's almost certainly necessary. Elementary school education is about developing the basis for more advanced education as well as giving the kids the basic skills necessary to function (barely) as adults. Besides, most CS profs I know were thinking in terms of educating high functioning CS majors. That's going to be very different from the real world - where most students will never need (or want) much of the formalism of set theory.

Re:Set Theory (4, Informative)

bmo (77928) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616500)

Hello. I was a victim of New Math.

New Math presented me with set theory in elementary school.

Symbolic logic is not a mystery to me. Indeed, I aced a logic course where over half the people dropped it like a hot rock in the first week.

However, arithmetic with pencil and paper is like pulling teeth for me. I hate it with a passion. Learning how to do square roots in 7'th grade by pencil and paper was torture. Thank Glub for calculators.

So yes, your professor is entirely correct. Teaching set theory preps students for boolean algebra and all that happy nonsense. There are trade-offs, though.


Re:Set Theory (1)

OlRickDawson (648236) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616686)

Isn't that what the "New Math" was that was taught during the late 1970s in America? I was taught set theory in grade school then, but my kids aren't being taught that now.

Maybe the teaching is just that bad... (1)

RabidRabb1t (1668946) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616244)

Maybe the parents were simply better at teaching their students math. I remember back in elementary school when they tried to teach us "new math" through these misguided methods that were extremely unhelpful and confused many students. My parents taught me how to divide the real way.

Or could it be the way they're taught (5, Interesting)

0racle (667029) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616264)

I've long felt that math taught in grades 1-7~8 could be compressed into a year or two with no repercussions. They just 'teach' the same thing over and over and it's not until middle school that you start really seeing anything different.

grade 1-3 - addition, subtraction, basic shapes (passed off as geometry)
grade 4-6 - addition, subtraction, basic shapes, might see a fraction by grade 6
grade 6-8 - all of the above, fractions, simple geometry.

Then in grade 8-9 where they start to introduce simple algebra.

So is it that children don't do well learning math early, which goes against everything else we know about how the human brain learns, or that you've bored them to tears by grade 3 and they just stop listening?

Basically .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616494)

Math in the early grades is just rote memorization.

Re:Or could it be the way they're taught (1)

Eggbloke (1698408) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616570)

This. I remember being told that "we would learn about negative numbers next year" even though we all already knew of their existence and the basics of them. The teacher would simply refuse to teach them to us.

Re:Or could it be the way they're taught (2, Interesting)

boppacesagain08 (1317259) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616592)

The majority of children need that repetition to even recall how to do basic addition, subtraction. Do you know how many children struggle with basic arithmetic all through elementary school. In my school district at least, there was a tiered system that seemed to work very well. You were in an essentially randomized teacher's classroom in elementary school (out of 3 classes per grade). Then you were split into high, medium, and low groups, and actually switched teachers for math section, even in elementary school. Within each of these groups, there were 3-4 subtiers each with 5-8 students, except for the highest of the high, where they pretty much just sit you down with an algebra book and tell you to go to town.

As long as teachers make this sort of differentiation among students, they are all getting (in the teacher's judgement at least) the exact subject matter / practice time that they need.

I don't think your suggestion that only some students see a fraction by grade 6 is necessarily valid. There were 8 students in my middle school class of about 300 that had a teacher shipped in from the high school to teach Algebra 1 in 6th grade, whereas there were other students that had a specialized two-year Freshman-Sophomore Algrebra 1 curriculum.

I don't know when / where you were in school, but at least in Missouri (a region not exactly known for pushing education bounds), differentiation is pretty common, in math / reading. Science / history are another subject (pardon the pun).

Re:Or could it be the way they're taught (1)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616646)

You saw a fraction by grade 6? Algebra in grade 8? No wonder the US school system is so fucked - with low expectations like that, there is no way to do anything but scrape the bottom of the barrel. One of my best memories in Math class was when we derived various proofs for the Pythagorean Theorem - in friggin 6th grade. And I was certainly not one of the Math-heads in my class.

So in that sense, I'd agree with you - kids in American schools have got to be bored to tears.

Re:Or could it be the way they're taught (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616702)

I don't think they're saying that kids don't or can't learn math early, it's that kids don't or can't learn math early the way that we try to teach it to them. I think what they're getting at isn't so much "no math in schools" as it is that math should be a small but significant part of every other subject.

It's possible that they're right. We know that responsible decision making is nearly impossible for most prepubescents, which is basically logical thinking, which is the basis of mathematics. Trying over and over again to cram a subject down kids' throat that they can't understand is bound to cause problems with that subject later, and lots of research has shown that math especially is subject to the "I'm bad at math" belief leading directly to the "I'm bad at math" reality.

Re:Or could it be the way they're taught (1)

S77IM (1371931) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616736)

Really? When I was in public elementary school ~20 years ago, we learned fractions in 3rd grade, and decimals and negative numbers in 4th. By 7th grade we had algebraic formulas. This was the highest-level math class but it wasn't super-advanced (basically the top 25% math students -- it wasn't some top 1% magnet school or anything).

Has math education really gotten dumbed down so much in the intervening years? Granted the early math had a ton of memorization of times tables and I hated that part, but that will always be there.

  -- 77IM

Re:Or could it be the way they're taught (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616758)

People learn through repetition and college is no different, at least with stuff in my 'core' engineering curriculum.

First few weeks of differential equations is algebra and calculus. Dynamics is just Statics with some extra terms. Controls is just differential equations and calculus. Algebra is used constantly in all of the above.

Education is meant to build on itself.

And I think that your numbers are a bit off. I know we started long division in 4th grade. 3th grade was simple multiplication and division. Fractions was long before 6th grade.

Well... (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616268)

Here is my non-scientific example...

I didn't go well at math in school from 2nd Grade through 6th grade. I really struggled at it, of course I had cancer then, but I struggled at math. On the Iowa Standards tests I was 11-12th grade level at every subject except math, in those I was at my grade level or a year above it.

In 7th grade everything clicked for me, my buddy and I were put into advanced 7th grade math and by 8th grade we were bumped to High School math and science. By the end of our 4 year High School I'd taken 6 years of math (pre-algebra, algebra I&II, geometry, calculus and calculus 101 through the community college) and 2 years of physics.

Because Math sucks... (1)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616272)

Math sucks. For the kids that are not skilled with it, like myself, math is painful. For the kids that are more adept, waiting for the kids like me to catch up is painful.

More maturity means more coping ability for things that suck.

It's simple, really.

Re:Because Math sucks... (1)

SoupGuru (723634) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616486)

I hated math. Math leaves a sour taste in my mouth still.

My brain isn't comfortable working with "abstract" numbers. I loathe sitting down and "doing" math. It was many years later that I realized that I don't mind math and can actually be decent with it if I have a real problem to solve and I can apply my logic to it. Numbers with context in real life are fun.

I think I would have been one of the ones to benefit from less formalized instruction in my early years. Had I started learning formal math later, perhaps it would have been easier for me to get since I wouldn't have developed a prejudiced view.

good teacher (2, Insightful)

jmyers (208878) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616282)

Perhaps the 6 graders that just started math had a really good teacher. One year with a good teacher can outpace several years with a mediocre teacher. The conclusion of the study should be better teaching methods not less education.

Re:good teacher (1)

urusan (1755332) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616526)

So your hypothesis is that every single one of the experimental classrooms had good teachers? I find that unlikely. Don't you think the people running the experiment would have considered that and ensured that there was not a substantial difference in the teachers?

Re:good teacher (1)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616680)

Not to mention that several years with a mediocre teacher can actually destroy a person's ability to deal with math. I had a friend who only passed his final math exam because three people taught him stuff that in 3 months he was supposed to have learned years ago. But thank to a horrible Math teacher in his formative years, he hated math and was almost incapable of getting over it. Thankfully, he did - but it was amazing the impact that one bad teacher had on him.

Who needs math... That'll be $2.. (1)

Mekkah (1651935) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616288)

So you're telling me that anyone under 6th grade will never have to count, ever, not for lunch at school, the change needed for a candy bar? God forbid he wants 3 candy bars and has to multiply, or wants to SPLIT a whole candy bar with a friend and divide.

Sounds legit, lets take out reading too and let our children just growl at each other until they are adults, then throw it at them all at once.

less FORMAL math, maybe (2, Interesting)

Speare (84249) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616292)

Ever since my daughter was able to speak, I've been playing games and doing things that help to "feel" math, not just know math facts. How many bumps on a lego brick? Can you estimate a pile of pennies? She's dabbled with pi, exponents and binary. It's great to hear a third grader explaining "non-negative integers" to a visiting playmate, but sad to hear the playmate struggle with something like that simple concept. (No wonder most cultures invented "zero" so recently.) Now we're having fun with prime numbers, and getting into factorization. She's dinking around with Python a little bit, but it's mostly the typing skills that hold her back. Numeracy is a lot more than facts, and at this age you have to play to learn.

Re:less FORMAL math, maybe (1)

boppacesagain08 (1317259) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616614)

Can you estimate a pile of pennies?

I definitely misread that about three times as something more naughty, and thought two things:

a.) What the hell is that?
b.) You are a terrible, terrible father.

No no no NO! (1)

Normal Dan (1053064) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616296)

Don't take math away. When I was a young man (preschool) I had a babysitter who tought me how to multiply using beans. It was a very easy concept for me to learn at the time. No, I couldn't pronounce 'multiplication', but the concept itself made perfect sense. It wasn't until I got to at least the first grade before anyone tried to formally teach me. You are likely teaching kids math in the wrong way. Don't make kids to twice as much math. Don't take math away. Instead, try different teaching tactics. If I can learn multiplication in a few minutes from my babysitter, surly it can't be that hard for kids to pick up at a young age.

Re:No no no NO! (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616522)

At the end of the summary it says something very profound, "we would be better off putting off the teaching of theory". I could not agree more. Elementary schools should not teach theory of anything. They should teach the basics: 1+1=2, 1+2=3...1x2=2,2x2=4, etc.. Maybe in 4th or 5th grade you could start teaching more complicated things like, "If 1+1=2, then 2=1+1" and "If 2+2=4 and 3+1=4, then 2+2=3+1".

How about informal math (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616310)

Where you turn up for class wearing whatever you like, whenever you like.

BTW where I come from, the subject "Mathematics" was abreviated as "Maths" (since it is plural.

It's all in the approach . . . (1)

hideouspenguinboy (1342659) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616344)

I was horrible at math until I got a teacher who tried something new - she told me to work my way through the book at my own pace and let her know when I was done - I finished high school algebra in a few weeks, after getting D's in (almost) every previous math class. Not everyone will thrive in that scenario, but the point is that it's all in the approach - a few weeks of effective education can be more valuable than years of ineffective droning in front of a blackboard.

Re:It's all in the approach . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616506)

Was she hot, by any chance?

What? (1)

lennier1 (264730) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616348)

So there's a mythical math month?

sixth grade? (1)

twotailakitsune (1229480) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616354)

In fifth Grade I was learn pre-algebra in public school. Solving for X, and Solving for X and Y with 2 or more equations. I was not in honers classes.This was the basic math work for that grade.

They used scales to teach us. Take Bags of balls mark some as 'X', and some bags as 'Y'. Find out home many balls are in X and in Y. Got the idea?

Re:sixth grade? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616436)

I don't know how many balls are in your bag, but there's only two in mine.

If you've got none, but still have the bag, I'm sorry. If you've got three or more, than damn - I'm sure there's a job in movies in your future!

Re:sixth grade? (1)

fotoguzzi (230256) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616504)

I was not in honers classes.

Instructor quality (2, Insightful)

ciaohound (118419) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616382)

Not really a surprise, if the math instruction that you eliminate is poor to begin with. From the article:

The school that Kenschaft visited happened to be in a very poor district, with mostly African American kids, so at first she figured that the worst teachers must have been assigned to that school, and she theorized that this was why African Americans do even more poorly than white Americans on math tests. But then she went into some schools in wealthy districts, with mostly white kids, and found that the mathematics knowledge of teachers there was equally pathetic.

Finding good math teachers is a challenge, in my experience. In the US, most elementary teachers are not really "math" teachers, and mathematicians aren't necessarily good teachers. My four-year-old son attended a Montessori preschool and I was amazed at the math that they were teaching him -- amazingly good. I believe it conferred numeracy that will serve him well for the rest of his life. Full disclosure: I teach high school math.

Re:Instructor quality (2, Insightful)

jdreyer (121294) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616658)

Kids naturally learn languages best when they are young, and math is a language. Sadly, though, few elementary school teachers are native speakers.

(Disclosure: I'm a math educator [] too.)

Re:Instructor quality (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616720)

I think the issue is one of supply and demand.

If you're good at math you have access to lots of fields that pay really well (engineering, science, and even applied stuff like accounting). Those who go into teaching are probably those who really love teaching. Since there are so few, the good ones tend to end up at the secondary level. Plus, at the primary levels teachers tend to be generalists anyway.

There is also seems to be a correlation between skills in math/science/etc and personality, which probably also leads many in these fields to avoid teaching.

Mix in kids who don't really want to be there, and you have very little incentive for anybody to go into this field.

If you do moderately well in the sciences in college and take the right courses you could probably get secondary certification in chemistry, biology, and physics. I suspect you could easily have guaranteed employment for life that way - assuming that you're willing to live with a mediocre paycheck.

Kids cant be Kids anymore. (1)

lordmage (124376) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616394)

I dont remember having 2 hours of Homework a night in the Second Grade. Yet it seems that Kids are getting MORE and MORE homework. They have no time for anything else nowadays.

Its sad.

Re:Kids cant be Kids anymore. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616540)

What are you talking about? My 8 year old completes most homework within 15 minutes, and maths within 5m and he gets extra work for being in the G.P. too. Most of the time he and his friends are either playing inside our house or outside in the street after the homework is done. They're certainly not lacking for time to do other things.

Do you actually have any experience with kids and their homework, or is it all second hand? Maybe you used to just get it done, and people around you complaining have poor performing kids?

Re:Kids cant be Kids anymore. (1)

lordmage (124376) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616634)

Obviously you live in some dream school system or you dont read with your kids, and do the spelling preparations, or the projects, or the worksheets, or the readers clubs, or the fun math. I have an 11 and a 9 year old (now in 3rd grade doing less homework than in second grade). In many school systems, the argument has become, is it too much homework?

Another quote from the famous (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616424)

Math is hard - Barbie

Some basic arithmetic skills is still OK to teach (1)

porky_pig_jr (129948) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616426)

but probably can hold on with algebra till the 6th grade or so.

John Holt said much the same decades ago... (3, Interesting)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616466)

See John Holt's books here (he was a long time school teacher): []

NYS Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto says the whole point of schooling is to dumb most people down: [] []
"Look again at the seven lessons of schoolteaching: confusion, class assignment, dulled responses, emotional and intellectual dependency, conditional self-esteem, surveillance -- all of these things are good training for permanent underclasses, people derived forever of finding the center of their own special genius. And in later years it became the training shaken loose from even its own original logic -- to regulate the poor; since the 1920s the growth of the school bureaucracy and the less visible growth of a horde of industries that profit from schooling just exactly as it is, has enlarged this institution's original grasp to where it began to seize the sons and daughters of the middle classes."

The whole point of those early lessons is to waste kids' time and dumb them down. As Gatto says elsewhere, it was all worked out in public to create and industrial utopia and powerful nation-states with strong armies. He calls it a "conspiracy against ourselves": []
"A huge price had to be paid for business and government efficiency, a price we still pay in the quality of our existence. Part of what kids gave up was the prospect of being able to read very well, a historic part of the American genius. Instead, school had to train them for their role in the new overarching social system. But spare yourself the agony of thinking of this as a conspiracy. It was and is a fully rational transaction, the very epitome of rationalization engendered by a group of honorable men, all honorable men--but with decisive help from ordinary citizens, from almost all of us as we gradually lost touch with the fact that being followers instead of leaders, becoming consumers in place of producers, rendered us incompletely human. It was a naturally occurring conspiracy, one which required no criminal genius. The real conspirators were ourselves. When we sold our liberty for the promise of automatic security, we became like children in a conspiracy against growing up, sad children who conspire against their own children, consigning them over and over to the denaturing vats of compulsory state factory schooling."

With the internet, we could have "learning on demand", not "learning just in case". My essay on that:
    "Why Educational Technology Has Failed Schools" []
Ultimately, educational technology's greatest value is in supporting "learning on demand" based on interest or need which is at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to "learning just in case" based on someone else's demand.
Compulsory schools don't usually traffic in "learning on demand", for the most part leaving that kind of activity to libraries or museums or the home or business or the "real world". In order for compulsory schools to make use of the best of educational technology and what is has to offer, schools themselves must change. ... So, there is more to the story of technology than it failing in schools. Modern information and manufacturing technology itself is giving compulsory schools a failing grade. Compulsory schools do not pass in the information age. They are no longer needed. What remains is just to watch this all play out, and hopefully guide the collapse of compulsory schooling so that the fewest people get hurt in the process.

Ivan Illich says similar things: [] []

More resources: []
During this time, the American educational professionals Raymond and Dorothy Moore began to research the academic validity of the rapidly growing Early Childhood Education movement. This research included independent studies by other researchers and a review of over 8,000 studies bearing on Early Childhood Education and the physical and mental development of children.
    They asserted that formal schooling before ages 8-12 not only lacked the anticipated effectiveness, but was actually harmful to children. The Moores began to publish their view that formal schooling was damaging young children academically, socially, mentally, and even physiologically. They presented evidence that childhood problems such as juvenile delinquency, nearsightedness, increased enrollment of students in special education classes, and behavioral problems were the result of increasingly earlier enrollment of students.[9] The Moores cited studies demonstrating that orphans who were given surrogate mothers were measurably more intelligent, with superior long term effects - even though the mothers were mentally retarded teenagers - and that illiterate tribal mothers in Africa produced children who were socially and emotionally more advanced than typical western children, by western standards of measurement.[9]

Why not just given the money to the families of young kids, so parents can stay home with their kids, instead of given the money to run day-prisons that, as the science shows, dumb kids down in all the ways that matter? A related proposal: []

I say this as someone who was punished in school for doing complex mathematical calculations in my head... "Show your work -- so we know you are not cheating..."

Watch those conclusions. (1)

Tangentc (1637287) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616508)

The data is very interesting, but I wouldn't take from this that we should teach the math later, but rather that we should just teach it differently.

TFA says that the kids have a hard time applying the skills learned in elementary school math to real-life situations, which makes sense. Math is abstract and the ability to apply abstract concepts to real life situations is a learned one; which is something a lot of people have a hard time with through adulthood. However, I also know that the algebra taught to me in high school and that some of my friends didn't learn until college is middle school equivalent curriculum in most other first world countries (I'm from the U.S.). These other countries seem to be doing just fine teaching more advanced math earlier on, which suggests to me that we're probably doing it wrong rather than too early.

There is more than one BC in the world... (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616510)

For some of us when we see BC, Boston College is not the first location that comes to mind.

How many Psychologist does it take... (1)

strangeattraction (1058568) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616514)

Q: How many Psychologist does it take to screw in a light bulb? A: Don't ask until you're seven. Bad joke. I guess all the time reading "Principia Mathematica" to my six year old has been a big waste of time. He was really looking forward to page 456 were we get to actually add numbers though.

too earlly to do math (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616520)

Well, don't all the Chinese (and Koreans ...) kids statistically do better than the American kids at math? And if I am not mistaken, they start learning math in kindergarten.

Damn Numbers... (1)

Ornlu (1706502) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616556)

Maybe this is why 5 out of every 4 people have trouble with fractions!

this guy probably doesn't even like math (1)

vsigma (154562) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616582)

himself, and just pushing along stuff that rectifies his ideas...

Let's take this another way then - if he is SOOOoooooo right - that there ought to be less math - explain how the kids from practically every other country on the planet knows more about it than ours at the equivalent age frame!?

As a current high school teacher - I can tell you one thing - if our expectations of kids weren't sooo low at that same age frame - we'd turn out higher quality students with greater understanding, than just bodies that can regurgitate material! /rant off

My other beef with education? In general (And yes, I *AM* stereotyping now!) most teachers that teach elementary students are also the same folks that have never liked math in the first place - or never really LEARNED it!!! How can you instill a drive to like something in someone else when you don't in the first place?!!!

Experiment doesn't apply (1)

Taxman415a (863020) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616598)

So an experiment done in 1929 when we knew almost nothing about math education applies how? There is too much different between now and then for the experiment to be meaningful. And further, the summary is poor. The article is a little better and refers to only arithmetic being taught in the early grades in 1929 and taking that out not having much impact on students ability to pick up the ability to reason with arithmetic later on. That should make sense. If the older curriculum doesn't focus on teaching students how to reason with the skills and concepts they know, they won't be able to reason well with them.

Fast forward to today and there is a huge volume of research and understanding about how students learn mathematics and successful ways to help students learn to reason and apply what they are learning to useful situations. It does not follow that eliminating Math from the early grades now is the way to go. Professor Grey should stick to subjects he knows, and apparently that's not Math education.

Where he is dead on is that, on the whole, elementary teachers know far too little about math or how to teach it. Very little is successfully making it from teacher education programs about how to properly teach mathematics. Basically those that choose to teach elementary school are the ones that hate math, are afraid of it, or can't do it. That's not true in all cases, but it's true in such a vast majority that it is a significant source of the problem for why our country isn't farther ahead in mathematics. That still doesn't mean take the math out of elementary school. It just means that the standards should be drastically raised for what elementary teachers should know and be able to do with mathematics. In short, the solution is to teach elementary teachers more math and more about how to teach math. The problem is that teacher education programs have a perverse incentive to make their programs easier to keep their numbers up to make more money, and math is the roadblock for many of their candidates. The result is no higher math requirements unless all teacher education programs are forced to have them. We should make sure the state requirements force them to have them.

A teacher's perspective (2, Interesting)

WeirdJohn (1170585) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616636)

I think there is some merit in the Professor's claims, but there has to be caution. Students need to be able to estimate measures, use measuring instruments, read clocks and handle money, all before age 10. These aspects of maths are suited to activity based learning, and can easily be embedded in other subjects.

But what of the kids who have the right brains to cope with more formal material earlier? What of the kids who cannot understand concepts such as zero or fractions without a more formal approach? What about how the retention of number facts is higher if we can get kids to engage with drill and memorisation of tables at early stages rather than later? How do we prevent the kids developing their own unusual understandings of fundamental concepts, because they have found a need in real life, and then we have to unwind their thinking later, because their constructed strategies only work in special cases?

I appreciate a lot of the results in maths education research. But there has to be great caution before we reject those practices that have worked for between 100 and 2000 years in favour of ideas that one or two research projects support. Is everything we do in classes effective? Certainly not. But until we can get class sizes down, better resourcing, attract more mathematicians to the teaching profession and get more individualised strategies working in the classroom we better be careful not to break what we know does work to some extent for the majority of students, even if it's not working optimally.

games and programming (1)

Weezul (52464) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616644)

Fine, cut out theory, but teach math using basic problem solving games, and teach programming. If a kid is smart, they should start writing basic video games like age 7.

Great, now the rednecks will be even STUPIDER (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616662)

If this was instituted, we'd actually see the impossible happen: rednecks getting stupider. Not only would they be waving tea bags and complaining about federal taxes being 40%, they wouldn't even know what 40% MEANT. After all, Jeebus wants you to drop out after 6th grade.

Try this in India and China (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616676)

I think this is a great idea that should be tried in India and China for a couple of decades. No math instruction allowed in those countries until the age of 14, because this will really help their economies develop. Eventually it will even open up opportunities in American colleges. For Americans, that is.

In Soviet Russia (1)

comrade.putin (1235862) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616698)

They don't bore you. Instead, by grade 2 you're doing multiplication, by grade 6 you do algebra and geometry, by grade 8 you deal with complex formulas that take you two pages to solve.
Then I came to America. High school was total boredom. At first, I had straight As, but I was extremely bored, causing me to find other ways to occupy my mind, like pot. I started skipping, and ultimately failing at everything I was good at. Yes, I could've done the work, but I didn't simply out of boredom. I didn't even have to spend time learning anything. I knew it all already.
It was a complete waste of 4 years of my life.

It's magic. (1)

Posting=!Working (197779) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616700)

Based on one study, done 71 years ago, and a visit to two schools in an anecdote in a talk by one person (which sound like BS to me, you'd be hard pressed to find ANY group of 50 adults who don't know the area of a rectangle, let alone among college educated teachers), we should teach less math so the kids magically learn more.

This is the biggest bunch of idiocy I've seen in a while.

Let's fix all of the academics! (1, Flamebait)

InsaneProcessor (869563) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616704)

We don't need to teach the truth about history either. Let's just teach the kids racially sensitive, altered history instead.

Less boring nor less math (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616746)

You can only get good at anything by practice and it is best to take advantage of their brains while they're still absorbing anything and everything. Schools just need to make it more interesting and fun.

Summary is misleading (1)

Pinckney (1098477) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616754)

In addition to removing arithmetic from the curriculum, they added

recitation. By "recitation" he meant, "speaking the English language." He did "not mean giving back, verbatim, the words of the teacher or the textbook." The children would be asked to talk about topics that interested them--experiences they had had, movies they had seen, or anything that would lead to genuine, lively communication and discussion. This, he thought, would improve their abilities to reason and communicate logically. He also asked the teachers to give their pupils some practice in measuring and counting things, to assure that they would have some practical experience with numbers.

Simply removing all math from the curriculum would very probably not produce the same results.

Math is an Experiment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31616762)

Young children should experiment with math just like any other language. That's how I learned math at an early age. We teach reading without parsing sentences or describing paragraph structure. For example, it's easy to see multiplication as five beans by 4 beans, and extrapolate the theory from there.

Oh fuck. (3, Informative)

rigorrogue (894093) | more than 4 years ago | (#31616772)

I just replied to Math Skills For Programmers - Necessary Or Not? []

I want round up a posse to go 'round to this fool's house and beat him to life with a clue-stick. Anyone?

Not formally wired! Are we formally wired to take this git's* opinion seriously? Are we formally wired to work 9 to 5, or eat burgers, or browse /.?

Here's a delicious quote from the article (I know, I know):

"For some years I had noted that the effect of the early introduction of arithmetic had been to dull and almost chloroform the child's reasoning facilities."



"It appears that the higher scores of the affluent districts are not due to superior teaching but to the supplementary informal 'home schooling' of children."

My, you don't say!

It finishes with:

"At the present time it seems clear that we are doing more damage than good by teaching math in elementary schools. Therefore, I'm with Benezet. We should stop teaching it. In my next post--about two weeks from now--I'm going to talk about how kids who don't go to traditional schools learn math with no or very little formal instruction. If you have a story to tell me about such learning, which might contribute to that post, please tell it in the comments section below or email it to me at"

If Satan is keen on ignorance I reckon he's got a special place in Hell for this dick.

*I'm very glad Linus re-introduced this word to the mainstream of popular culture. It's a term of singular contempt, and I should know, I'm Irish.

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