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Monday, July 18, 2011

Math Curriculum, Part I

Quick! Before the title of the blog today puts you to sleep, answer just one question:

Is anything more complex and unclear than the 2-word phrase Mathematics Curriculum?

Why are you complaining? you may ask, Isn't a curriculum just a syllabus or outline that shows what will be covered during the school year? Don't you guys write them? 

Yes we do and no, we don't. Curriculum by definition includes more than just the content being taught. We create materials to help students and teachers, but curriculum includes:
  • goals and objectives
  • content and supporting materials (our part)
  • expected teaching methods
  • desired student interaction
  • assessment of students and teachers and schools
The curriculum could be viewed in at least another 3 perspectives:
  • Intended Curriculum - what Standards [nation, states, communities, parents] expect
  • Implemented Curriculum - what and how the schools and teachers actually deliver
  • Attained & Retained Curriculum - what grows inside a student / is used by a student

This blog was provoked by a paper titled Analysis of Intended Mathematics Curriculum of Primary Schools in Mongolia  and an article in the Financial Times newspaper today: How science led teaching down a blind alley. Now do you see why I am bewildered? Mongolian curriculum!

Is science taking our educators down a blind alley?
The first paper was written by a Japanese educator evaluating math curriculum approaches in Mongolia relative to those used in the United States and Japan. It was interesting to read, partly because I know little about Mongolia other than stories from friends who mentor Mongolian teachers. I've learned a bit from Janice Raymond, the creator and founder of our Excel Math elementary curriculum. Janice now lives in Mongolia most of the year, speaks and writes Mongolian, and is writing her doctoral dissertation on Mongolian proverbs.
Some young Mongolian students
I found the Mongolian experience fascinating. For example, in 1941, the country officially changed alphabets and writing systems. Here's the vertical script that is still used in Inner Mongolia:


And the current official Cyrillic alphabet characters:

 
In a century they have repeatedly changed their educational processes:
  1. 1900-1940 Using traditional script, deliver content to students who copy and memorize
  2. 1941-1980 Using Cyrillic script and language; adopt European and Russian teaching and learning methods
  3. 1980-2010 Teachers start using North American, constructivist, student-as-explorer, teacher-as-facilitator curriculum process
The conjunction of Math in Mongolia and Science, School and Blind Alleys is an odd one, I admit. But here is a slightly-paraphrased statement from the latter that summarizes the link I saw in the two articles:

A fascination with science  - the belief that scientific methods can solve any problem - has become an addictive mindset in education. We concentrate our study and teaching on those things of which we can be certain. The rest is either scientised to give it a semblance of certainty, or ignored as too messy and too difficult to deal with. But markets are messy. Students (and consumers and employees) are unpredictable and irrrational. There is more than one best way ... we need to bring art as well as science back into our thinking about teaching.

More tomorrow.