Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Dropping Fractions

Interesting news story on why fractions along with long division are obsolete and don't need to be taught in schools. Decimals are very cool and more state of the art the good professor argues but I can't imagine a child slicing their birthday cake into .833 portions.

So much easier to say 1/12 and have it visualized and understood. It makes more sense to start with a fraction so the kid gets the idea and then convert it to a decimal and explain how the two are the same. Adding a 12.5 and 3.2 is mechanical but understanding those numbers as a whole plus a part is what really counts conceptually. Once the concerpt is understood, doing the math mentally, by hand on paper or using a calculator becomes a matter of preference. Someone old school like myself would pick mental math as far as possible.

Penn State mathematician Andrews says he believes DeTurck's ideas will "unfortunately" gain traction because of the misguided belief that math education can somehow be made easy:
"Math is hard. The idea that somehow we're going to make math just fun is just a dream."

I could not agree more. There is a happy medium between presenting math as a difficult subject and turning it into drone work delinked from conceptual understanding. If a teacher finds explaining fractions too challenging, it is time to stop teaching and learn how to make it easy for a child to grasp.

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