Help! My parent and my teacher are both apps

People outside of the education profession look at Khan Academy and they see brilliance because Khan conforms closely to American cultural scripts of teaching. Teaching is telling and Khan tells in a friendly, seemingly competent way (which is actually incompetent in some important and non-obvious ways, but more on that in the coming weeks).

This is the drill: Tell students some stuff; ask them some questions to see whether they remember what you told them. See those first two headings on the Khan Academy landing page?

With thanks to Michael Pershan (@mpershan) for noticing this on Khan Academy.

Watch and practice.

People outside of the education profession look at iPad apps and online schools and see efficiency because these-again-closely follow the script of teaching and learning in this country.

So powerful is this cultural script that minor tweaks are seen as revolutionary. (Rewind the video to hear the same explanation again! As many times as you like!) So powerful is this script that our roles as parents can be misconstrued as preparing our children to be this type of student. From the comments on this blog last month:

Around 6-7, I think it is important for children to first internalize basic arithmetic equations as memorized, right-brain pattern recall. Once they do this, their minds are free to think about other aspects of the math problem in front of them. Once basic one-digit equations have been internalized, the next pattern needed is the simple process of stepping through more complex problems.

This was in response to my description of something I had done that had gotten my five-year old daughter to think, rather to respond in a rote way.

A parent talking with his child about mathematics gets redirected to a fact-drilling app.

I’ll make the analogy to literacy again. The equivalent would be a parent writing about how turned on his kid was by a story, and how his kid applied the ideas of that story to thinking about her lived experience. And then got pushback about the importance of phonics instruction to prepare a child for reading in first grade.

But we know that a lifelong love of reading is fostered by reading aloud with parents. (Of course, there are exceptions, blah blah blah.) And if you love reading—barring disability—you’ll learn to read as long as you are provided competent reading instruction.

We need to similarly foster a lifelong love of numeracy. And that does not start with math-drilling apps (Of course, there are exceptions, blah blah blah.) It starts as all things do, through play, conversation and wonder.

Let’s keep the focus, shall we?

Further reading:

Alfie Kohn (of course) on summer learning loss.

Will Richardson on online learning and apps.


4 responses to “Help! My parent and my teacher are both apps

  1. There’s a discussion in The Teaching Gap about overhead projectors versus chalkboards. U.S. teachers use overheads to display the information of the moment. Japanese teachers use chalkboards to build a record of the solution methods and principles discussed in the lesson. In Stigler and Hiebert’s description of the U.S. system, the overhead fills the slot of a device to help focus students’ attention. There is no such slot in the Japanese system. Instead, there is a slot for recording the day’s lesson. Hence, Japanese teachers continue to use the chalkboard rather than the overhead.

    What slot does the iPad fill? I see a device with the potential to help students record and communicate their mathematical thinking. As Stigler and Hiebert have compared overheads and chalkboards, I would compare iPads and chart paper (or Frank Noschese’s $2 whiteboards). Search the App Store and beyond for the use iPads in math classes and the comparison you will find is between apps and flash cards. This speaks to the power of the cultural script.

  2. I see that the commenter mentioned in your post is ‘selling’ (free or $1) a math app. That explains his slightly off-topic comment, I think. I guess it’s hard for many people to imagine what else math is.

  3. It’s true, Sue. It’s so hard for people to imagine what else math is, hence the hesitation of my (our) students when I (we) tear them away from the “watch then practice” routine.

    I can only hope that our work fostering a love of numeracy and the ability to think takes generational root in the kids that are going to join us in this debate moving forward. In this sense, Khan Academy might prove helpful: the majority of my students report their distaste for the site when I offer the option of using the videos as tools for home use, as a way to fill in gaps in their understanding of certain concepts. They return to school all the more ready to be handed the reins of their math education and to have open space for open-ended thought and problem solving.

  4. Many of my students really appreciate Khan, and the videos that go with the textbook. They are hooked on procedural skills = math, and so they believe. I do point them there as one possibility, even though I wish he had better ways of explaining. I also point them to James Tanton.

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