Impressions after completing the ‘How to Learn Math’ class

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The title of my blog entry for June 2, 2013 was “Can parents be better math teachers for their kids?“, referring to the online ‘How to Learn Math‘ class given by Prof.  Jo Boaler.  I had a few motivations for enrolling in this class, but the primary one was to get in touch with the latest methods and research in teaching mathematics. Even though I’m not a mathematics teacher by profession, I thought I could use the information and know-how I could gain for my son in the near future. I also had older kids in my extended family whom I tried to help in areas such as mathematics and programming.

This word cloud was generated on August 12th and is based on 5087 responses to the question "why do students often feel so bad about mistakes"?

This word cloud was generated on August 12th and is based on 5087 responses to the question “why do students often feel so bad about mistakes”?

Now that the class is over and I have completed it successfully, I can say that I’m satisfied with it more or less. One of the facts that Prof. Boaler admitted is that this was her first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) experience, and I think next time she gives a similar class it will be better. I think some of the videos could be shorter, less repetitive, whereas some of the exercises could be a little more challenging, and structured, with more opportunities for valuable feedback. These points aside, it was very valuable to see the challenges faced by actual teachers, and listening to the experiences of students from diverse backgrounds were also helpful in developing a perspective. On top of that, some of my academic heroes, such as Sebastian Thrun, were there, providing me with very valuable insights with their interviews.

Once again I have seen that having a background in mathematics, engineering and cognitive science is not enough by itself to realize the better methods of teaching, and that is reason enough for me to be thankful to Jo Boaler for her continued efforts. I hope one day I will be good guide to my son and other kids in their journey to the wonderful world of sophisticated abstractions and surprising ideas with some unexpected connections 🙂

 

 

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Are we overloading our kids with homework and killing their creativity?

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hwAccording to recent news (see Flanders Today and Klasse Leraren), in some countries, such as Belgium, children are overloaded with homework:

Secondary schools are overloading students with homework, according to Lyle Muns, chairman of the Flemish secondary school students organisation. Muns feels excessive homework assignments are obliging many students to stay home too much, with too little time to develop essential social skills. Figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show that Flemish 15-year-olds spend an average just over six hours a week on homework; their Finnish counterparts, for instance, spend 3.7 hours a week on assignments but achieve better results.

Personally, I have nothing against working and studying hard, as long as it involves intrinsic motivation strongly coupled with spiritual satisfaction, but I have also started to get the impression that kids these days, at least a representative sample I generally come across, are really busy; busier than adults, if I may say so!

Finland, in this case, stands as the ultimate example of the worn out cliché “work smarter, not harder”. Nevertheless, I think we need to think more about the correlation (and the causality relationship) between the amount of homework given to the kids and their long-term success, because, well, in the long-term that’s what counts, and not some temporary test scores that helps the feelings of teachers and parents.

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