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I came across this article from 2014 published in The Atlantic today, and it got some wheels turning.
In short, the article is about the findings and teaching of Dr. Maria Droujkova who believes our standard approach to teaching mathematics is fundamentally inappropriate, not to mention zero fun.
Dr. Droujkova sees math as a “playful universe” in which she believes children of a very young age can explore many of the 60+ disciplines (the most familiar being calculus). She readily notes that while a young child’s exploration of calculus would not be the same as a high school or college student’s level of exposure of comprehension, it would expose them to a visual side of math and help develop an appreciation for the artistic beauty inherent in patterning and structure.
She also believes that attention to patterns in numbers is a far better way for children to learn basic skills such as multiplication facts rather than memorization or computational algorithms.
Dr. Droujkova feels strongly that by focusing on computation and the “little manipulations of numbers” first, the structure and approach of math education here and largely worldwide completely misses the point... that math IS all about patterns and structures.
Is she correct? Would a Montessori-style approach to math serve to indoctrinate young learners with a far stronger understanding of what numbers actually ARE and how they work together in music, art, science, etc.? The question definitely merits exploration.
Personally, I think she’s on to something.
Albeit something that would turn the entire education world on its head. I’d like to hear Dr. Droujkova’s thoughts on how math standards, materials, and instruction would be restructured from pre-K through 12th grade in light of her beliefs. And I say that in the least snarky way possible. I’m genuinely interested to hear how she would see this implemented.
In any case, the article is an example of an extreme (and somewhat left field) point on the plane known as academic rigor.
It’s been a theme lately as we’ve helped students prepare for early summer ACT and SAT testing, as well as helping parents take steps to offset the summer slide. I was compelled to post on Instagram an example of something I noticed a few years ago… how my fifth graders were learning (and easily tackling) material I wasn’t presented with until seventh or eighth grade.
Are kids smarter than we were? I’ll dodge that one.
Are kids challenged more today than 25 years ago? Absolutely. And they must be, as STEM careers continue to grow. I’ve seen repeatedly the same editorial over the past few years… that in 10–15 years many of our children will have jobs that don’t exist today. And you can bet those jobs are somewhere under the STEM umbrella.
So CAN a five-year-old do calculus? Dr. Droujkova thinks so. Depends on what you call calculus. But they sure can get a better understanding of what math is outside of memorizing 3+4, 4+4, 4+5, and so on.
Should you be concerned your kindergartener’s entire math curriculum will be worked over by the time they’re in fourth grade? I wouldn’t be.
But outside of school, outside of common core standards and established curriculum, teachers trained in the traditional methodology and the slow, stubborn, uphill battle to change minds of the power stakeholders, there lies opportunity for exploration.