Mark Palko asks: What are the worst examples of curriculum dead wood?
Here’s the background:
One of the first things that hit me [Palko] when I started teaching high school math was how much material there was to cover. . . . The most annoying part, though, was the number of topics that could easily have been cut, thus giving the students the time to master the important skills and concepts.
The example that really stuck with me was synthetic division, a more concise but less intuitive way of performing polynomial long division. Both of these topics are pretty much useless in daily life but polynomial long division does, at least, give the student some insight into the relationship between polynomials and familiar base-ten numbers. Synthetic division has no such value; it’s just a faster but less interesting way of doing something you’ll never have to do.
I started asking hardcore math people — mathematicians, statisticians, physicists, rocket scientists — if they.’d ever used synthetic division. By an overwhelming margin, the answer I got was “what’s synthetic division?” Not only did they not need it; it made so little impression that they forgot ever learning it. . . .
Since we need to pare down the curriculum, what you choose to cut? Specifically, what mathematical topics that you learned in school can future generations do without?
I’m too distant from the high school curriculum to have much to offer. I think the math in the local elementary school goes a bit too slow, but of course I’d think that. There has been some progress over the decades, though. The teachers used to get angry at my sisters when they’d read ahead in the workbook, but by the time I came around, they’d let me curl up with a math book and leave me alone. As long as I kept my mouth shut they had no problem with me.
More recently, we spent a year on sabbatical in France (as regular blog readers will recall), and one thing I liked about the public schools there was the uniform national curriculum. It was completely clear what was being covered each year, you could go to a bookstore and get a book such as “L’Année de CP” which had exercises covering the whole year (“CP” is first grade), you could see what was coming next, etc. I liked this transparency. Maybe it wouldn’t work so well in the higher grades but I liked it for elementary school.
Does anyone have thoughts on Mark’s original question about the high school curriculum?