Sunday, January 04, 2009

Give it a little thought!

Over the past few weeks, an injury to my shoulder has meant that I have had to ask for help a lot more than usual, partly because there are loads of things I simply can't do at the moment, and partly because the things I can do take me so long. One evening I asked my elder son to whip some cream for me.

"Sure. Where is it?" he asked

I raised my eyebrows at him. "Take a wild guess."

He had the decency to look sheepish and went to get the cream from the fridge.

"What do I whip it with?" asks the child who has not only watched me use an electric beater, but has used one himself on many occasions - he is the Omelette King in our household.

"Where's the beater?" he asked. By now I was irritated. Whenever he has used it in the past, he has had to take it out of the very cupboard in which it still resides.

"Do you have to be so helpless?" I asked, "Why can't you just think things out for yourself instead of always asking someone else to tell you what to do?"

Then I wondered if this wasn't also a part of the tickbox mentality I was referring to in this post.

I encountered a similar situation with my younger son this evening as he was trying to work out the area of a right angled triangle surrounded by other right angled triangles. I discovered that he didn't know/remember Pythagoras's theorem, so we covered that in order for him to calculate the lengths of the triangles' sides. Then he was puzzled. "Okay: area of a triangle is half base times height. How do I figure out what half of that height is?" (The triangle was 'standing' on its hypoteneuse). I asked why he didn't simply nominate one of the right-angle sides as the base, and the other as the height. "But that's not the side at the bottom!" he protested. We talked about whether the area of the triangle would change if he rotated it. He was delighted and I saw the little light come on. "Wow! This makes it so much easier! Can I do this with any triangle?"

So is their lack of creative thinking my fault for not demanding more of it from them? Is it the teachers' fault for not encouraging it? Is it the system's fault for not allowing the space for it?

One thing I know for certain. I am going to be less quick with the answers in 2009, and more quick to answer questions with questions.

Sheesh! These kids have got to try to do a little thinking now and then.


V Yonkers said...

We had a family go around yesterday as my daughter was finishing up her science homework given for the break.

There were three questions she didn't understand. When I looked at the questions, I didn't understand them either as it was one that could be interpreted several ways. My husband, very much of a tick box thinker, couldn't see how it could be interpreted differently and was able to give us insight into what the teacher was looking for. On the other hand, my husband told my daughter to take out her book and reread the section the questions were based on. Sure enough, the answer was right there.

I came away with this with two insights: my daughter will do the work she is asked to do and no more, and the teacher is teaching the students to just spit back facts without giving them critical thinking skills and a deeper understanding of the science under the concepts she is teaching. In both cases, my daughter is not learning what she needs to be successful in life. Or is this what is going to be expected in life in the future? Just do, don't ask any questions.

The upsycho said...

Oh Virginia, I do hope not. But increasingly it seems that this is how teachers are being taught to teach.

I had a similar incident to youra when my son was in primary school. He had been given 50 maths problems to do. Two of them were marked wrong. When I looked at them, it was obvious to me that he would have got the first one right, had he applied to BODMAS rule. The second one, as far as I was concerned was correct, but the answer that the teacher was looking for could only have been obtained if the BODMAS rule was not applied. When I tried to discuss the situation with her, she seemed unfamiliar with the term BODMAS, so I used a few of the other known acronyms and referred to 'orders of operation.'

You could have knocked me over with a feather when she told me "We don't use that in the UK." While I acknowledge that different methods of calculation can be applied with equal success, I cannot accept that 13+2X5 can equal 75 in the UK and 23 in South Africa. The whole beauty of numbers is their consistency.

But without an understanding of the underlying principles, a teacher cannot impart fundamental skills which can be applied in different situations.

LynneMoses said...

This is worrying - when I was at school (in the UK!) it would have been 23...

The upsycho said...

@lynne I suspect this was because when you were at school (in the UK) teachers were expected to have a deeper understanding of the material they were teaching. While I acknowledge that we are seeing an understandable shift from teacher to classroom facilitator, there is this worrying backlash...