Thursday, January 22, 2015

Lucia Mathematics in NZ at NCEA Level in a dismal state

Hello readers of NZ Conservative!  Yet again, it has been a long time between posts.

It's funny, I think blogging only works if you are angry about something.  Otherwise it's just not worth the effort.  That certainly explains sites like WhaleOil and The Standard, but not KiwiBlog.  I don't know what David Farrar is angry enough about to keep him blogging for so long, but that's a mystery for another day..

Right now, besides Russia invading Ukraine and lying about it, I've found something else to be angry about.  Maths.  Specifically NCEA Maths.  Boy am I pissed.

When I was home-schooling, January was the month when I'd plan for the year.  After a number of years of hiatus, since both my boys have entered the state schooling system, I have again reverted back to typical January planning.  Because I have to.

Since mid-last year, I have been studying mathematics in an attempt to help my mathematically able but struggling in the last couple of years son in his maths for NCEA level 2 and now NCEA Level 3 for this year so he can go to university and get a degree in Computer Science.   He needs 16 credits of NCEA Level 3 credits, plus passing in NCEA Level 3 to do this.

Gone are the days where you could just rely on the schooling system to teach you everything you needed to know.   In order to pass now, kids have to call on a wide variety of sources, especially in Mathematics, otherwise they are stuffed, seriously stuffed at the higher levels.

My experience with this absolute train-wreck of a schooling system is seeing my mathematically gifted and well-trained son go from breezing through at Year 9 after homeschooling, to struggling at Year 12.  If that has happened to him, how many children have had their mathematical ability completely stuffed up from the beginning, where no one is aware they had any ability at all because of the way mathematics is taught in New Zealand today?

Quite by accident, I found an article from just over a year ago that I hadn't been aware of that had been published in the NZ Listener about tertiary educational facilities being very concerned about the mathematical and science ability of New Zealand teenagers who gain NCEA but are seriously lacking in mathematical and scientific skills necessary to do well in courses in university that rely on those skills. From NCEA Slammed):
A confidential Tertiary Education Commission report reveals profound and widespread concerns about the way NCEA prepares students for further study. It paints a picture of substandard mathematics and science education, NCEA students coming unstuck in their first year at university and tertiary providers scrambling to come up with their own diagnostic tests and remedial courses.

The document is a summary of formal reports from 15 tertiary institutions – universities and polytechnics – that offer engineering courses. The institutions are not named. One told the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC): “An extremely significant concern is the poor preparation of the bulk of our student cohort following NCEA study.”

The report, drawn up as part of the Government’s plan to boost the numbers of engineering graduates, was presented at a high-level TEC meeting on September 2. The Listener was leaked a key page and obtained the full document under the Official Information Act.

The problems the report flags with NCEA fall into three main categories:
• students getting confused or being given poor advice on subject choice;
those who do the right subjects still being unprepared for tertiary level study; and
• the system not creating a good work ethic.

So, with all that in mind, have a look at a Nigel Latta TV show screened last August, where by Nigel goes back to school to see if there is a crisis. Note that this report and the dire results coming out of maths and science as noticed by tertiary institutions is not mentioned.  Only the Melbourne based academic John Hattie fronts up to deny there is any problem.

This is the blurb for the show:
Nigel Latta takes himself back to school to have a look into NCEA and our education system. Spending time at both primary and high schools, he discovers learning is not what it used to be.

Here is the link to view the episode at TVNZ Nigel Latta: School Report - What's Going On

Here is a bit of what I wrote down while watching the maths portion of the show of Nigel Latta's show, including quotes and my impressions:

Nigel: Now, one of the things that worries me and a lot of other parents is that maybe our kids aren’t being taught Maths properly.
He talks to kids about what they’ve been taught through school – no long division by hand, it’s just strategies. Just talked to my 17yo, and at his school at Year 9, no one except for him could do long division (out of approx 200 Year 9 kids in a decile 8 school) and only a few could do short division.

Maths Teacher: In the good old days you were just taught, follow this process and you’ll get the right answer. But not so many people experienced mathematical thinking [question mark in voice] and that’s why people hated [another question mark] maths. It’s likened to learning musical theory without every playing the instrument. So what we’ve tried to do with this generation and it’s a global movement is trying to get students actually playing with maths. They’re solving big problems and thinking mathematically rather than a very small piece of maths that’s just sort of following procedures without much understanding.

The whole class is about trying to get the answer to 3 to the power of 6.

Nigel ruminates about how the kids aren’t locked into a rote formula, like he was taught.

Teacher gives them a clue :
What if I told you 250 * 3 is easier for me?
That’s to a group of boys just standing around who have just worked out the answer (729).

You know at this point, I hadn't realised the boys had figured the answer out because of the clue the teacher gave them, but no, she doesn't seem to be too impressed by them finding the answer, she's more impressed by the effect of her clue when of one of the kids works out that you multiply 250 by 3 and minus 7 three times to get the same answer. Every one claps.

This is a light bulb moment for Nigel who thinks that kids now are learning a deeper understanding of numbers, way more than he ever did when he was at school. No kidding.

Here is Nigel Latta talking to Leighton Smith about his show the next day.

What I found ironic about the Nigel Latta show on education and even the interview the next day is that here we have Nigel Latta pronouncing that everything's fine in maths, yet he admits he hated maths at school and wasn't any good at it. He also didn't talk to any of the older classes, where things are not fine. He thinks this new method makes more kids enjoy maths, but at the older age groups they seem to hate it more, and at my son's school, perfectly capable kids are opting into the easier stats stream rather the calculus stream because they've had it with the way harder mathematics is taught. The tertiary education providers are also finding that many of the students have inadequate mathematical knowledge, even if they've passed NCEA Level 3 Calculus.

There is definitely a problem and it's a problem of philosophy. From the Forward of the 2009 Findings of the NZ Numeracy Projects, Derek Holton says:

An emphasis on letting students explore and absorb number sense, rather than teaching them learned algorithms without any understanding, seems to be the right way ahead for students to gain an understanding of number and, possibly more importantly, of liking and feeling comfortable with mathematics itself.  At all costs, we should ensure that we never return to the hundreds of algorithms that have made mathematics a wasteland full of rote learning of incomprehensible rules.

If any one were in any doubt of the type of mathematics that is being taught in NZ schools, that one paragraph explains how we are using a Reform or New style of maths, not a traditional style.

We are also not the only country where there are serious controversies about Reform Mathematics.

End of Part One, to be continued ...