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You hit the nail on the head! (long)
Old 01-17-2006, 07:32 PM
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JudyW said: "Do you think the children have so much trouble with fractions because they rarely use them in their daily lives or is the concept introduced to them before they are developmentally ready?"

Wow, I think this statement is right on. I have vented plenty of times about this but no one I've talked to seems to feel it's anything to be concerned about. I teach 5th and 6th grade Math - which I really enjoy because I absolutely love math - and I have often felt that we are trying to cover way too much material. It often feels like we are scrambling every day to learn some new concept when a lot of the students have barely gotten ahold of the basics. Why do 6th graders need to know how to solve algebraic equations anyway? I've always felt that if those beginning years - yes, all the way up to 6th grade - were spent focusing more on getting a very solid foundation in basic number concepts and problem solving skills, that when the time came for them to do algebra, they'd pick it up with no problem - instead of struggling with it for years. I really believe that some of the algebra concepts that I teach are too abstract for some of these kids. (Although, I suppose, to be fair, it's possible that I don't know how to teach it "correctly".) I don't see the benefit to learning (if you can call it that) algebra at 11 years old. I just can't buy in to the belief that if they don't learn it starting in 5th or 6th grade, they'll end up way behind by high school. Many kids are *still* way behind in high school because they've never learned solid math/number concepts and yet are made to continue on to a new concept (or whatever you want to call it) with every new lesson.

To get back to your original statement - I think both things are true: They rarely use them (fractions or other) in their daily life AND they're not developmentally ready. But both make the point that maybe they don't need to be doing that kind of math yet. I think they can't see the relationship to real life BECAUSE they're not developmentally ready.

A story I read in one of my classes in college is a good illustration, I think. It's about physical development - not mental, but still makes a good point. It was a story about identical twins who were about three years old (I think). The researchers wanted to know if training and practice would help one twin learn to ride a tricycle sooner than the other one who had no training and practice. So they worked and worked for a long time with the one twin to teach him how to ride. The child struggled for a long time but finally learned and became proficient. About the time the first twin was finally able to ride, (I think it took a couple of years??), they put the second twin on a tricycle and almost immediately, he learned to ride it. It turned out there was no benefit to all the time spent teaching and struggling with the first twin, because they were both able to ride at about the same time (when they were developmentally ready) - regardless of how long the one had practiced beforehand.

Ok - some parts of the story don't exactly cross over to the math problem, but I would really be interested to see what would happen if we backed off on the level of difficulty and then presented those concepts when kids were more developmentally ready. My guess (maybe I'm wrong - I don't know everything) is that we'd have a lot less kids stressed out over math, and a lot more successful students farther on down the road.

Anyway, that's my opinion. Don't know how well I've articulated it, so I hope it makes sense.
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