Unintended Consequences of TERC Investigations

Another post from our friends at Out in Left Field.

Investigations Math in action: crashing and burning with large numbers.

One argument the authors of programs like TERC Investigations make in favor of not teaching children to add and subtract competently is that “calculators can and should be used when the problems get more complicated.”  The VA DOE actually has language to that effect in out state Standards of Learning and expects public schools in the state to actively teach our children to complete basic computations with calculators, starting in kindergarten.  One of the major reasons Virginia’s Mathematics Standards of Learning are given such a low rating by the Fordham Foundation is because of the state’s reliance on calculators.

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3 Responses to “Unintended Consequences of TERC Investigations”

  1. Unintended Consequences of TERC Investigations (via PWC Education Reform Blog) | Citizen Tom Says:

    […] One argument the authors of programs like TERC Investigations make in favor of not teaching children to add and subtract competently is that “calculators can and should be used when the problems get more complicated.”  The VA DOE actually has language to that effect in out … Read More […]

  2. Kt Says:

    I taught TERC in my 2nd grade classroom for 6yrs. I followed the TERC plan but supplemented. My children were WELL PREPARED for the end of the year test and usually only the normal 3 or 4 failed this test. I am applauded that the “parent community” would rather teachers teach rote memorization than understanding of numbers. The child in this video actually shows understanding of the problem in the solution where she shows numbers at the end of the video. I am perplexed as to why the teacher doesn’t have her completing problems just using “stacking” as she calls it.Perhaps the biggest problem with education today is 1) lack of knowledge by the teacher or 2) complaining parents who seem to know it all. I never got the impression that TERC wanted children to answer children to answer all addition questions the way this child did on the video. This however was the appropriate explanation that show that this child is ready to move on to stacking. Now lets talk about KDG who are being taught addition and subtraction. Here is an example: put 3 cows on the 10’s chart. Now add 3 more. How many altogether. 1,2,3,4,5. Get with the program….this is nothing but a counting activity.

    • Mom2-2 Says:

      Kt – You said you are appalled at parents who would rather their children be taught by rote than by understanding. I’ve heard this argument often repeated by advocates of TERC, but I’ve never heard any parent advocate rote memorization over understanding.

      The parents I’ve met who are opposed to programs like TERC are opposed because these programs move at such a slow pace and use such convoluted “algorithms” that children are either bored or confused by math. Contrary to your assertion, TERC does actively advocate against the use of the standard algorithms, which they rather oddly call the US Traditional Algorithms.

      There is nothing wrong with teaching children the standard algorithms. In fact, if taught properly, and by properly I mean not in the manner suggested in TERC’s teacher’s manuals, the standard algorithms depend on and enhance a child’s understanding of numbers and place value. Additionally, there is nothing wrong with repetition and practice. I can guarantee you that Babe Ruth didn’t become a master at hitting home runs by doing it just a few times. Children who are taught mathematical operations to mastery have the comfort of knowing that they can solve any problem, no matter how large the numbers might be, because they have a repeatable process they can follow if the problem can’t be easily solved using mental strategies.

      With that mastery that they develop in 2nd and 3rd grades, in 4th and 5th grades, rather than struggling with the basic mathematical operations, students can dedicate more time and energy to understanding division, fractions, and proportions – understanding which virtually every mathematician agrees is vital to understanding algebra and calculus.

      I’ve found it rather amazing that in the TERC universe a complicated problem is one with larger numbers (as in numbers with more digits) – not one which requires multiple steps to solve or mixes operations. That’s because the strategies advocated by programs like TERC become increasingly difficult and cumbersome with larger numbers. That’s not a problem for programs like TERC because they were developed and are based on the expectation that children will use calculators for any problem that can’t be easily solved mentally or outside fact families. For people who aren’t interested in or capable of entering fields that require knowledge of math, that may be acceptable, but that expectation means children capable of entering math dependent fields won’t be able to complete the course work necessary to enter those fields. I find it rather sad that anyone would advocate a program that closes doors of opportunity for children.


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