Teaching Smart vs. not LO13695

prkosuth (prkosuth@mychoice.net)
Wed, 21 May 97 21:15:52 PDT

Replying to LO13678 --

Hi all:

Teaching junior high and high school students with severe learning
disabilities and communications issues, I have read with great interest
the notes about what should exist for real learning, certain specific
areas of education and thinking (skills and dynamics.)

I believe that all people can think. Probably, all of us can think very
well (recall the Teams as a learning unit thread: we learn and think when
there are real, serious problems to solve> To me the issue centers around
problems and problem solving. Even more so, what problems are we choosing
to solve ? Who's problems are we solving. Primarily I am a math teaccher
--- solving authentic problems in cooperative groups is all the rage in
the literature. In an article in the Journal for Research in Math
Education (JRME vol 23 #5 p 412-431; Nov 1992) I read some stuff that
changed my focus and way of teaching. Michael Apple's article (Do the
Standards go far enough: Power, Policy and Practice in Mathematics
Education ?) he writes about the relations between democracy, society and
and education. Some of his central questions (in my view) are:

what knowledge is of most worth ?
whose knowledge is of most worth ?
and whose problems are we really solving ?

Are kids being trained to solve the Pentagons problems ? the conservative
rights issues ? are they being taught how to make Reaganomics work ? how
to make a better nuclear warhead or landmine ? Who determines the

The kids (ie my students) have to determine the problems that are relavant
to them. They must be exposed to the data, be emersed with methods and
procedures... but none of this is knowledge until the have that personal
relationship with the info and construct their knowledge. We as educators
can give them information but we cannot give them knowledge.

Are my students determining every single problem they work on ? of course
not.. but that is my failing not theirs. The rest of the stuff that has
been presented: good grammer, spelling , cold knowledge of math facts is
not the issue to me. The ability to solve problems relevant to the
student, reason through alternatives, communicate results and work
cooperatively are what should drive the classroom and the education
debate. By working in authentic problem situations most of the rest will
come into line sincce there will be a reason to build that knowledge. Many
of you have said so (paraphrasing here: I really didn't learn it until I
had to use it in college or until I ....) Until we have that personal
building experience we may have facts in our heads but I don't think that
it will be knowledge.

To me, its not a smart vs not smart, lavy vs motivated debate (discussion,
dialogue) it deals with what is important to the learner. I did an
exercise with my students one day when I asked them why problem solving
was important. Not only did they hit on all the good reasons, they hit on
alot of the strategies associated with problem solving and the primary
method of problem solving. The ideas are in their heads... with authentic
situations they can build whatever knowledge they need to have and also
build the tools to tackle other problems. One last observation. I listened
to a man talk from a school in Chicago that worked with problematic
students (I think that they were beyond high school age, maybe having
droped out.) He stated that their philosophy was simple: give 'em really
hard problems, give 'em claculators and let 'em work ingroups. What could
be simpler ?

Thanks. Sorry about the length.

Brehm Preparatory School
Carbondale IL


"prkosuth" <prkosuth@mychoice.net>

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