## Wednesday, December 05, 2012

### What works in education - round up at Smithsonian

The Smithsonian has a series of articles on Finnish education. It starts by comparing Finnish education to 9/11. Really, it came without any apparent warning. I don't see much additional connection.

The meat of the series talks about why Finnish schools work despite costing 30% less than schools in the US. There are lots of reasons. No standardized tests means more time teaching students how to think. Did anyone think that teaching students how to take tests is a useful life skill? But there are surprises in the article. Some can also be read here at Business Insider, of all places.

Do (did) you like homework? I did. I work better when it's quiet. I can learn by reading a book. It's not harder for me than having someone else teach. So i got more done, more thoroughly and quicker at home. I expect that my experience is not the norm. My son's 4th grade teacher sent out math problems that most adults couldn't solve. Things like, "What is the sum of the integers from one thorugh one hundred?" Hey, i know that one: (100 * 101) / 2 = 5,050. Don't need a calculator, since 100 / 2 = 50, and 50 * 101 is easy. But WTF? Most adults can't do this without adding 99 numbers. Is homework good? Maybe - in moderation. Here's what the Smithsonian had to say.

My son went to a Montessori school from preschool through grade 5. But unlike this article, he managed to learn a technique for addition that resulted in the wrong answer 2 out of 3 times. You may have used a similar technique. To add 4 + 5..., you start with one number, say 4, on your fingers, and you add 5 fingers to it. Instead of correcting the mistake, i decided to make a complete break from it, and taught him addition and subtraction on an abacus. His math improved dramatically in a couple months. Regular readers of this blog will know that i'm not shy about using fingers for math. But it wasn't the school who taught it, despite the Montessori roots. I believe that's because the school didn't carry the method long enough. It wasn't a private school, but rather a charter school. That means that they got students pulled away from the public schools. These are students who have at least one parent who could fill out a 17 page application, and who actually did it. This is a big advantage for these students. The school doesn't have anywhere near the issues that public schools have. And yet, i also pushed my kid through to reading for enjoyment. I'm not against the Montessori method. But i don't like the way it's getting used here in the states very much. You can't talk about education seriously without Montessori.

My first thought was that all this guy wants to do is scientifically document stuff that good teachers already know. I mean, if you've got kids in front of you, then it's obvious. But he also wants more, and he gets what the serious issues are. He's got more to say here.

And yet, there is good stuff happening right here in the US. Salman Khan is doing good work, for example.

And, you've got to know what the Flynn effect is. My grandfather was an engineer. He'd have scored ridiculously good on modern IQ tests.