Print 72 comment(s) - last by tastyratz.. on Jun 14 at 12:34 PM

Think of the children: Marlene Perrotte are taking up the good fight against video games where Jack Thompson left off. She and other parents in Albuquerque are fighting an educational math videogame which they claim is making children victims of "addiction" and exposing them to "violent" content like jetpacks.  (Source: KOAT-TV)
"What they recall is not the prime number ... but rather getting through to the enemy" -- concerned parent

Video games have their perpetual enemies -- poor adaptation, perverts, and slipping release deadlines.  However, perhaps the most insidious foe of video games is the perennial cry to ban games because they are too "violent", too "addictive", or feature too many "adult themes."

Albuquerque, New Mexico fell victim to this familiar foe when it tried to educate children using a mathematics-themed video game.  The local schools received a Department of Defense grant to deploy Tabula Digital's DimensionM to local schools, to help bump up children's math test scores.

Tabula Digital describes the game as having "all the action and adventure of commercial-quality video games while practicing and reinforcing the skills they need to succeed in math."  One middle school teacher called it "a 21st century flash card... They can use jetpacks and at the same time they have to know what the associative property is."

Not all local parents are as impressed, though.  Some are leading a crusade to see the game banned.  KOAT-TV, a local TV station, has been covering the bizarre protests.  One parent, Marlene Perrotte, comments, "We are feeding the addiction of these children to video games.  They were all excited, and they were excited because of the violence -'I'm getting ahead, I'm getting ahead, I'm getting ahead.'"

In a furor that would make even Jack Thompson proud, she raves, "What they recall is not the prime number ... but rather getting through to the enemy!"

Thus far, Albuquerque schools have no plans to drop the educational title amid the apparent outrage of a handful of parents.  DimensionM will continue to keep kids addicted -- to learning mathematics.  And that might just be a pretty great thing, considering math competency worldwide has been slipping.

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RE: Meh
By Motoman on 6/8/2010 1:59:31 PM , Rating: 5
These students would have greatly benefited from educational video games designed at memorizing and repetition of basic math.

Have to disagree wholeheartedly.

The primary failure of our education system, across the board, is the focus on forcing rote memorization of *everything*. Stuff you have committed to memory != intelligence.

What we should be teaching in schools are critical thinking skills - reasoning, logic, problem-solving. That is what makes effective people.

The problem is that it takes a lot of effort to teach that way, whereas it takes no effort to teach (and then test for) rote memorization.

Couple that with the laughable salary that a teacher makes, and massive class sizes and general underfunding due to budget cuts, and it's clear that we probably aren't ever going to provide proper education.

RE: Meh
By Motoman on 6/8/10, Rating: -1
RE: Meh
By Solandri on 6/8/2010 2:42:22 PM , Rating: 4
Have to disagree wholeheartedly.

The primary failure of our education system, across the board, is the focus on forcing rote memorization of *everything*. Stuff you have committed to memory != intelligence.

For most educational topics I'd agree with you. However, basic math is nothing more than rote memorization. I mean you can teach kids how to do multiplication by adding repeatedly and it'll work. But it's just sooo much more efficient just to have the entire multiplication table memorized.

Couple that with the laughable salary that a teacher makes, and massive class sizes and general underfunding due to budget cuts, and it's clear that we probably aren't ever going to provide proper education.

Public education in the U.S. spends a bit over $9,000 per student per year. For a "massive" class of 30 kids, that's over a quarter million dollars a year. It's near the top in the world. Education is not underfunded. The money is just poorly used.
(Note: the Nationmaster figures are from 1998)

RE: Meh
By moriz on 6/8/2010 3:47:23 PM , Rating: 3
i agree that rote memorization of simple math is important. i emigrated from china in my 3rd grade, and i remember making my canadian math teacher's jaw drop when i started doing math problems in my head faster than kids punching them out on calculators. back in china, we were routinely required to do 50 math questions in 3 minutes, no calculators allowed; not even scrap paper. we weren't even allowed to write on the tests' margins. this is apparently something unheard of here in north america.

another thing: class sizes do not necessarily coorelate to education quality. class sizes in china are typically over 50 kids, yet china has a higher quality of education than the US. the teachers get paid a whole lot less, even adjusting for cost of living. what's different is that teachers in china are paid according to their performance: the better the students do on tests, the more the teacher is paid. as far as i know, this isn't the case here in north america. maybe it's time to adopt such a system.

RE: Meh
By kattanna on 6/9/2010 12:39:52 PM , Rating: 2
one of the big differences between north america and china is that in china education is seen as a way to better yourself.

here, it is seen as a burden that gets in the way of having fun and socializing.

RE: Meh
By Keeir on 6/9/2010 6:20:33 PM , Rating: 2
Well, I think there are numerous difference

#1. Parental Involvement is significantly higher
#2. Academics is placed higher than Athletics/Social Activities
#3. Teachers typically are given much greater authority
#4. Selection Pressures begin much sooner
#5. Shame is used extensively (Scores are often posted publically)

china has a higher quality of education than the US

Whoa there. The Chinese education system turns out a large number of students capable of reguritating facts and performing calculations. These have thier place... but there are alot of other measurements of "quality" of education.

maybe it's time to adopt such a system.

There are some good aspects of China's system. There are some bad aspects however:
Public Posting of Scores (Shame)
Acceptence of Abusive Teachers
Stunting of late development
Stunting of development in other aspects of Life (Art, Music, Community Service, Athletics, etc)

RE: Meh
By icanhascpu on 6/10/2010 9:03:52 AM , Rating: 2
I remember in 3rd grade having to do 50-100 math questions in some few min as well. But I have the feeling you were doing multiplication and possible square roots and such so Im not boasting.

That was fun though.


RE: Meh
By tastyratz on 6/8/2010 3:47:38 PM , Rating: 1
Just because others set the bar low does not make ours sufficient or good enough. We really DON'T in general put as much towards education as we should- even if the rest fail to realize that more so than us.
I do however agree with you that funds are mismanaged but that's a generalized topic...

to OP's above myself:

While much of the educational system involves memorization of stupid facts there are certain things that really do need to be memorized in rudimentary entry subjects. Basic math functionality is one of them.

Video games enable us to teach in ways we never could and I HIGHLY embrace them educationally. We all know you learn more when you want to and your interested, what better way than to provide a fun method to experience learning at an accelerated rate?

Original op:
Sure I would love to romanticize the idea of all teachers employed being true enthusiastic educators, but I live in the real world and realize the majority of them are not. To educate the kids with the other 90% of teachers I am all for whatever it takes to get them interested in learning.

It is sad that reality puts us here but I also in part blame teacher unions. To me they are like the UAW. Nothing irritates me more than seeing a REAL educator let go because of tenor. An incentive program would make a lot more sense.

Personally I would like to see teachers base salary dropped and a new program put in place where they get paid x amount of bonus based on performance levels of their class in a standardized test in comparison to that districts average mean. Those who have students that excel in the subject are rewarded for ACTUALLY TEACHING.
But alas, that's just me romanticizing an idea that would never come to fruition.

RE: Meh
By Varkyl on 6/9/2010 12:20:27 PM , Rating: 2
The problem with pay based on a standardized test is the teachers will then just teach to the standardized tests. So the kids will be worse off than they are now.

Two of the biggest issues with schools right now are:
1. The lack of discipline in the student body. And this comes from the lack of discipline in the home.
2. When the teachers have to get the parents permission in order to fail a student we are bound for failure in the school system. Because the majority of parents won't let their "little Johny" fail. After all, it is unpossible that their child could fail.

RE: Meh
By tastyratz on 6/14/2010 12:34:44 PM , Rating: 2
well yes and no,
A standardized test based on curriculum adherence and a randomized question pool that changes year to year on that could avoid it. One could alone argue teaching to the test if they don't know the exact questions would be curriculum adherence. I am sure a little tweaking or taking the idea to run with could at the hopeful least provide for better results than now.

I do agree with you on the issues you suggest as well. Bad parenting is reigning in and excuses are abound. No one seems to want to hold a child accountable for his or her failures. Don't get me started on "participation awards" that reward a child for not being good enough with comfort in knowing its OK to not be the best. Isn't childhood the time that is supposed to prepare people for the real world? I never paid my mortgage with a participation award after a job interview.

RE: Meh
By theArchMichael on 6/8/2010 4:27:02 PM , Rating: 2
Actually when the top range of students from the US are compared to the top range of students in other countries, notably South Korea. Its the US students who are more adept at critical thinking and also writing (which implies creativity), while the South Korean students generally did better in math and sciences because of their more rigid drill based curriculum. This is a comparison of the Top 10% of performers from both nations in OECD tests (some debate their accuracy). In comparisons of the general American population of students vs the general population of foreign countries, the US fares much worse. Like 24th out of 28 countries...

Going to your second point, and tying it in with my first. Personally, I think there's room for more creative skill building AND math and science drill work AND civic and cultural studies, etc. Its a called a LONGER SCHOOL DAY . I don't think paying teachers more to do the same crappy/lackluster job is the end answer to our problems.

Pay the teachers more to DO MORE! if the parents have an option of a 9-5 school day at certain schools, their kids would be able to do participate in all the enriching activities that create well rounded individuals while also being able to really partake in drilling the multitude of concepts encompassed in a math/science curriculum.

A good example of this is KIPP, which is a nonprofit that setup a public charter middle school in Baltimore that serves the poor/high risk kids in West Balitmore (think The Wire, yeah its really that bad). The school has no entrance exam and lower income/high risk kids are given preference for admission. So they are NOT cherry picking. They have a longer schoolday and also go to school on some Saturdays half day. They also have shorter summer/spring/winter breaks. They make education fun by doing "cool" experiments in the classroom instead of just quickly referencing it in the textbook. But they also still have time to do the actual study required to impart real skills through drill work in the classroom.

All this to say, the standardized test scores of KIPP academy in baltimore are ASTOUNDING .
Maryland has one of the "better" education systems in the country but Baltimore public schools consistently rank among the worst in the nation. This one school with their extended hours and curriculum is scoring among the best in the state, its competitive with high priced private schools. It's just amazing to me to see this happen in West Baltimore ,arguably, one of the roughest neighborhoods in the US, definitely the roughest in the NorthEast.

Its just a same how much political bullshit surrounds education in this country from all parties, otherwise common sense options like this would be more widely available.

RE: Meh
By GourdFreeMan on 6/8/2010 7:07:19 PM , Rating: 2
From my personal experiences in the state of California the following are:

What we should be teaching in schools are critical thinking skills - reasoning, logic, problem-solving. That is what makes effective people.

True. A symbolic calculator like Mathematica can solve all K-12 and most undergraduate math problems once they are framed in the language of mathematics, and the language of your application.

The problem is that it takes a lot of effort to teach that way, whereas it takes no effort to teach (and then test for) rote memorization.

Debatable. I would say the problem is this requires the student to actually think, as opposed to follow the pattern laid out by the instructor. Experience with previous problems can help, but there is no guarantee that every student in a class room is capable of thinking this way, and no guarantee that even intelligent students can reliably come to the correct conclusions independently in a way that does stratify classes into catering to a student size of one. In short teaching isn't taking place per se, but rather independent learning with the teacher only acting as a check on correctness of the solution and chain of thought leading to it. You don't really see this happening much at lower levels of education, because you need mature students who will actually work under such conditions, rather than goofing off or soliciting their peers for the majority of the work. That's not to say it's entirely impossible, but most classes outside the gate/AP/honors curriculum have at least one or two bad apple and the presence of even one would make such a mode of instruction impossible. You can't expect someone to babysit and teach at the same time...

Couple that with the laughable salary that a teacher makes

False. Salaries are generally competitive, and students offer a captive and easily influenced ear to agitation in that regard. That is not to say an educator's life is easy by any means, but salary is not something I would put foremost on the list of grievances.

and massive class sizes

False, for K-12. Class sizes are generally under thirty, and usually in the low twenties in California. In some specialized high school classes (e.g. Calculus BC) there may be fewer than twelve students in a class. Undergraduate classes at colleges are another story, however. Both my linear algebra/differential equations and multivariable calculus classes had over a hundred students seated in an auditorium-like class room. That attitude that undergraduates are something to foist onto graduate student TAs, and are unworthy of a professor's attention that exists at some colleges is a problem.

and general underfunding due to budget cuts

Mostly False. Some elementary schools in poorer neighborhoods need building renovations, but I have never seen a school short of basic materials. Computers are available in most class rooms, again with the exception of some elementary schools in poorer neighborhoods. In some high schools and middle schools, every student is provided with the use of a free laptop for the duration of the school year.

RE: Meh
By Motoman on 6/8/2010 8:59:02 PM , Rating: 2
I honestly don't follow your first point...not sure why you're bringing up Mathematica.

On the second point, about teaching effort, you point out that the problem is requiring the student to think. Which is fair, but in rote memorization the student doesn't have to think, and the teacher doesn't have to teach them to think. In order to "make kids think" you have to teaching them actual thinking skills, and then how to apply those skills...and any "bad apples" get sent to the remedial class. And not necessarily bad apples, but as you point out there may be some kids who simply can't be taught to have good critical thinking/reasoning skills - in which case they also need to be put into remedial classes. The biggest problem there is the current societal pressure to make all kids feel like they're "equal" - everybody's special. Guess what're not special, and in fact it seems that you're having trouble keeping up with this class, so we're going to move you to a different class that's built for kids at your level.

On the third point, salaries: BS. Utter BS. I know a *lot* of teachers, and what they get paid is crap. Especially when you take into account the effort they have to go through to get teaching certificates, and what people who get lesser degrees in other disciplines make right out of college. Teacher salaries are a joke, and I defy you to prove otherwise.

And on the 4th point, class sizes, I again call BS. Frankly 30 is far too many to actually *teach* kids, both in my own opinion and the opinions of teachers I know. When you have class sizes that big, you pretty much can only manage to force rote memorization. You have no choice. Not sure if even 20 kids would be few enough to foster real education of crucial thinking skills. And in many metro areas, class sizes are 40 or more. The larger the class size, the less effective the class will be.

Lastly, on the topic of general underfunding...sure, some cherry-picked schools are great and issue laptops...but lots have squat. Great inequity across the board, meaning that, probably, if you come from an affluent family and live in an affluent area you have a decent chance of having a sufficiently-funded school. Otherwise, you don't.

RE: Meh
By GourdFreeMan on 6/9/2010 7:13:33 PM , Rating: 2
I honestly don't follow your first point...not sure why you're bringing up Mathematica.

If you ignore proofs, nearly every math problem students at this level will encounter results in distilling the information given to an equation or relationship, and them solving for the answer(s). Many exercises students are presented with skip even this and simply give the students an equation to solve or simplify. All such computations can be done in an applications like Mathematics in seconds to milliseconds. The emphasis on the process of solving equations and relations by hand is ultimately teaching a skill that is largely outdated when you look at things objectively. Admittedly in science and enginering the process sometimes gives hints on how to make good approximations when getting an exact solution is impossible or computationally expensive, but treating manual computation as the sole method of approaching problems when numerical solutions will be the sole methods of solving many problems seems a waste...

and any "bad apples" get sent to the remedial class

In advanvced classes, sure, but you propose to make this the mode of instuction for all levels and K-12. "Bad apples" tend to get swapped around at the elementary level, not removed, and though this sometimes resolves behavior problems, often it does not.

On the third point, salaries: BS. Utter BS.

Everyone believes they need to get paid better. This is universal across all occupations, and all levels of skill, regardless of what level of degrees, certificates and certifications a job requires. Be objective. Yes, dealing with children is difficult. Yes, there are a lot of occupations that deserve to be paid less than teachers (e.g. entertainment). Yes, teaching is a noble occupation that contributes more to the welfare of society than most occupations. However, there are an awful lot of kids, not all of which need top notch educators (and you want to cut class sizes). The real level of education and intelligence requied when not talking about university professors also pales in comparison to that of doctors, engineers, scientists and many other highly specialized professions.

And on the 4th point, class sizes

I can only state what I have personally observed. As I mentioned before I substituted for several years and saw a broad range of schools (from the best to the reformatory) and a broad range of classes K-12. I worked in a community with a metro area covering approximately one million people in two school districts. I rarely saw a class over thirty, even in impovrished neighborhoods. Most schools had class sizes in the low twenties (outside of smaller classes in specialized subjects in high school). I could give individual attention to students in a well behaved class of thirty, but would stuggle to be able to give students the attention they deserve in a class even half that size if there were frequent behavior problems. Many teachers give up in the first five years of their career, and it's seldom class size or salary that motivates their change of career. It is trouble with problem students or unsupportive administrators that drives this statistic.

Great inequity across the board, meaning that, probably, if you come from an affluent family and live in an affluent area you have a decent chance of having a sufficiently-funded school.

This is true, and it especially sad because at a young age most children are good, hard working, and generally try to be helpful, but as they grew up in rougher neighboorhoods the traits and negative attitudes of older sibilings and other members of their community destroy their potential to achieve. If they had good role models (be they educators or members of the community) and educational opportunities (not just sports or recreation) to pursue in their free time many could exceed just as well as those from more affluent families.

RE: Meh
By GourdFreeMan on 6/9/2010 7:29:11 PM , Rating: 2
Before anyone comments on my last paragraph, let me say that I am not blaming behavior problems solely on economic conditions or singling out impoverished students as the primary source of such problems. There is some correlation as students get older, but you are almost just as likely to find problem students in any socio-economic class.

I could tell stories of farm kids (high school students from middle class rural areas some of which literally did live on a farm) who talked and acted as if they were from a sterotypical ghetto, lacing their speech with profanity ( in a class room ), and put on shows of acting tough and defiant... but I think you get the idea.

RE: Meh
By GourdFreeMan on 6/9/2010 7:35:07 PM , Rating: 2
Sorry I made some spelling and word choice mistakes in my last two posts, but there is no edit function for posts, and, well, this is Dailytech -- no one should mind.

RE: Meh
By GourdFreeMan on 6/9/2010 9:28:23 PM , Rating: 2
This article will soon be bumped off the front page of Anandtech, so I won't be following it anymore, and won't respond to any further comments. However, if you doubt the veracity of anything I have written I encourage you to substitute teach in your local school district. It is one thing to parrot what you have been told or post opinions on a forum; it is something entirely different to have firsthand experience.

Some assignments have tightly plotted lesson plans, while others are less structured or even mere exercises in babysitting, so if you persist you will have ample opportunity to test your theories, if you wish. I know I have done my best to enrich the curriculum whenever I had expert knowledge on the subject at hand, and cooperative students willing to learn. Volunteering at a local school would also give you some firsthand experience and maybe the same opportunity, but you won't get a broader picture of what your local school district is really like.

Even if your county, state or nation does have a radically different educational system I think both you and the students in your community would profit from the experience. I look back on my own experiences with a bittersweet mixture of pride and frustration.

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