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 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.

"You can bet that Sony built a long-term business plan about being successful in Japan and that business plan is crumbling." -- Peter Moore, 24 hours before his Microsoft resignation

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