[Squeakland] the non universals

Robert Parks bobp at lightlink.com
Sat Aug 18 14:44:22 PDT 2007

I've been listening with interest, and I've got a couple of questions 
and (possible) provocations.

    1. would learning calculus as a "powerful idea" (rather than 
through the duller algebraic approach) be counted as "using discovery 
or inquiry based learning as a substitute for hard facts"?

    2. What IS a "powerful idea", and how does it become powerful? 
I'm particularly interested in asking whether ideas get their power 
from abstraction (finding similarity in structure), or generalization 
(finding similarity in features) - or from both.


>On 8/17/07, David Corking 
><<mailto:lists at dcorking.com>lists at dcorking.com> wrote:
>  > But what if the
>>  secondary math teachers complained loudly? I don't think they are in
>>  any decision process that I can find.
>I don't know the US systems very well.  I would like to think that
>school boards and education departments consult professionals first.
>Are there countries where that does happen?
>hi David,
>Curriculum statements have become contentious and politicised beasts 
>because they are the main instrument of attempted control over 
>teachers work. Many stakeholders fighting over problematic 
>As long ago as 1994 two Australian academics - rather than 
>describing them as academics I should say two of the most notable 
>educational maths researchers in Australia - wrote a book ('The 
>National Curriculum Debacle' by Nerida Ellerton and Ken Clements) 
>complaining bitterly that the leading maths educational research 
>group in Australia had not been listened to in the development of 
>the then national profiles. This book is really a blow by blow 
>description of the farcical process as well as a critique of 
>outcomes  based education
>In more recent times in Western Australia (Australian education 
>system is a State responsibility) there has been outrage at attempts 
>at curriculum reform. One perception has been that outcomes based 
>education has led to a watering down and socialisation of the maths 
>/ science curriculum. To quote retired Associate Professor Steve 
>Kessell, Science and Mathematics Education Centre, Curtin 
>University, letter to The Sunday Times 21/5/2006: "Learning about 
>the sociology of the cosmetics industry is not real chemistry, 
>discussing whether air bags should be mandatory is not real physics 
>... A 'culturally sensitive curriculum' borders on nonsense ..." 
>This is but one small sample of a flood of complaint. See the PLATO 
>(People Lobbying Against Teaching Outcomes) website for a lot more 
>detail <http://www.platowa.com/>http://www.platowa.com/ btw I'm not 
>endorsing their approach just pointing out how contested this area 
>has become
>My understanding is that this trend is world wide:
>"Wellington Grey, a physics teachers in the UK, has written 
>open letter about the conversion of physics in his country from a 
>science of precise measurement and calculation into "... something 
>else, something nebulous and ill defined"
>To critique it thoroughly would require a hard look at outcomes 
>based education.
>Summarising some of the issues:
>- watering down, diluting, trivializing science and maths curriculum
>- converting science / maths content into sociological content
>- using discovery or inquiry based learning as a substitute for hard facts
>This appears to be occurring systematically in western education 
>systems. (Not in developing countries who are serious about catching 
>up to the west and actively promote the importance of maths, science 
>and computing science).
>This is a big topic. Science and maths education seems to be 
>polarising between a back to basics movement and soft sociological 
>reform, often ineffectual "discovery learning". I believe there is a 
>third way, that traditional science education can be reformed and 
>still remain real science. Student designed computer simulations 
>using software such as Etoys / Squeak could play an important role 
>Bill Kerr
>Squeakland mailing list
>Squeakland at squeakland.org

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