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Long Division Dead as a Dodo Bird?

By Dr. Eugene Maier

Over sixteen years ago, the banner headline on page 4 of the January 19, 1982, edition of Education Week proclaimed, New Technology to Render Long Division 'Dead as a Dodo Bird.' The accompanying article reported on remarks made by Richard Anderson, then president of the Mathematical Association of America, during a symposium on "The Changing Role of the Mathematical and Computer Sciences Precollege Education" at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

A Modest Proposal: Soqme

By Dr. Eugene Maier

The past few days' electronic mail brought three messages, all of a similar vein.

The Words of Education

By Dr. Eugene Maier

Several years ago I acquired a Dover republication of Ernest Weekley's An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English. Originally published in 1921, Weekly's dictionary, according to the blurb on the back of my copy, is "easily the finest such work ever produced." One evening, while browsing my new acquisition, I looked up the origins of as many of the words of education as came to mind.

As one might expect, many of these words no longer carry their original meanings, although one might wish that they did. Here are some of the things I discovered.

Inner Mathematician

By Dr. Eugene Maier

One of the tenets of The Math Learning Center is that every human being has an innate mathematical spirit that harbors a natural sense of number and space—an affinity for things numerical and geometrical. The possession of this spirit is as normal as having two eyes, walking upright, experiencing emotions. It is part of what it means to be human.

The Real World

By Dr. Eugene Maier

The term "the real world" bothers me, especially when it is used in discussions about teaching mathematics. It suggests to me that there is some other, more authentic place I ought to be rather than the place I am, especially if that place is the mathematics classroom.

The End of the Trail

By Dr. Eugene Maier

It's the time of year when students across the country have resumed their trek along the educational trail—a journey that's likely to occupy them until they reach majority and beyond. Given the time and energy involved, it's worth asking, "What's the end of the trail?"

What's Missing?

By Dr. Eugene Maier

A number of years ago, dissatisfied with the way I was teaching mathematics—filling the blackboard with proofs and procedures while students dutifully recorded everything I wrote—I was looking for other ways of conducting classes. Mathematics educators of the time were urging that mathematics be "taught from a discovery approach, an approach that encourages the learner to manipulate devices, to play mathematical games, to gather data, and to form his own conclusions."

The PTA Does Fractions

By Dr. Eugene Maier

It was math night. We parents were listening to the fifth-grade teacher describe her approach to teaching fractions. Before showing us the algorithm she taught for dividing fractions, she asked us to divide two fractions using whatever method we were taught. Mass confusion ensued. As I looked about the room, I saw moms and dads conversing quizzically with one another. I heard fragments of hushed conversations: "What's the rule?"; "There's something about inverting."; "Is this right?" No one I could see had any confidence in what they were doing.

Those Times Tables

By Dr. Eugene Maier

I was in the stands at a middle-school basketball game. The mother of one of my grandson's teammates had noticed my "Math and The Mind's Eye" sweatshirt and, during a lull in the game, commented about it. We chatted briefly about math until the game resumed. In our conversation she mentioned that her son was having trouble in math. I gave her our web address and a couple of days later I got an e-mail from her elaborating on her son's difficulties.

The Big Lie

By Dr. Eugene Maier

A hallway conversation between sessions at a recent National Council of Teachers of Mathematics convention centered on the role of math in everyday life. An engineer-turned-science-writer expressed her surprise at discovering how inconsequential math was in the lives of most writers in the university town in which she lived. From what she observed, they got along just fine without paying any attention to mathematical matters. The conversation drifted elsewhere and at the time I didn't think to ask her why she found this surprising.

Reforming, Deforming, Transforming

By Dr. Eugene Maier

A few weeks ago I was at an end-of-the-school-year gathering of teachers, their spouses and friends. The conversation turned to the Oregon version of the educational reform movement.

A Question About Algebra

Last month I did an afternoon's workshop on teaching algebraic thinking at a conference of adult educators. Midway through the workshop someone asked if I personally knew anyone who used algebra in their job. I couldn't think of anyone at the moment. Neither could anyone else. Someone thought there were some engineers or physicists who did, but they didn't know when or how. When queried, nobody in the room could recall ever using algebra in any part of their lives outside the classroom.

The Christopher Columbus Stuff

By Dr. Eugene Maier

"It's not that they don't know the Christopher Columbus stuff, they lack the common sense and judgment to be successful in the workplace." That, as reported in the local paper, was the response of an administrator in a local engineering firm to a reporter's query. The reporter was asking about the on-the-job performance of adults who had acquired high school educations as part of an effort to move welfare recipients into the workforce.

The Life of Riley

By Dr. Eugene Maier

The life of Riley is not without its bumps and bruises, especially if you are United States Secretary of Education Richard Riley. The latest missile headed Riley's way is an "open letter," made public through a paid advertisement in the Washington Post. The letter, signed by six mathematicians and endorsed by an additional 201 mathematicians and scientists, including four Nobel laureates, urges the United States Government to cease its promotion of 10 school mathematics programs developed with the support of the National Science foundation.

Not Fit for Human Consumption

By Dr. Eugene Maier

A couple of things happened last month that were a thousand miles apart, literally and figuratively.

Assessing the Assessment

By Dr. Eugene Maier

The Oregon statewide assessments, mandated by the legislature in the 1991 Oregon Education Act, are up and running. And so is the opposition. An article in the local paper tells of a group of parents who are actively opposing the tests. They say they "are full of flaws and are a waste of money," while negatively affecting the quality of educational programs by cutting into classroom instructional time and draining funds from such things as field trips and counseling programs.