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Agenda for Action: Standards


Recommendation 4
Stringent Standards of Both Effectiveness and Efficiency Must Be Applied to the Teaching of Mathematics

What is learned relative to a topic, how long it is retained, how readily it is applied—all these depend on the learning process the students pass through and how effectively they are engaged in that process. It is fruitless to consider topics taught apart from the way learners meet these topics.

Instructional time is a precious commodity. It must be spent wisely. Learning is a product of both the time engaged in a learning task and the quality of that engagement. Teachers must employ the most effective and efficient techniques at their command. They must apportion instructional time according to the importance of the topic, recognizing that the value of a skill or knowledge is subject to change over time.

Modern technology and educational theory and research have made accessible today's teacher approaches, materials, and strategies that were not previously available. Teachers at all levels must learn to use this enriched variety of instructional techniques, materials, and resources to teach mathematics more effectively.

Recommended Actions  

4.1  The major emphasis on problem solving in the curriculum must be accommodated by a reprogramming of the use of time in the classroom 

  • Priority in classroom time should be devoted to involving students in meaningful problem-solving activities. Explanation, practice, and directive teaching are important but should not diminish the time necessary to achieve this priority. Requiring complete mastery or skills before allowing participation in challenging problem solving is counterproductive.
  • The time spent on mathematics in elementary school programs should be increased. Higher-order skills in problem solving require more time to learn than the lower-order, narrowly mechanistic skills.
  • The extent of teacher and student time devoted to certain traditional skill areas should be reduced to make room for newly emerging objectives.
  • There are certain algorithmic skills (e.g., long division with multiple-digit divisors) that require a great expenditure of classroom time. A strict standard of time effectiveness and cost effectiveness should be applied to determine whether actual use of that technique in life outside school justifies this much expenditure of effort and time. The use of calculators has radically reduced the demand for some paper-and-pencil techniques.
  • Teachers should learn effective techniques of classroom management to assess and achieve the optimal time on a task.

4.2  School administrators and parents must support the teacher’s efforts to engage students more effectively in learning tasks. 

  • Local administrators should ensure uninterrupted time for the teacher to carry out the instructional program.
  • Parents and administrators must support the authority of the teacher to require that students be productively engaged in learning during their class time. They should exercise reasonable sanctions against students who do not respect that authority.
  • Parents and administrators should expect that teachers will assign a reasonable amount of meaningful homework to extend productively the time students are engaged in the study of mathematics. Both should use their influence to increase the likelihood that students will complete the homework as assigned.
  • School budgets should provide for a range of instructional resources adequate to support a wide variety of teaching strategies.

4.3  Teachers should use diverse instructional strategies, materials, and resources such as: 

  • individual or small-group work as well as large-group work; 
  • well-planned use of media, such as overhead projectors, videotapes, video disks, audio/video cassettes, computers, films, slides, television; 
  • the provision of situations that provide discovery and inquiry as well as basic drill;
  • the use of manipulatives, where suited, to illustrate or develop a concept or skill;
  • the inclusion of cyclic review of past topics (contents, skills, and ideas previously taught);
  • the use of materials and references outside the classroom, such as visiting museums, using the library, visiting businesses or industries, visiting computer centers, making home television assignments.

4.4  School districts, local and state or provincial officials, manufacturers, and publishers should take a bolder and more imaginative approach to selecting and producing educational hardware and software in order to provide for a curriculum that emphasizes problem solving. 

  • Unnecessarily restrictive conditions set by school districts, state and provincial agencies, outdated ground rules of publishing houses, conservative status quo editorial policies, and the like should give way to greater openness and willingness to address future needs.

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