Monday, October 31, 2005

Math on TV

I might not get HGTV, but my cable system does carry the School District Channel. Programming is put together by the local Media & Technology Magnet High School. The schedule consists mostly of broadcasts of school board meetings, French-language videos designed to be watched by American high school students in the early 1980s, and other educationally-focused materials.

On Sunday nights, they broadcast the most excruciating shows that I have ever watched. The entire evening is devoted to professional development of K-8 math teachers. Most of the programming comes from Annenberg Media and from WGBH, and a lot of it is in sync with current trends in K-8 math education.

So I find myself paralyzed in horror while I watch these shows. Always they feature a chirpy group facilitator trying to get the teachers to engage their students in unstructured, open-ended explorations with a goal of developing rich problem solving experiences. Often the teachers fixate on details that seem trivially small. Does it really matter whether the student labels every tick mark when putting a scale on the graph? Should the student be marked down in his response to an unstructured, open-ended exploration if he did not make a chart AND a graph AND write an equation when justifying the answer?

And I find myself oddly captivated by watching the enormous gulf between the facilitator and the teachers. The chasm between the facilitator's view of the forest and the teachers' obsession with the trees is so large and the difference in point of view so great that I can not imagine that anyone is getting anything out of these workshops.