Education Fires Back Again

There is another contribution from the Education community:

How to do the sums for an excellent maths curriculum

This one does not directly address the open letter, although, given the framing and the links, it is difficult to not see the article as an intended rebuttal. Again, we know little of the authors, and we have not read the article with any attention. We’ll be interested in what commenters think. (Ball-not-man rules still apply.)

UPDATE (10/06/21)

Glen has pointed out that the article is from April 21. So, it is definitely not in response to the open letter. However, the article came out soon after the ridiculous, pre-emptive strike statement from AMSI, AAS and others, and in its first sentence the article links to the reporting of this statement. Whatever merits it might have, the article is not an innocent reflection on educational method.

UPDATE (10/06/21)

As indicated by SRK, there is now (in effect) a response from John Sweller.

Maths Ed Fires Back

Today in The Conversation there is an article firing back at the open letter to ACARA:

The proposed new maths curriculum doesn’t dumb down content. It actually demands more of students

We haven’t read the letter, and we don’t know the authors, or of the authors. We’ll try to read the article and comment on the article soon, modulo home schooling and general exhaustion. For now, people can comment below (respectfully and on-topic and on-the-ball-not-the-man). We’ll be interested in what people think.

ACARA Crash 12: Let X = X

(With apologies to the brilliant Laurie Anderson. Sane people should skip straight to today’s fish, below.)

I met this guy – and he looked like he might have been a math trick jerk at the hell brink.
Which, in fact, he turned out to be.
And I said: Oh boy.
Right again.

Let X=X.

You know, that it’s for you.
It’s a blue sky curriculum.
Parasites are out tonight.
Let X=X.

You know, I could write a book.
And this book would be thick enough to stun an ox.
Cause I can see the future and it’s a place – about a thousand miles from here.
Where it’s brighter.
Linger on over here.
Got the time?

Let X=X.

I got this postcard.
And it read, it said: Dear Amigo – Dear Partner.
Listen, uh – I just want to say thanks.
So…thanks.
Thanks for all your patience.
Thanks for introducing me to the chaff.
Thanks for showing me the feedbag.
Thanks for going all out.
Thanks for showing me your amiss, barmy life and uh
Thanks for letting me be part of your caste.
Hug and kisses.
XXXXOOOO.

Oh yeah, P.S. I – feel – feel like – I am – in a burning building – and I gotta go.

Cause I – I feel – feel like – I am – in a burning building – and I gotta go.

 

OK, yes, we’re a little punch drunk. And drunk drunk. Deal with it.

Today’s fish is Year 7 Algebra. We have restricted ourselves to the content-elaboration combo dealing with abstract algebraic expressions. We have also included an omission from the current curriculum, together with the offical justification for that omission.

LEVEL DESCRIPTION 

As students engage in learning mathematics in Year 7 they … explore the use of algebraic expressions and formulas using conventions, notations, symbols and pronumerals as well as natural language.

CONTENT 

create algebraic expressions using constants, variables, operations and brackets. Interpret and factorise these expressions, applying the associative, commutative, identity and distributive laws as applicable

ELABORATIONS

generalising arithmetic expressions to algebraic expressions involving constants, variables, operations and brackets, for example, 7 + 7+ 7 = 3 × 7 and 𝑥 + 𝑥 + 𝑥 = 3 × 𝑥 and this is also written concisely as 3𝑥 with implied multiplication

applying the associative, commutative and distributive laws to algebraic expressions involving positive and negative constants, variables, operations and brackets to solve equations from situations involving linear relationships

exploring how cultural expressions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples such as storytelling communicate mathematical relationships which can be represented as mathematical expressions

exploring the concept of variable as something that can change in value the relationships between variables, and investigating its application to processes on-Country/Place including changes in the seasons

OMISSION

Solving simple linear equations

JUSTIFICATION

Focus in Year 7 is familiarity with variables and relationships. Solving linear equations is covered in Year 8 when students are better prepared to deal with the connections between numerical, graphical and symbolic forms of relationships.

 

I – feel – feel like – I am – in a burning building

 

Open Letter to ACARA and the ACARA Board

The following is an open letter to David de Carvalho, CEO of ACARA, and to the ACARA Board. regarding the draft mathematics curriculum. The home of the letter is here, you can sign up here, and the list of current signatories is here.

Disclosure: The letter was not my idea, and it is not my letter, but I had a hand in bringing the letter to fruition. As to why I think the letter is important, see here.

 

Open letter to Mr. David de Carvalho, CEO of ACARA, and the ACARA Board

On 29 April 2021, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) released its draft revisions to the Australian Mathematics Curriculum, with a consultation period ending on 8 July 2021. We are a group of mathematicians, mathematics educators, educational psychologists, parents and members of the public who take an active interest in mathematics education and in the curriculum. We agree that the Mathematics Curriculum desperately requires reform; it is repetitious, disconnected, unambitious and is lacking in critical elements. We are pleased that efforts to reform the curriculum are underway. We are profoundly concerned, however, with the structure of the current draft and with many of the proposed changes within.

The primary source of our concerns is the proposal to replace the four Proficiencies in the current Curriculum with the draft’s thirteen “Core Concepts”, grouped under three “Core Concept Organisers”. The Proficiencies – understanding, fluency, reasoning and problem-solving – are well-understood and provide a clear structure for teaching mathematics. In contrast, the Core Concepts are often poorly defined and overlapping, vary massively in scope and breadth, and their groupings into Core Concept Organisers, including the faddish “Mathematising”, are a mostly arbitrary and at times contradictory categorisation. The critical element of “thinking and reasoning”, for example, has somehow been reduced to just another concept among thirteen, sharing equal value with wordy descriptions of simple ideas. The end effect is a framework of little practical value as a guiding structure.

The Core Concepts are confused and confusing, but it is clear that they represent a push toward a central role for “problem-solving” and inquiry-based learning. Solving problems is obviously a core aspect of mathematical practice, is an important goal for mathematics education, and is already listed as one of the four Proficiencies in the current curriculum. The issue with the draft curriculum is that its “inquiries” are unanchored by clear and specific content, by underlying knowledge and skills. Moreover, the “problems” suggested to be “solved” are mostly exploratory and open-ended, effectively unsolvable and of questionable pedagogical value, and with little or no indication of the specific desired learning outcome. Insufficient attention is given to carefully constrained problems facilitating the practicing and subsequent extension of already mastered skills. Making things worse, the inclusion of inquiry methods in the content descriptors results in the descriptors being almost useless as determiners of actual content. This obscures the key ideas and basic skills to be learned, which are the foundational elements essential for any effective mathematical practice, including for problem-solving.

The draft is not so much pushing problem-solving as it is pushing for learning through activities referred to as “solving problems”, but which are actually ill-defined explorations. We do not believe that a curriculum document should mandate a specific method of mathematics teaching, and it is especially concerning that the draft curriculum is extensively mandating learning through “exploring” and “problem-solving”. There is strong evidence to indicate that methods without a proper balance that includes the explicit teaching of mathematical concepts are less effective, in particular for younger students grappling with new concepts and basic skills. The content of the mathematics curriculum, even for the lower years, is the result of millennia of human endeavour across cultures around the world – it is neither fair nor realistic to expect students to retrace this journey with a few pointers and inquiries in a few hours per week.

The emphasis in the draft curriculum on open-ended inquiry, without the systematic building of coherent knowledge, creates further serious issues. Some indication of these issues is provided in the following paragraphs, but many, many more examples could be given.

The delaying and devaluing of fluency, of “the basics”

The draft curriculum includes some particularly concerning Content descriptors, and rearrangement of material. The learning of the multiplication tables, for example, is first addressed only in Year 4, where it is framed in terms of “patterns” and “strategies”, with no emphasis on mastery. Similarly, the solving of linear equations such as ax + b =c, a foundational skill for all secondary school mathematics, is pushed in the draft from Year 7 to Year 8. There is simply no valid argument for these, and many other, dilutions and delays. Indeed, the draft curriculum has squandered the opportunity to address some glaring problems with the timing and emphasis of content in the current Curriculum.

The loss of natural mathematical connections

Mathematics in the current Curriculum consists of three strands, but the draft has split these into six strands. The very natural Number-Algebra strand, for instance, has become separate strands of Number and Algebra. This is unwieldy, effectively requires a redefinition of “algebra” and, most damagingly, it severs the critical pedagogical link between these two disciplines. Similarly, the strands of Measurement-Geometry and Statistics-Probability have been split into Measurement, Space, Statistics and Probability, for no benefit or good purpose.

Shallow conceptualisation

Notwithstanding ACARA’s repetitive claims to be promoting “deep understanding”, the draft’s overwhelming emphasis on investigation and modelling has resulted in many critical mathematical concepts being underplayed and, in certain cases, not even being named. In Algebra, for example, fundamental terms such as “null factor” and “polynomial” and “completing the square” rate not a single mention. To give an analogy, it is as if a curriculum on Politics failed to mention “sovereignty” or “citizenship” or “separation of powers”.

The devaluing of mathematics

The problem-solving, investigation and modelling that is advocated by the draft curriculum is very heavily weighted towards real-world contexts. Indeed, the definition of “Problem solving” provided in the draft Curriculum’s “Key considerations” section explicitly mentions solving problems relating to the “natural and created worlds”, and pointedly omits references to solving problems stemming from mathematics itself. This approach squanders an excellent opportunity for students to gain an appreciation of mathematics as a beautiful discipline, a discipline which can be its own goal. This devaluing of mathematics is starkly displayed in the description of, and in the very name of, the Space strand. Whereas Geometry is concerned fundamentally with the study of abstract objects and their properties, the Space content is heavily slanted towards the study of real-world contexts. Learning in genuine real-world contexts is much more difficult, because the real world is inevitably full of distractions that cloud the clear principle to be learned.

Mathematical errors and non sequiturs

Some errors in the draft are subtle, but many are not. There is no purpose, for example, in directing students to “investigate … Fibonacci patterns in shells”, since such patterns simply do not exist. Such errors and confusions would typically be caught during a proper review by mathematicians; their existence in the draft curriculum places into serious question the nature and the extent of ACARA’s consultation process.

Finally, we make two points about ACARA’s presentation and promotion of the draft curriculum.

Part of ACARA’s justification for the strong emphasis on problem-solving has been that the mathematics curriculum in Singapore, an education system that performs extremely well in the mathematics component of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), places an emphasis on problem-solving. We seriously question whether the Singaporean sense of “problem-solving” bears even a remote resemblance to ACARA’s use of the term but, in any case, ACARA’s justification fails on its own terms. To begin, there are other education systems that also place a premium on problem-solving but that do not perform at anywhere near the level of Singapore in PISA mathematics. Further, whatever the role of problem-solving in the Singaporean curriculum, this curriculum is also very demanding in terms of fluency with basic skills; no comparable requirements exist in the current Australian Curriculum, and the draft curriculum only pushes to weaken these requirements. The further elimination and weakening of fundamental skills will contribute to the root cause of Australian students’ slipping in international comparisons: the students end up knowing less mathematics.

Secondly, an important aspect of ACARA’s review is that it was intended to be modest in scope, with a focus on “refining” and “decluttering”. The draft curriculum fails in both respects. The radical introduction of the Core Concepts structure and “Mathematising”, the separation into twice the number of strands, the multipurpose nature of the Content, is all the antithesis of modest. This new structure is, inevitably, much clunkier, with massively increased curriculum clutter. The draft curriculum is barely readable.

In brief, the draft curriculum is systemically flawed. It is unworkable, and it fails to capture or to promote the high standard of mathematical knowledge, appreciation and understanding that Australia’s schoolchildren deserve.

The Australian mathematics curriculum requires proper review. Such a review, however, must be undertaken without a pre-ordained outcome, and with the proper participation and consultation of discipline experts. Indeed, ACARA’s own terms of reference for the review specify that the content changes are to be made by subject matter experts, namely mathematicians. It is difficult to imagine that this was the case.

We urge ACARA to remove the current draft mathematics curriculum for consideration and to begin a proper and properly open review, in line with community expectations and with Australia’s needs.

Sincerely,

ACARA Crash 11: Pulped Fractions

We’re still crazy-nuts with work, so, for today, it’s just another fish. This one is from Year 7 Number. and appears to be the sum of fraction arithmetic in Year 7.

LEVEL DESCRIPTION 

As students engage in learning mathematics in Year 7 they … develop their understanding of integer and rational number systems and their fluency with mental calculation, written algorithms, and digital tools and routinely consider the reasonableness of results in context

ACHIEVEMENT STANDARD 

By the end of Year 7, students use all four operations in calculations involving positive fractions and decimals, using the properties of number systems and choosing the computational approach. … They determine equivalent representations of rational numbers and choose from fraction, decimal and percentage forms to assist in computations. They solve problems involving rational numbers, percentages and ratios and explain their choice of representation of rational numbers and results when they model situations, including those in financial contexts.

CONTENT 

determine equivalent fraction, decimal and percentage representations of rational numbers. Locate and represent positive and negative fractions, decimals and mixed numbers on a number line

ELABORATIONS

investigating equivalence of fractions using common multiples and a fraction wall, diagrams or a number line to show that a fraction such as \color{blue}\boldsymbol{\frac23} is equivalent to \color{blue}\boldsymbol{\frac46} and \color{blue}\boldsymbol{\frac69} and therefore \color{blue}\boldsymbol{\frac23 < \frac56}

expressing a fraction in simplest form using common divisors

applying and explaining the equivalence between fraction, decimal and percentage representations of rational numbers, for example, \color{blue}\boldsymbol{16\%, 0.16, \frac{16}{100}} and \color{blue}\boldsymbol{\frac4{25}}, using manipulatives, number lines or diagrams

representing positive and negative fractions and mixed numbers on various intervals of the real number line, for example, from -1 to 1, -10 to 10 and number lines that are not symmetrical about zero or without graduations marked

investigating equivalence in fractions, decimals and percentage forms in the patterns used in the weaving designs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

CONTENT

carry out the four operations with fractions and decimals and solve problems involving rational numbers and percentages, choosing representations that are suited to the context and enable efficient computational strategies

ELABORATIONS 

exploring addition and subtraction problems involving fractions and decimals, for example, using rectangular arrays with dimensions equal to the denominators, algebra tiles, digital tools or informal jottings

choosing an appropriate numerical representation for a problem so that efficient computations can be made, such as \color{blue}\boldsymbol{12.5\%, \frac{1}{8}, 0.125} or \color{blue}\boldsymbol{\frac{25}{1000}}

developing efficient strategies with appropriate use of the commutative and associative properties, place value, patterning, multiplication facts to solve multiplication and division problems involving fractions and decimals, for example, using the commutative property to calculate \color{blue}\boldsymbol{\frac23} of \color{blue}\boldsymbol{\frac12} giving \color{blue}\boldsymbol{\frac12} of \color{blue}\boldsymbol{\frac23 = \frac13}

exploring multiplicative (multiplication and division) problems involving fractions and decimals such as fraction walls, rectangular arrays, algebra tiles, calculators or informal jottings

developing efficient strategies with appropriate use of the commutative and associative properties, regrouping or partitioning to solve additive (addition and subtraction) problems involving fractions and decimals

calculating solutions to problems using the representation that makes computations efficient such as 12.5% of 96  is more efficiently calculated as \color{blue}\boldsymbol{\frac18} of 96, including contexts such as, comparing land-use by calculating the total local municipal area set aside for parkland or manufacturing and retail, the amount of protein in daily food intake across several days, or increases/decreases in energy accounts each account cycle

using the digits 0 to 9 as many times as you want to find a value that is 50% of one number and 75% of another using two-digit numbers

CONTENT

model situations (including financial contexts) and solve problems using rational numbers and percentages and digital tools as appropriate. Interpret results in terms of the situation

ELABORATIONS

calculating mentally or with calculator using rational numbers and percentages to find a proportion of a given quantity, for example, 0.2 of total pocket money is spent on bus fares, 55% of Year 7 students attended the end of term function, 23% of the school population voted yes to a change of school uniform

calculating mentally or with calculator using rational numbers and percentages to find a proportion of a given quantity, for example, 0.2 of total pocket money is spent on bus fares,  of Year 7 students attended the end of term function,  of the school population voted yes to a change of school uniform

interpreting tax tables to determine income tax at various levels of income, including overall percentage of income allocated to tax

using modelling contexts to investigate proportion such as proportion of canteen total sales happening on Monday and Friday, proportion of bottle cost to recycling refund, proportion of school site that is green space; interpreting and communicating answers in terms of the context of the situation

expressing profit and loss as a percentage of cost or selling price, comparing the difference

investigating the methods used in retail stores to express discounts, for example, investigating advertising brochures to explore the ways discounts are expressed

investigating the proportion of land mass/area of Aboriginal Peoples’ traditional grain belt compared with Australia’s current grain belt

investigating the nutritional value of grains traditionally cultivated by Aboriginal Peoples in proportion to the grains currently cultivated by Australia’s farmers