In America we call it Common Core. In Canada they have been calling it discovery-based learning.
As applied to teaching mathematics, these new approaches reject rote learning in favor of more complex and often confusing ways of solving problems.
In America the new method was concocted by experts and funded by the Gates foundation.
What could go wrong?
Apparently, lots can and has gone wrong. I have already posted about the views of retired Berkeley math professor Marina Ratner. She was very pessimistic about the new way of teaching math.
Now, Canadian researchers have discovered the rote learning is much better for a child’s development. Memorizing the multiplication tables helps you to move on more effectively to more complex mathematical problems.
The National Post reports:
In effect, as young math students memorize the basics, their brains reorganize to accommodate the greater demands of more complex math. It is a gradual process, like “overlapping waves,” the researchers write, but it clearly shows that, for the growing child’s brain, rote memorization is a key step along the way to efficient mathematical reasoning.
By tracking a group of young students over the course of a year, the authors show “that children learn to associate individual problems with the correct answers. Repeated problem solving during the early stages of arithmetic skill development also contributes to memory re-encoding and consolidation, thus resulting in enhanced hippocampal activity and ability to recall basic arithmetic facts… The maturation of problem-solving skills is characterized by a gradual decrease in the use of inefficient procedures such as counting and an increase in the use of memory-based strategies.”
As a scientific justification of rote learning, the study seems likely to further polarize the controversy over math teaching styles, in which arithmetical fundamentalists are squared off against the popular and progressive forces of “discovery-based” learning, in which students are encouraged to find their own ways to the right answer.
One critic of the government’s adoption of “discovery-based learning,” Ken Porteous, a retired engineering professor, put it bluntly: “There is nothing to discover. The tried and true methods of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division work just fine as they have for centuries. There is no benefit and in fact a huge downside to students being asked to discover other methods of performing these operations and picking the one which they like. This just leads to confusion which ultimately translates into frustration, a strong dislike for mathematics and a desire to drop out of any form of mathematics course at the earliest opportunity.”