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Experiencing School Mathematics: Traditional and Reform Approaches To Teaching and Their Impact on Student Learning, Revised and Expanded Edition (Studies in Mathematical Thinking and Learning Series) Paperback – 13 Oct 2002


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Amazon.com: HASH(0x974874d4) out of 5 stars 1 review
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x974889d8) out of 5 stars Would have liked more knowledge of what was taught 25 May 2007
By Martin P. Cohen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The book decribes a study of the learning in two different schools in England, both from similar working class socioeconomic groups. One school teaches mathematics in a traditional manner and the other uses a progressive approach.

In the progressive school, students of mixed abilities are taught in the same class. The major source of learning is based on open ended projects. Although each student is required to turn in an individual project, the students are free to work together. The atmosphere at first glance appears chaotic. The noise level is somewhat high due to all the chatter. Many students may be talking about topics unrelated to their assignment. Any adults entering the class, whether an official visitor or the principal, are routinely ignored.

By all measures the students in the progressive school learn more. They do better on standardized tests and on special tests of the author's creation. They enjoy math more and have a better understanding of what math is about. They perceive a connection between the math they learn in school and real world problems, while the students in the traditional school fail to see the connection.

All of this suggests the superiority of progressive teaching. Before reading the book I was already disposed to believing this, so it takes some effort to step back and question just what was shown. Although the book goes into great detail describing the testing methodology it is not clear just what was taught in the two schools. How much beyond arithmetic did the schools go? There is an indication that students were taught how to plug numbers into formulas. How much were they taught about formulating word problems into algebraic form and then solving them? The book goes on at length about one of the projects in the progressive school. What other types of projects were there? Did any of them involve algebra?

In the back of my mind the whole time I was reading the book was the nagging question of why progressive education has not caught on, particularly since the progressive school in this case seems to be so much superior. This leads to further questions. Since the two schools have been in operation for a while it seems worth asking what becomes of graduates of the schools. Is there any significant difference in terms of students who go on to higher education or in income levels? Are there any other differences?

To me the most important aspect of the progessive education is that more students enjoyed math and understood the creative aspect of mathematics. Others may not feel the same way. They may be put off by the apparent disorder in the progressive classrooms. They will need strong evidence that the progressive approach has an improved lasting impact. Until that can be shown I do not think that progressive education will catch on.
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