Wow. Math is everywhere, as my good friend and former colleague George Maczko would say.
Last week I published a blog on a new approach to math (integrated and applied) as opposed to the old approach (a sequence of traditionally taught subjects), with the rationale being that students in other countries do very well on the PISA exam when taught in the former way. While many people agreed with the idea, one blogger disagrees, saying that the data is skewed towards the country from which it is pulled (Finland, to be precise). He points out that, when adjusted for poverty, the US does just as well on the PISA exam as the Finnish (who do not deal with the level of poverty we have, which is really a much larger issue that should be addressed, oui? But I digress).
This is all fine and good. Lovely debate. Nice research.
What about engagement, though? Is education about a test? I believe that they test loses relevance completely, regardless of the score, if the student is dead inside intellectually by the time they get to it. Life is not a series of bubbles to fill in, and although I believe assessment is necessary and valid and has a place in all types of work (i.e., when repairing a light switch, you assess whether or not you did well by whether or not the light works. Simple. No bubbles.), I am less concerned with a student's performance on a test than I am with their engagement in their work and their ability to transform and apply their knowledge.
If I had to choose between a curriculum that was collaborative and applicable (and still meaty) or one that was not, I would choose the former; however, I have had students in the past who were more comfortable with the latter, and there is a place where the twain meet, a place where facts meet theories. Why do we have to universally reject one side for the other? If I get a little uncomfortable outside of my collaborative world, good for me; it means I have to stretch myself to learn more. I expect the same from my students. We can all be a little uncomfortable with what we know from time to time. If we cannot move past the ways in which we are set, progress is at a standstill, and that plateau is what we have been seeing in education, in bubbles and in the eyes of students and teachers.
Let's get a little uncomfortable, shall we?