I am going to bang on about education for a few minutes.
We've been having problems with Junior and maths. His test results have been rubbish, and we've been doing a bit of back and forth with his teachers - I say "teachers" because he seems to have had 2 or 3 so far this year, and not a lot of consistency.
That aside, we discovered last night how he has been doing his maths homework. The answers are in the back of the text book. When given a page or two of exercises to complete, he just copies down the answers and thinks that will suffice.
Oh boy, we busted him big time last night. The exercise he had to do involved calculating the square of a few numbers, and then the square root of some other numbers. I can remember how to calculate the square without using a calculator, but doing the square root has me baffled. I am going to have to Google that process later on.
The way we busted him is that he had no working for his calculations - just answers. One of the things he had to calculate was the square of 35. I could probably work that out in my head, but I prefer to get a pen and paper and do it the old way. I did it twice, just to make sure my brain had not gone soft, then checked it against the answer in the book.
Phew, brain is not too soft.
J challenged Junior on how he got the answer. He said he did it in his head. But then he couldn't do it again. Then she asked him to calculate the square root of 729 in his head, which he couldn't do (answer is 27). And on and on she went - he was unable to do a bloody thing. If it had been a proper test in the classroom, he would have scored 0.0 out of 100.
You have to wonder how, in this day of small class sizes, how this sort of thing slips by. We haven't been super-diligent at our end either, but unless the teacher calls to say things are going pear-shaped, you tend to assume that he is getting by ok.
Talk about tears before bedtime. He didn't like being pulled up on being a cheat, and then being pulled up on lying about it. There are going to be some changes around here from now on...
But that is not what I was going to write about. Instead, I wanted to write about teaching methods.
In my day, I don't remember having a maths text book. I really don't. What I remember is that we opened our exercise books and the teacher pulled out his stick of chalk and he wrote lots of equations on the board for us to solve. Or, if he was really modern, he turned on the overhead projector and put down a pre-prepared foil with lots of equations on it.
One way or another, we sat there in silence and copied out each equation, and then solved it in our book. We showed all our working etc etc. As we sat there copying, the teacher would walk around and check that we were in fact copying down the equations, and not doodling, and would whack us with a ruler if we weren't doing the right thing. If we had trouble, we'd sit back with our hand raised, and not utter a peep until called by name. Or, the teacher would note that we were struggling as he walked up and down the rows, peering over our shoulders at our work, and he'd stop and help out.
Funnily enough, they could teach a class of 30 or more with no problems using those methods.
These days, Junior is given a text book and worksheets. There is no copying. The equations are printed on the worksheet and they go through and work out the answers.
My point is this: the act of copying equations and so forth takes time. Whilst you are copying, you are concentrating too intently to have any time or energy to talk. Once copying is done, you are under pressure to work out the solutions, so you don't talk or fool around. A teacher can stand at the front of the room and tell at a glance who is beavering away at a solution, who is day dreaming and who is having problems.
All that is gone. I think Junior and his mates spend all their time chatting, and once they start, they don't stop. Under the ancient and crusty system that we were taught under, all idle chatter in the classroom was verboten - even if the teacher stepped out of the room. We knew that if he returned and caught us farting around, we'd be caned. So we kept farting around to a minimum and got on with the set task.
Speaking of that, a teacher leaving the room was always the signal for those that had been bottling up some gas to let rip, which was of course always hilarious to school-age boys; a particularly noisome and loathsome guff would be guaranteed to bring the house down.
Anyway, I wonder if all this new-age wank that has been introduced to the classroom is actually a root cause of poor results. If you remove the need to copy down stuff, you give kids more time. If you give them free time, they will use it the only way they know how - they will mess around and waste it. What they actually need is less free time, and more work. More drudgery if you like. It might be boring and seemingly pointless, but keeping the little buggers active all the time is crucial to maintaining control and focus.
On that note, parents should descend on their children's school and set fire to all photocopiers.