Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Sinking in the Sea of Foggy Confusion

The Robot Said, "It Does Not Compute"

New Zealand schools are failing to teach maths effectively.  Our national rankings are below average.  We believe that this sad state of affairs is about to get worse.  Why?   Our clever educrats and politicians have decided that, for the first ten years of schooling, all pupils in the State education system will be taught to think like a computer.
"Computational thinking" and "designing and developing digital outcomes" will become part of New Zealand's core curriculum for all children in the first 10 years of school from next year.  Prime Minister Bill English and Education Minister Nikki Kaye visited Newmarket School in Auckland today to unveil a $40 million package to retrain teachers and help schools implement the new curriculum subjects, including a "national digital championship" modelled on an Israeli example.  "All young people from Years 1 to 10 will take part in digital technologies learning," Kaye said. [NZ Herald]
What could go wrong with this?  Lots.
 Firstly, the curriculum is already crowded as it is.  Students in the out-of-control state education system have to be taught gender studies, peace studies, and racial tolerance.  Core subjects (such as English, reading, writing, and maths) are becoming progressively peripheral, less core.  "We have so many more vital subjects to be taught, such as performing arts and creative dance," the sages and gnomes intone.  Wunnerful.

Secondly, maths has been turned into a mystery religion.  It is taught conceptually from day one.  When faced with a complex maths problem, such as "compute 3+3" our modern sophisticates teach our confused pupils that there are five or six ways of actually achieving an answer to this problem.  End result--confusion and brain scrambling.  No, no, no say the gnomes and sages.  Modern maths students are given the tools to think both conceptually and analytically from the outset.  Numbers are no longer computational tables to be learned by rote.  They are exciting philosophical concepts that lead us to the heart of knowledge and human existence.

So, New Zealand students are being confused on a grand scale when it comes to maths.  Our international rankings are slipping.  Now, even less time will be available because students are going to be taught, as well as maths, computational thinking along with its underlying philosophical constructs.  The mental morass and bog of confusion just got deeper and far more gooey.

Not at all, says our Minister of Education:
Kaye said Computational Thinking "is about understanding the computer science principles that underlie all digital technologies, and learning how to develop instructions, such as programming, to control these technologies".  Designing and Developing Digital Outcomes "is about understanding that digital systems and applications are created for humans by humans, and developing knowledge and skills in using different digital technologies to create digital content across a range of digital media".

"This part of the curriculum also includes learning about the electronic components and techniques used to design digital devices," she said.  "Robotics, artificial intelligence and advances in connectivity are all revolutionising our world, including our businesses, industry and community.
See.  It's all at the level of a grand practicum.  It's a grand workshop.  Theories and quasi-philosophical constructs will be conspicuous by their absence.   Teaching maths is failing because it is too abstract from the beginning.  But this will be different because it will be practical.  If you believe that, dear reader we have a big thing made of green cheese which hangs in the sky which you really ought to purchase.  And while you are at it, you will doubtless take comfort from the Minister's effusion:
"The new curriculum content is about ensuring that students across all year levels have access to rich learning aimed at building their digital skills and fluency, to prepare them for this world."
There are a growing number of graduates from our state education system who do not know that the square root of 36 is; in fact they don't know what a "square root" is to begin with.  Nor can they compute 8x9 without a calculator.  But this is so irrelevant and old school.  No worries.  From now on our kids will be taught "computational thinking".
[Dr David Parsons] said using a national championship to apply digital technologies to real-world social and economic problems was also "an excellent idea".  "A lot of the thinking is that if you are going to teach kids this kind of stuff, it needs to be about real-world problem solving," he said.
The focus upon "real world problem solving" had led to a generation of school pupils who find maths confusing and indecipherable.  Our expectation is that by the time our oh-so-sophisticated state education system has parsed "computational thinking" it will be equally indecipherable.  The outcome will be the same: disengaged pupils, treading water in a sea of foggy confusion.

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