Whatever Works

Hey look: it’s the school of the future!


Pass rates generally do not impress me, but it’s at least some evidence that the class is no worse than it was before. And probably a lot cheaper to run. I remember CompSci II at RPI being taught in a very similar manner.

It’s also interesting to consider that the “professor” job here is being split into a “classroom assistant” job and an “instructional designer” job. I like doing both sides, but I know there are some folks who are much better at one than the other, or who prefer one to the other. The design side is going to be both invisible and very important in terms of boosting student learning, but the classroom side gives students someone to relate to. It also provides someone who can stop folks from going down the wrong path.

If you’ve never read Earlwanger’s paper on IPI mathematics from the ’70s, you might not realize exactly how wrong you can go if you’re fairly bright. Here’s a fairly good summary.

This case study involved a very smart kid (“Benny” in the paper), working with fractions, who had never internalized what fractions actually were. He had clearly heard somewhere that fractions involved a number, another number, and a line that divided them, Benny got the wrong definition of “divided” in his head. He was thinking of “divide” as in “separate,” not as in the mathematical operation that is the opposite of multiplication. Therefore, 2/3 was the same as 3/2. Both were the number 2, the number 3, and the line that divided them.

It’s a great paper, and I recommend reading it so that you can grasp how borked someone’s understanding of fractions can really get. This research is one of the reasons I think we do need an intelligent guide for learners; that doing things on your own actually gets trickier the smarter you are. Thumbs up from me for classroom assistants.

And as long as a barn full of students genuinely works, well, hell – whatever works.


About Colin Fredericks

By day I help to create online courses at HarvardX. By night I write roleplaying games.

Posted on May 2, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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