Ask Reading Kingdom: Is higher math in lower grades hurting or helping kids?

In the 1960’s, Professor Seymour
Papert of MIT came out with an exciting math program called Lego. As part of
the program, he presented what was viewed as the “wild” idea of every child having an
inexpensive personal computer, offering programs that would enhance creativity,
innovation, and “concretizing” computational thinking. His research
led to many firsts. For example, it was in his laboratory that children first
had the chance to use the computer to write (i.e. “program”) and to make
graphics to represent geometrical and mathematical concepts.

I witnessed many young children, including preschoolers, dealing
effectively and excitedly with  the
program that allowed them to go beyond the 
lifeless paper and paper sheets that are still so common and instead be
able to actually control the movement of computer figures via the programs they

Math is an unbelievably rich domain
and Lego is but one example of the kinds of imaginative systems we could be
offering children. Unfortunately, innovative programs, no matter how effective,
have no “real home” in the tried and true curriculum that dominates in the
school system. They come in as a kind of fad that receive their “fifteen
minutes of fame” and disappear. The downplaying of innovation became even
stronger when the “No Child Left Behind” idea took hold—under the leadership of
the federal government at the start of the 21st century. Imagination
was out and “back to basics” was in.

So can higher math in the lower grades
help children? The answer is a definite yes if the programs offered are
well-designed, well-implemented and well-funded. Bringing in more back-to-basic
programs—which is the dominant pattern– will rarely be effective. If you want
to get a sense of the major programs now being used, you can turn to

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