Monday, January 09, 2012

When Cross Curriculum Intentions Go Wrong

So....little Johnny or Susie brings home a teacher prepared worksheet filled with several math problems for homework.  At some point a parent decides to check the answers or at least review  the sheet to see what type of assignment had been given.

Some of the problems are troubling:

1. "Each tree had 56 oranges.  If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?"

2. "If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?"

Yes, I'm serious.   This actually happened recently in a Georgia classroom per  this link.

I hope you have a problem with these questions.  I certainly do, and I applaud the parents in this situation for complaining.

Why would teachers include such insensitive questions within a math assignment?

The spokesperson for Gwinnett County Schools advised the teachers were trying to provide students with a cross-curricular activity by incorporating social studies lessons into the math problems.

The school system agreed the questions were inappropriate.  The assignments were gathered and shredded so they wouldn't resurface.  The spokesperson was quoted as saying, "The problem with the question is there is no historical context."

True...there is NO context.

An article from the Atlanta Journal provides another quote from the system spokesperson..."It was just a poorly written question."

Poorly written?   Seriously?

Teaching across the curriculum is a little more involved than taking one aspect of a historical event and throwing a question into a worksheet.These questions are more serious in my view than having no historical context and being poorly written.   

They are without question insensitive and indicate the teachers involved have no clue regarding what “teaching across the curriculum” means.

Instead of focusing on the slavery issue the math questions could have taken a look at the large numbers of soldiers killed on both sides of the war where students could work on determining the differences between battles or averaging the numbers across a few battles similar to this lesson plan.   This would open up discussion regarding the cost and benefits of war.

Here's a lesson plan involving symmetry and the Civil War.  

Another idea that would bring in the slavery issue but would be more sensitive than the worksheet questions I mentioned above involves freedom quilts to teach geometry.   A great book to introduce freedom quilts to students is….Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt (Reading Rainbow Books (Pb))

There are lots of great resources out there to help teachers get on track with cross curriculum  thinking....which is one of the reasons why I’m going to be shaking my head over this situation for a long time.

1 comment:

kherbert said...

Also using real numbers from history to understand the scale of things. My students were having trouble understanding the scale of deaths on slave ships.

So I put up a list of students in the grade level. I said we were going to pretend this was a list of people on a slave ship. I then crossed off the correct number to match the percentage that would have died. It was easier to understand than large abstract numbers.