What Makes Sense?

This debate was well done and went through some really important, fundamental issues with education at the moment. The question of old versus new curriculum, especially with the implementation of a system like Math Makes Sense, which emphasizes exploratory learning.

The Math Makes Sense example is the example that is most often used as it stands for the complete opposite of a system that included Mad Minutes.

Photo Credit: Plymouth School District

These two approaches are diametrically opposed: one focuses on memorization of taken for granted facts and the other seeks to unravel why those facts are indeed facts. As an English teacher, I only see from a far removed place the impact of the war of these two schools of fact. As an example, I wanted my grade 12s to move desks into groups so we could complete an activity. So, I asked them to move my 32 desks into nine groups. This task (of creating the nine groups of approximately three or four) was almost beyond them. I had to model exactly what I had asked them. I don’t know if this is symptomatic of the math system or of sleepy grade 12s, but I was entirely taken aback. Perhaps memorization isn’t a dirty word.

The actual question of the debate, “schools should not be teaching anything that is Googleable” is an interesting one in that is anything truly not googleable? During the debate, the case of not being able to google the cure for cancer was given. While I may not be able to google that (because it doesn’t exist yet), I can find 124,000,000 hits about it and in there somewhere I will find out about the progress.


If I am willing to put the work into finding something, nothing is truly “ungoogleable”.

If this is true, then, what skills do students require in order to succeed?

Students absolutely need critical thinking skills (as well as here, here, and here though there are many, many more), as put forth by the agree side. In fact, there are whole industries around teaching critical thinking, just as there are around memorization.

As Pablo Picasso (maybe — no reputable source can verify) said “learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist”. Students need to know what the rules are, though from there, it is open. Do students need to know why rules are rules or should they just accept that those rules have been rules for centuries and they will continue to be (except when they’re not)?

Personally, I do think that some amount of memorization is important. I worked a retail job throughout high school and a solid, reliable knowledge of multiplication, addition, division, and subtraction were necessary part of my job performance. Even now, as an English teacher, I still need to do quick calculations about division of students, adding totals, and scaling marks.

Because I didn’t do a system like Math Makes Sense, I don’t know why, on a foundational level, 9×9=81 or why y=mx+b, I just do. I haven’t had to calculate slope in over a decade, but I still know the formula to do so, should I ever be on Jeopardy!. I don’t know if understanding why something is would make me better at math or if it is enough just to know that these, like gravity, are fixed concepts in the universe.

But, I do wonder what kinds of critical thinking skills I missed out on in my more formative years because I was drilled on concepts rather than asked to discover them on my own.

But I digress.

Yes, I do believe schools should be teaching googleable content. However, schools should be teaching it in a way that engenders creativity, critical thinking, questioning, and independence.



5 thoughts on “What Makes Sense?

  1. I took interest in your post as soon as I saw the mad minute. I am a grade 2 teacher and I use mad minutes in my room, though not in the traditional sense. As we learn addition strategies (doubles, near doubles, middles, make 10, etc.) my students colour code their mad minutes and then self-assess what strategies they can perform confidently and timely. We work towards personal bests and not necessarily completion of the worksheets. We use a lot of “Math Makes Sense” reasoning through this practice.

    I hope that my students aren’t the ones that you receive in grade 12 not knowing how to form desk configurations!


  2. Great post Kelsie. Given that I am a high school English teacher as well, I can appreciate how often the use of Google can save time in the classroom, but not at the expense of learning skills. For example, should we teach students how to determine the theme of Macbeth? I mean they could certainly google it and find numerous examples. However, if these same students get to University and need to determine the theme of a play for their Final Exam, will they be able to do it without their phones? That’s why I believe we still need to focus on what students can learn without having their device to back them up.


  3. I am sure I will be criticized by some for saying this, but I will express my opinion anyways (please don’t judge me too harshly haha). I teach high school math and I wish that students had a better grasp on basic math concepts and facts. On one hand I would love to simply tell students facts and say that you just need to know this. Like you said, 9×9=81 or the fact that all angles in a triangle add up to 180. But on the other hand I do see the value in actually understanding why/how those facts are true. To a certain extent I would argue that the memorization of the basics is necessary to move on to the higher level thinking questions in math. Should students understand why 9×9=81? Sure. But the understanding should be explored once the facts have been memorized. I know that’s completely backwards, but I find that it’s difficult to teach higher level concepts when the basics aren’t mastered. I also agree that you can Google pretty much anything. It made it very difficult to support the agree side of the argument haha but I guess that was the fun part. Great post!


    1. Man, I teach English and /I/ wish students had a better grasp on math. Students have a hard time adding up totals on assignments or figuring out their average.
      I like your method of math. Like the quote above, you need to know the rules before you can start to break them down. Memorization is important! We have long term memories for a reason 😉


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