Thursday, June 9, 2011

"The Necessity of Understanding Procedural Instructions"

Why Students Do Not Perform Well in Science and Math

President Obama recently encouraged students to enroll in science in math, stating that it was "cool" to do so. What is not understood with this statement is that there is a tragic paradox. There is a reason many learners do not enroll in these subjects. Most do not have enough underlying memory capacity to learn the complex information and then apply it.

Furthermore, assuming this, students are unable to understand and follow procedural instructions basic to conceptualizing mathematical and scientific information.

Why is this? Numerical arithmetic is taught in grades 1-3, and there is a major shift in the curriculum in grade 4. Right-brain spatial numbers shift into left-brain sequencing with advanced concepts. National test scores show that math scores, including advanced concepts, drop off beginning in grade 4.

Understanding science requires not only doing simple experiments and reading scientific stories out of textbooks, but requires procedural, stepwise learning.

Procedural learning requires the mastery of learning step-wise procedures. Following directions is usually taught with simple question and answer worksheets, or now, with online question/answer assignments laced with cartoons.

Nationally standardized test scores do not change for the better. Textbook companies scratch their heads. Innovators come up with practice applications. Still, "No Go."

Why do we fall behind other foreign countries -- how can these children encode-decode information while ours do not? Do they have more stringent learning practices requiring focus and sequencing of difficult material? Do they learn more foreign languages that require intrinsic symbolic encoding/decoding applications? Do they study more musical instruments that require focus, practice, with encoding/decoding? Both musical training and learning a foreign language trains auditory (listening) memory, critically needed for learning technical sequences.

What is missing?

If students are unable to listen to complex instructions (teachers spend hours daily repeating directions over and over), and students then work in teams where one member does the application "thinking" and fills out the responses - even on the computer, how are the others learning? Somewhat? Many are working in small tutorial groups with simple assignments far below grade level work.

The missing link is teaching students how to encode and decode sequential information, and expand their visual and listening memories an underlying requirement for conceptualizing formulas and mathematical equations.

This is done through cognitive skills training, although this is not available in the typical school classroom. Every student processes information differently, with different learning styles and capacities. The teacher can not begin to test and measure every child's cognitive skills, nor are they qualified to do so. It is also expensive and time consuming to have them measured and evaluated through private practitioners.

Assignments will not be learned as expected, and there is much time spent "How to take the interim benchmark tests, or "teaching to the test" for the final end-of-year nationally standardized achievement tests that include reading, math, and science scores. Classrooms spend hours teaching how to select and fill in multiple choice answers on the computer. Pressure is placed upon students who naturally lack the necessary "brain-power" to sequence and code instructions.

Is this fair? Of course not. We are training test-taking robots, not how to assimilate and learn science and math required for understanding and expanding our technological capacities.

How can we attack and get around this, if the necessary brain skills are not taught in schools or in most computer software skill drilling programs? Students are learning only pieces of the information, not complex series that are fundamental to learning science and math needed for technologies.

Parents can now help fill in this gap - the missing link. There soon will be more parent "how to" information readily accessible through internet learning. Applications will be pleasurable, scientifically tested, and learning will be fast.

The ability to encode/decode sequential information will be taught through specific, scientifically tested training regimens. It might be something for all of us to consider. Let's look to future possibilities.