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中国从1985年开始派选手参加国际数学奥林匹克竞赛 (IMO),至今共参加25届,共有154人参赛,其中120人获得金牌,取得的成绩令世人瞩目,傲视群雄。奥数竞赛在选拔人才、增强自信心和激发数学学习兴趣上成绩斐然,功不可没。但是中国老师传授奥数的方法和中国家长监督孩子学习奥数的方式的确存在一些问题。中国的部分老师和家长在教学和监督过程中把原本是培养学生对数学的学习兴趣、提高学生的逻辑推理能力、发现和选拔数学精英的竞赛, 变成了比拼解题技巧、机械大量做题的强化训练。这种强迫式的学习, 最后不仅不会让学生爱数学,反而会恨数学。达到目的以后,数学就会在他们的追求中"退场"。中国的青少年几乎是世界上学习负担最重、最没有欢笑的。让青少年长期处于慢性压力之中,是损害青少年身心健康的。过早的慢性压力逐渐抹杀了青少年学习数学的兴趣,导致他们到了大学以后后劲不足。但奥数竞赛的功利性并非与生俱来,美国、俄罗斯以及欧洲各国都没有这种现象。

这种现象是毋庸置疑、亟需改进的。这种现象不仅出现在奥数领域,可以说是现阶段中国应试教育的通病。培养数学家不是奥数培训的唯一目标, 甚至不是主要目标。奥数培训是为了让学生理解数学、欣赏数学, 激励学生创新,激发学生学习数学的兴趣,培养学生主动探索的精神。 学习数学会使人有创造性和灵感,会使用逻辑推理, 有理性, 灵活、快乐地生活、工作和做决策。

“数学实验室”通过智能化、个性化的辅助学习系统快速提高中、小学生的解题能力, 提高学习效率,把学生从"题海战术"中解放出来,为学生、老师、家长减负。“数学实验室”致力于提高中小学生分析问题和解决问题的能力,提高中小学生的智力和素质。

就拿小学数学竞赛来说,市面上的各类参考书林林总总、五花八门,相关的题目就有5万道之多,这意味着一名小学生从刚升入三年级起到六年级毕业,每天(包括寒暑假、节假日)要做35道题才能做完,这对学生和家长都是沉重的负担,家长和学生无所适从。“数学实验室”精选了具有代表性的2万道题。学生使用“数学实验室”提供的各种智能手段和工具,只需要做8千道题就能够精通小学数学竞赛的所有内容。

New York Times articles

  • National Schools Debate Is on Display in Chicago, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/12/education/chicago-is-focus-of-national-debate-on-teacher-evaluation.html

    One of the main sticking points in the negotiations here between the teachers union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a new teacher evaluation system that gives significant and increasing weight to student performance on standardized tests. Personnel decisions would be based on those evaluations.


    Over the last few years, a majority of states have adopted similar systems, spurred by the desire to qualify for the Obama administration's Race to the Top education grants. The Education Commission of the States says that 30 states require that evaluations include evidence of student achievement on tests, and at least 13, and the District of Columbia, use achievement measured by test scores for half or more of a teacher's rating.


    Proponents say these measures are needed to improve teaching in a country where 33 percent of fourth graders are not reading at grade level and about one-quarter of public high school students do not graduate on time, if at all. They say the new rating systems will help districts identify the best and worst teachers.


    But other studies have shown that students taught by teachers who achieve high value-added scores go on to have lower teenage pregnancy rates, are more likely to go to college and earn higher incomes as adults.


    Some studies, including one that looked at a pilot of teacher evaluations here, have shown correlations between teachers whose students' test scores improve and those who receive high marks in classroom observations and on student surveys.


  • In Search of Excellent Teaching, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/17/opinion/in-search-of-excellent-teaching.html

    The more rigorous evaluation systems that have taken root in several states and districts around the country are intended to change that picture. These systems, which take student achievement into account in various ways, are still in their formative years, but they have already opened the door to a different way of doing business. At their best, these evaluation systems are based on the idea that teaching is difficult to master and that high-performers tend to get that way through intensive feedback and help from colleagues.


    The school system in Montgomery County, Md., established its evaluation and mentoring system more than a decade ago. The system does not specify exactly how much weight student test scores and other data should receive. But depending on the circumstances, the evaluation may include scores from state tests, student projects, student and parent surveys and other data.


    The widely praised evaluation system in New Haven also relies on a complex mix of factors. It takes into account year-by-year improvement in student learning, as measured by progress on state and local tests and attainment of academic goals. The system also examines the teachers' instructional abilities, judged by frequent observations by principals and other managers. Teachers receive regular face-to-face feedback so that they are fully aware of what they need to do to improve.


  • A Digital Tool to Unlock Learning, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/a-digital-tool-to-unlock-learning/?hp

    When we think about education reform, we usually focus on teacher quality. The big battleground in education revolves around holding teachers accountable for their performance. With all the focus on teachers, however, one group that is often forgotten as a key learning resource are the students themselves.


    One way to help students gain agency over their own education is through technology. Despite the Internet revolution, the field of K-12 education has been relatively slow to respond to digital media. That’s why I paid a visit last week to the site of a promising experiment in digital learning in New York: the Bea Fuller Rodgers Middle School in Washington Heights.


    Last year, CFY, a nonprofit organization, provided home computers (and arranged for discounted broadband access) to every one of the sixth grade students in the school. (Almost all the school’s families are Hispanics who qualify for the federal government’s free or reduced lunch program. Currently, half of all Hispanics in the United States lack broadband.).


    In addition, CFY provided a four-hour training for the students and their parents in a free Web-based platform CFY developed called PowerMyLearning which contains 1,000 (soon to be 2,800) digital learning activities and games from across the Web that have been carefully selected and categorized by teachers and education specialists. Finally, CFY provided onsite training to the school’s sixth grade teachers in how to integrate PowerMyLearning into their classrooms (practicing what educators call “blended learning.”)


    Despite a November start, the program appears to have made a big difference especially for struggling students. The school reports that the percentage of last year’s sixth graders with learning disabilities who met or exceeded standards in math (testing at level 3 or 4) increased by 36 percent, while the percentage of students who had been below standard (testing at level 1) decreased from 23 percent to zero.


    These results are striking, but they have to be put into context. Bea Fuller Rodgers is a small school with about 20 teachers. It has a dynamic principal, Kristy De la Cruz, and some very caring and committed teachers. So it’s too early to draw conclusions from the results. But what caught my attention was simply how excited and effusive everyone was, including the students, about PowerMyLearning.


    All of the teachers I spoke with admitted that they had had reservations when the platform was introduced to them. Tristan Wright, a veteran teacher who teaches struggling students, had been wary of technology until she tried out the platform one weekend with her 9-year-old daughter. Daniel Matta, a six year veteran who teaches math, said his first reaction was: “Oh, no, not another thing. It won’t work.”


    Now they both say that the digital learning not only increases student attention and engagement in school — a finding that conforms with research (pdf, p. 37-42) — but has also encouraged students to take ownership of their own learning and made it easier for teachers to differentiate instruction without embarrassing students. “After 12 years, it’s completely changed my experience as a teacher,” said Wright.


    PowerMyLearning has hundreds of activities for each grade level that are linked to the Common Core State Standards (which have been adopted by 45 states). Teachers assign “playlists” of activities to students based on student needs; they can track what the students do at school and home. They also share data from performance tests with students so they can guide their own learning as needed. (In the fall, parents will also be able to create playlists.)


    “We’ve found that the students want to know the reality,” explained the principal, Kristy De la Cruz. “They know when they’re struggling and they want to know how to work on it. This blanket assumption that ‘I’m dumb in math’ has changed to ‘I need to practice fractions.’”


    That’s exactly what Maria de Leon, a seventh grade student, did in partnership with her teacher. “I created my own playlist,” she said. “Five activities for math and five for reading. Based on things that I needed help with.”


    One of the biggest challenges teachers face is creating environments in which children feel safe to try out ideas. When children are asked questions in class, it’s inherently stressful — like being on stage. When you learn from a person you’re always conscious that that person is thinking about you. In his classic book, “How Children Fail,” John Holt noted that, unlike toddlers who are undaunted experimenters, many children in grade school become more concerned with avoiding embarrassment than learning new things.


    After years of embarrassments or failures, some children grow so guarded they won’t even make eye contact with teachers. That was a problem that Tristan Wright faced with one of her eighth grade students, who resisted her efforts to connect. Then, one day earlier this year, she handed him a laptop opened to a math game that dealt with the concept of slope. “The next thing, he was doing it,” she told me. “And then he started asking questions. He showed up to my next session and we agreed that he could continue working with the computer. He still struggles with effort, but it opened up a door. It changed our whole relationship.”


    Another challenge for teachers like Wright is differentiating instruction for students at different levels without stigmatizing them. Today, schools are being required to serve children with wide ranges of abilities and special needs. The old way of differentiating instruction was to separate kids in groups or classes and assign different exercises. No matter how the labels were disguised — you could call one group the Eagles and the other the Falcons — the kids knew the difference.


    Technology offers another path. For example, Wright had an eighth grader who had trouble with basic addition. “I could never go to her and say, ‘Today we’re going to work on adding.’ It would just be devastating to her,” she said. “With PowerMyLearning, I found I could assign her activities and she didn’t even know what skills she was working on. She was just playing. And for the first time, she started to like math.”


    “People aren’t going to believe me when I say this,” she added. “But when the kids are using technology, they don’t care what other kids are doing. They’re just focused on the activity.” The students are less self-conscious, so they try more experiments. If an answer is wrong, the computer gives feedback, and they can adjust — quite a different experience from saying the wrong answer out loud. Technology offers students different ways to visualize information. And students can continue working at home. “Sometimes the teacher doesn’t explain it to you as well as a computer,” added Lisa Lora, a seventh grade student. “And there are no interruptions. No one is shouting answers. You can concentrate and go at your own pace.”


    Often, the students work in groups, rotating from station to station. As students figure things out they’ll show their partners. “They don’t even realize they’re teaching each other,” said Wright. “It just comes out organically.”