Daily Archives: February 19, 2012


In reply to Kelly Christopherson's recent post:

My youngest son has nearly finished his first season of under 10 basketball in a team much like your first few seasons – they have only managed one win against a team in a similar spot to them. They are mainly beginners and even at this age group have come up against very accomplished teams who have had it over them in terms of skill. But we’ve seen two types of coaching – the first from a few teams who smashed our team by scores like 70 – 0. Their coaches had their team playing intimidation basketball, pressuring them at all opportunities and went all out to amass the hugest score – at the expense of any confidence my son’s team may have had. Our coach is very patient and said that he didn’t expect anything in terms of results from the boys for at least half the season as he would be teaching a lot of foundation skills and concepts. But those big losses took a lot of joy out of the team. I’m not too sure what the coaches in charge got out of those wins either.


The last two games we’ve played have been against other teams near the top of the ladder. But their coaches were very different. After every score, they had their team retreat back to their defensive half so that our team had the chance to bring the ball back down the court. They weren’t playing the intimidation game – they could see from the first few minutes that they had our measure – so they concentrated on specific plays, specific formations in defence. And for a change, my son’s team felt like they could breathe, that they could work some things out for themselves without a gun player from the opposition swooping in and making them pay.

When they scored for the first time in the first of these two games, the opposition parents even cheered and applauded! Even they lost easily, they walked off the court feeling a lot better about themselves, felt like they had showed improvement and felt that the opposition hadn’t smashed them, and had shown them some respect even though they are a team of learners. The winners still got their win, got to improve by working on specific plays and left everyone feeling like the game was fun.

I really like our coach and he is great with the boys. But if we were looking to join one of the other teams in the competition, I know where I’d be taking my son. Thanks for sharing your story, Kelly.


I pose the above question because I am seeing a rise in popularity for teachers using sites like Mathletics, StudyLadder, MangaHigh and others as part of their learning program for their students. Now I have no axe to grind with these sites as many students do find them engaging and a way to improve their mathematical facts recall but I am concerned that in some cases, these sites are being used as "the maths programme" for the class and/or being used to address the use of technology in the classroom.

I'd love the opinion of a progressive maths educator as to the relative value of a site like Mathletics. My own personal experience with my eldest son is that the activities are easily gamed. My son is lousy at maths but has an excellent memory. He can do a multiple choice activity by trial and error, remembering the correct answer after multiple tries and just keeps restarting the activity until he gets a clear run and a memorised sequence of answers in his head. Now that might be a feat in itself but it does nothing for his understanding - and just cements all the problems that students get when trying to operate in digital abstraction when their needs are still in the physical concrete. But from his teacher's point of view, he is getting 20/20 in the set activities and looks like he has achieved mastery. I have a feeling that many of these sites have the same problem. They present mathematical learning as a correct answer scenario and can only use that data to measure progress. So, a teacher blindly substituting Mathletics (and I keep picking on this site because it is the one I am most familiar with and the one most South Australian schools are prepared to fork over precious dollars to but every education sector in the world would have its equivalents) cannot possibly know if the student is truly demonstrating mathematical learning.

The first part of my question is also part of my issue. Unless you are part of a 1 to 1 laptop school (and that is a privileged minority in the primary school sector) then you have to share fleets of laptops or computing suites with other classes within the school. Technology access is an issue that all schools have to wrestle with - using timetables, rotations and pods to make sure that the available technology is frequently and flexibly used. As we are living in a era where technology gives our students the opportunity to create, construct and reflect, then it makes sense that the majority of the technology access for our students should be devoted to that goal. These sites, in my opinion, don't fit the bill.

Am I the only one who has a problem with these sites? Is part of my problem my inability to communicate to others what the alternative - a research based comparison of city temperatures utilising web data and Excel created by my tandem partner last year with my class springs to mind - might look like?