kitchen table math, the sequel: Think Math!

## Wednesday, March 14, 2007

### Think Math!

Are you familiar with the Think Math! textbooks?

Apparently, this is a new K-5 series published by Harcourt. My school will be piloting Think Math! next month. (Yes, the exclamation point is part of the name.)

At first glance, it appears that the developers have tried to address many of the objections to NSF texts while maintaining some constructivist components.

Here is some info from their website http://www2.edc.org/thinkmath/index.htm:

. . . developed by Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) in Newton, MA with support from the National Science Foundation.

Think Math! does not pit skill against problem solving. Rather, it builds computational fluency through plentiful practice in basic skills as students investigate new ideas and solve meaningful problems. Lessons provide glimpses of ideas to come, letting students build familiarity and develop conceptual understanding as they apply, sharpen, and maintain skills they already have.

What makes Think Math! unique (not just another NSF-supported program)? Think Math! provides focused practice, which enhances conceptual understanding as it increases computational fluency. The curriculum allows students to get involved in solving real problems, figuring out what to do without first being told. Instruction is then used to provide good explanations of reliable techniques. The materials, and some teaching techniques recommended in the lesson plans, also reduce the number of words, using visual models to convey information instead. By puzzling out what’s missing, students can “read” the mathematics and figure out what to do without written directions.
Perhaps most unique, the program features embedded professional development for teachers both in understanding the mathematics content at a deeper level and in suggested teaching techniques. Professional development is located in a feature of many lessons titled About the Math, and in thoughtful explanations throughout the teacher’s guide.

There’s much more information on their site that I’m just starting to read. The first question that comes to mind is why adopt a text that has no proven track record when there are others (Singapore, Saxon) that have demonstrated success? This sounds like another experiment with our children being used as guinea pigs. Also, will our school receive NSF funding if we implement this?

Background:
My school piloted Growing with Math last fall and had planned to pilot TERC Investigations this spring. I have been vocal in expressing my concerns, and then last month a few days after I circulated an email to a small group of parents the school informed us that they had decided not to pilot TERC. My email, which included the Inconvenient Truth video and other choice references, was apparently forwarded to many other parents and made it to the BOE and to the school administration. At one point a PTA officer asked me to please email my “readers” to let them know that the TERC pilot had been cancelled.

I would appreciate any comments and advice.

Instructivist said...

"I have been vocal in expressing my concerns, and then last month a few days after I circulated an email to a small group of parents the school informed us that they had decided not to pilot TERC. My email, which included the Inconvenient Truth video and other choice references, was apparently forwarded to many other parents and made it to the BOE and to the school administration."

Wow!

Good for you, Tex!

TurbineGuy said...

I just reviewed the sample lessons from the website. Notes:

Positive:
The pages presented didn't waste space on non math related "stories"

Problems and lessons were straight to the point.

Negative: (possible)
They had the 5th graders reviewing basic multiplication fact families. It seems like that should of been mastered already.

Is it my imagination, or does it seem like it tried to imitate Singapore?

SteveH said...

Gag me with a spoon.

"Many correct answers are possible. MAKE YOUR OWN."

" ... figuring out what to do without first being told."

"... why adopt a text that has no proven track record when there are others (Singapore, Saxon) that have demonstrated success?"

Because they can't make money off of Singapore or Saxon.

Anonymous said...

I would not want my child taught with this curriculum. The sample pages online make Everyday Math look advanced, and direct. There is a taboo created of standard math terminology. "number sentences" instead of "equations," for example. While the text quoted in the post leads one to think it's more traditional in approach, to my eyes it is extremely constructivist.

"The materials, and some teaching techniques recommended in the lesson plans, also reduce the number of words, using visual models to convey information instead. By puzzling out what’s missing, students can “read” the mathematics and figure out what to do without written directions."

SteveH said...

Now that I have read much more of their web site, I don't believe a word they say. They say that they took into account frameworks from California and Massachusetts. I don't believe it. But then, we don't see many details. Lots of hype, but no details.

"The research includes three phases:

• pilot phase - formative research to aid in the initial development of the program

• field test phase - an additional year of formative research to inform continued development

• summative research phase - to test the efficacy of the program"

Research to develop, tweak, and check efficacy, all by the same people. Astounding!

"The study will continue through the 2006-2007 school year."

Go away and come back a few years from now with real efficacy data collected by an independent third party.

SteveH said...

"My school will be piloting Think Math! next month."

Are your schools guinea pigs for the study or does your school district think the program has been proven already? If they are part of their pilot study, then why are they taking this chance on an unproven curriculum? Patients have to have informed consent to participate in drug studies. Apparently, schools can experiment on kids without any authorization at all.

SteveH said...

" ... figuring out what to do without first being told."

Speaking of which, my son told me about a problem they had to solve today in math class. The kids divided up into groups to work on the problem. It went something like this.

There are 860 marbles. Some are white and some are brown. There are 230 more brown marbles than white marbles. How many marbles of each color are there?

These kids have not had any algebra to speak of. They spent the whole class working on it. My son figured it out by brute force (trial and error), but what on earth do they learn that can help them when the problems get more difficult? All they learn is that math requires some sort of Zen ability to come up with an answer.

The teacher could have spent the time showing them the basics of solving a single equation with one unknown. A whole class was used up and what did they learn? Nothing.

Anonymous said...

"Is it my imagination, or does it seem like it tried to imitate Singapore? "

Yeah, well, look what happened when folks tried to imitate the original SMSG (new math) materials in the 60's.

What ends up being imitated is all of the vocabulary but none of the meat of the program. The success of Singapore isn't in using phrases such as "number sentence"

I don't see how Singapore can be adopted. It doesn't cover the topics that need to be covered according to anyone's state standards. It also doesn't show black children in illustrations, only Asian and White children. And finally, I've seen politically incorrect depictions of toy guns in the workbook.

Anonymous said...

"I don't see how Singapore can be adopted. It doesn't cover the topics that need to be covered according to anyone's state standards. It also doesn't show black children in illustrations, only Asian and White children. And finally, I've seen politically incorrect depictions of toy guns in the workbook."

Where, where are the toy guns? Which book? How did I miss them?
My kids will love it...they are really tired of the weird fruits frequently featured in SM and would love to see some armed Singapore children...lol

Anonymous said...

"There are 860 marbles. Some are white and some are brown. There are 230 more brown marbles. How many marbles are there of each color?"

This is a very common type of problem in the Singapore series started in level 3! Using bar models allows the child to easily solve this type of problem without algebra. However, when algebra is taught the Singapore Math students quickly realizes and understands how to set up and solve these problems using algebra, since they have been solving them from early childhood.

Catherine Johnson said...

hey!

you beat me to it!

I was just going to post about Think Math!

So now I can read the comments...

Catherine Johnson said...

Many correct answers are possible. MAKE YOUR OWN."

" ... figuring out what to do without first being told."

oh boy

that does not sound good

Catherine Johnson said...

I keep thinking about Project Follow-Through.

Remember, the government actually had the different program directors "pitch" their instructional approach to parents.

Parents overwhelmingly chose Direct Instruction.

Is there any way you could get the district to invite PARENTS to the various pitches?

Catherine Johnson said...

Apparently, schools can experiment on kids without any authorization at all.

oh gosh

I meant to write down that great catch a Commenter found last week -- the "exemption" for school children under IRB review

SteveH said...

"However, when algebra is taught the Singapore Math students quickly realizes and understands how to set up and solve these problems using algebra, since they have been solving them from early childhood."

That's because they have been taught how to solve these problems without algebra, typically using bar models. In my son's class, they just told them to figure it out without any preparation. That's the whole idea. No preparation.

Anonymous said...

SteveH,
Sounds like the teacher needs help presenting the problem solving part of the math curriculum. In the Houghton Mifflin product our school uses, this part of the curriculum is considered to be critical thinking, so how to solve a particular type of problem is not taught in advance. The children should be armed with problem solving skills they have been taught and exercised previously (make a picture, draw a diagram, make a table, act it out, choose an operation, etc) and reminded to use those skills.
In the years in which my kids have had teachers who couldn't teach problem solving effectively via math, I asked for and received a copy of the publisher's P.O.D. set for the grade and used these at home. The payoff is well worth the effort. Recently I found the Art of Problem Solving website which has resources for older students who want to further develop their skills.

SteveH said...

"Sounds like the teacher needs help presenting the problem solving part of the math curriculum."

No, they need a new math curriculum.

" ...this part of the curriculum is considered to be critical thinking, so how to solve a particular type of problem is not taught in advance."

Critical thinking is the ability to solve problems not taught in advance? ... Except for:

"The children should be armed with problem solving skills they have been taught and exercised previously (make a picture, draw a diagram, make a table, act it out, choose an operation, etc) and reminded to use those skills."

"Make a picture" ... of marbles? "Act it out"? "Choose an operation"? What operations are included here? Why not the operations of algebra or at least bar models? If a child first learns algebra and then solves this problem, then he/she has not shown critical thinking ability?

"I asked for and received a copy of the publisher's P.O.D. set for the grade and used these at home."

No need. I just dove in and started teaching my son real problem solving skills, like algebra and bar models. The critical thinking part will take care of itself.

Anonymous said...

I am a parent on the math committee (there are a couple who usually attend, the overwhelming majority are teachers). I had to request Saxon, no one else even bothered to look at the samples of it. SRA rates itself as more "balanced", and Harcourt as "traditional". If that is the case, we are really in trouble! Every vendor we heard from wanted to be thought of as "balanced" except Everyday Math, which strives to be identified as reform still. Even Saxon has had some reform ideas added, by it's new owner Harcourt. So what is a parent to do? Homeschool, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Think Math! is an attempt to change the way the Math is taught in order to make our students competitive with the world. It was piloted in schools that were on the verge of being taken over by the state. After they implemented this program, they made AYP. People are complaining about their students not being able to solve problems. Think Math! teaches them skill and strategies from the very beginning.
Also, as most teachers will tell you, when a student is given a chance to solve a problem on their own instead of immediately shown how to do something, they take ownership of that problem. Discovery learning is far more effective than direct instruction for most students. It's just that most administrators, parents, etc. only know that way because they were taught that way. With all the advances in education and educational research, I'm surprised to see so many people biased to one method of teaching and instruction. I think if you gave this program a try, you would be surprised. Oh, and Singapore (the country) beats us on national math tests all the time, so let's not discount their ability to teach. Something they do is working and something we do is not.

SteveH said...

"Think Math! is an attempt to change the way the Math is taught in order to make our students competitive with the world. It was piloted in schools that were on the verge of being taken over by the state. After they implemented this program, they made AYP."

Which is it, a world-class curriculum, or something that just manages to scrape out AYP in the lowest ranking schools? Relative is not absolute.

"Discovery learning is far more effective than direct instruction for most students."

Only in the minds of educators.

"It's just that most administrators, parents, etc. only know that way because they were taught that way."

This must be the number one excuse on the educator hit parade. All of us old-timers (with degrees in engineering, math, and science) are just stupid and only want what we had when we were growing up. We just can't possibly have the same critical thinking powers as educators.

"With all the advances in education and educational research, ..."

Huh?

"I think if you gave this program a try, you would be surprised."

We try it all of the time. Our kids bring it home. We are forced to help our kids deal with it, while at the same time, teach them real math at home.

"Oh, and Singapore (the country) beats us on national math tests all the time, so let's not discount their ability to teach. Something they do is working and something we do is not."

Huh? That something is Singapore Math, not "Think Math!". Singapore Math is NOT based on discovery. It sets high absolute expectations, not low AYP relative expectations.

Anonymous said...

Think Math sets very high expectations. If you take the time to really dig into the program, you can see that. There was much discussion about results, and I was simply stating that the program does get it, however low you may think that they are. AYP was a huge gain for that school district. It is not meant to meet those "Low Standards". Sorry that is all you can see in my statements.
As for hiding b ehind engineering as a method of direct instruction. I grew up with an engineer father. All he did was solve problems. No one told him how to do it. He had to DISCOVER a solution on his own. How on earth are we going to prepare our students and children for solving real life problems if we don't allow them to reach some answers on their own??? Isn't that the point of problem solving instruction??? Think Math! does that everyday through their headline stories.
Parent and teacher feedback on this program is that it is far more challenging than the SAXON program we used before...and this is not one school. This is 56 schools in 6 states of various socio-economic backgrounds.

SteveH said...

"Think Math sets very high expectations."

It does not. You have to recalibrate your thinking.

The following problems are from the Think Math! website for fifth grade, "Algebra: Machines and Puzzles, Resource Collection."

"Every week you earn a certain amount of money. You put half in the bank and spend half. If you earned \$6 each week, how much money would you have spent by the end of 4 weeks? Show your work."

For input/output "machines", a student might have to do the following:

Start with an input number (like 5) and multiply it by 2. Add 4 and then subtract 2. What is the result?

Add 6 1/2 + 4 1/4.

7 X ? = 63

This is fifth grade! 7 X ? = 63!?!

The following problems are from Singapore Primary Mathematics 5A Workbook.

Problem 13(c) on page 36: "Find the product of 540 and 28."

Problem 14 on page 36: "200 children took part in a concert. There were 4 times as many girls as boys. (a) How many girls were there? (b) How many more girls than boys were there?"

Problem 20 on page 38: "Ashley bought a bed for \$295. She also bought 2 mattresses at \$65 each. She gave the cashier a \$500 note. How much change did she receive?"

Problem 2 on page 68: "Mr. Ramirez has \$600. He gave 3/5 of it to his wife and spent 3/8 of the remainder. How much did he spend?"

These problems are from the first half of fifth grade Singapore Math.

Although you bring up Singapore in your first post, you seem to know nothing about the curriculum that got them to the top.

Students discover (figure out) many things with direct instruction and homework sets. Much of the so-called discovery in the modern educator thought-world revolves around mixed-ability group work that wastes class time. The only way this form of discovery can be done is by slowing down and setting lower expectations.

"Think Math! does that everyday through their headline stories."

Think Math! wastes precious class time every day having kids stumble around with few background skills and little knowledge. What happens to those kids who don't discover anything, but rely on the other kids to tell them what to do? Discovery does not have to be top-down. It can be done bottom-up and not in groups. You seem to have a very simplistic understanding of discovery and problem solving.

The goal of K-8 math is proper "school" algebra in 8th grade, or 9th at the latest. Curricula like Think Math! want to redefine math into their own fuzzy terms and goals.