kitchen table math, the sequel: Saxon vs. Dolciani

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Saxon vs. Dolciani

This is interesting:

Dolciani vs. Saxon: A Comparison of Two Algebra I Textbooks With High School Students.
McBee, Maridyth
Oklahoma City Public Schools, OK. Dept. of Planning, Research, and Evaluation.

This study examined achievement differences between algebra students taught with the non-traditional textbook developed by Saxon and those taught with a "traditional" textbook by Dolciani. Student absences, rate of turning in homework, and ability level were considered, as well as teachers' comments. One Algebra I section in each of seven schools used the Saxon text, while a second section in each school used the Dolciani text, with the same teacher teaching both sections. In an eighth school, the texts were used with two sections of Elementary Algebra students. (However, data from these two classes and from one of the seven Algebra I teachers were not used in the analysis.) An analysis-of-covariance design accounted for students' initial achievement level differences prior to entering Algebra I. The Spring, 1981, California Achievement Test total math score was used as a covariate. The locally-constructed Algebra I Comprehensive Exam assessed course achievement. The mean score of the 98 students using the Saxon text was significantly higher than the mean score of the 67 students using the Dolciani text. The Saxon classes had slightly more absences and turned in homework slightly less frequently than the Dolciani classes. Most teachers preferred the Saxon text. An addendum discusses inter-test correlation and data from the California Achievement Test. (MNS)

I have both books. Dolciani looks fantastic, but I use Saxon for myself entirely because the book is built on the principle of distributed practice.

Saxon isn't a "traditional" math book.

It is a cog-sci math book. Something new under the sun.


SusanS said...

I have both books, too, but I do think of Saxon as traditional. I don't know why. I guess because I can follow it pretty easily.

I've looked at my son's Dolciani and found it harder to read, although Saxon's tone changes to a more formal one, as well.

It's very interesting that they did that.

Catherine Johnson said...

It's traditional in the sense of directly presenting the material.

The structure, though, is highly untraditional.

A lot of homeschoolers complain about it, don't they (?)

SusanS said...

It does sound like homeschoolers are split on it. I think many start with it and then drift to something else.

Doctor Pion said...

I tuned in to see if anyone had blogged about Everyday Math showing up on the CBS Evening News tonight as a "reform" program, but this is just as interesting.

Disclaimer: I taught myself algebra in 4th grade using my Dad's College Algebra book (circa 1946 so probably copyrighted in the 30s) and the World Book Encyclopedia entry on Algebra. I know I used a paperback algebra 1 text in 7th grade (experimental, so likely SMSG and thus likely an early version of that Dociani book) but already knew all of it. Similarly, I have no idea at all what was done in 6th grade. I can say that what we did in K-4 looked more like Singapore (or Saxon, for content) than any of the others I have learned about from reading this blog.

That research, published in 1984, is hardly new ! or suprising. I don't find it surprising because the methods built into Saxon sound like what my teachers used with Dolciani's Algebra II and Trig book in 10th grade ... and what I use today in my physics class. When the goal is long-term learning, distributed practice (reinforcement) is essential.

A retired HS science teacher I know always puts it in terms of the "forgetting curve", and research that showed how resetting that curve (with periodic repetition) tends to make knowledge more permanent.

There is a fine line between this idea and the "spiral". The distinction (IMO) is between "teach once, use many times" and "teach many times". I have no idea how this plays out at the K-8 level, but I know how to make it work in college. My challenge is, as you might expect, dealing with products of the "teach many times", cram-and-forget expectation of our HS graduates.