kitchen table math, the sequel: Fifth Grade Everyday Math Roundup

## Friday, June 8, 2007

### Fifth Grade Everyday Math Roundup

The school year is over (private school) and my son brought back the remains of his Study Links and Student Math Journal, Vol 2. Here are my comments.

1. There are a lot pages left undone. In the Math Journal, from page 260 to the end of the book (page 445), they did about ten pages. In the Study Links workbook, 40 percent of the pages aren't done. They ran out of time. The teacher said so, but also told parents that she thought the kids were all developing well with their critical thinking abilities. There is always the problem (with any curriculum) that the schools don't do what they are supposed to do. In my son's class, the teacher had to deal with students who didn't know their basic math facts. However, a good deal of blame can be placed on the lack of practice in Everyday Math. The school likes to put the blame on the kids, especially when they see some kids doing well.

Unfortunately, I can see them screwing up Singapore Math.

2. Singapore 5A and 5B workbooks add up to 208 pages. Everyday Math Study Links is 273 pages which are one-sided so that they can be torn out. This is really 137 pages. Singapore Textbooks total 192 pages. Everyday Math Student Math Journal is 445 pages! How can so much more seem like so much less? Easy. Too much superficial coverage and too little mastery of important skills. To be successful, a curriculum has to be carefully planned out for the 180 day school year. It seems to me that the developers of Everyday Math knew that few schools could ever get through the entire workbooks, but they knew it would look good in the curriculum review process.

In the Math Journal:

Page 265 has 11 questions on multiplying fractions. Not done.
Page 266 and 267 has 8 questions on multiplying fractions. Not done.
Page 269 has 8 questions on multiplying fractions. Not done.
Page 270 has 8 questions on multiplying fractions. Not done.
Page 271 has 10 questions on multiplying fractions. Not done.
Page 275 has 10 questions on multiplying fractions. Not done.
Page 278 has 7 questions on multiplying fractions and mixed numbers. Not done.

You get the idea.

Is this the fault of the school or the curriculum? Both? Plausible denial on both sides? Blame the kids?

It seems to me that it's easier to screw up Everyday Math. They are telling teachers that coverage is more important than mastery. The curriculum advisor talked about a new version of Everyday Math that emphasizes more practice. How do they do this? Do they cut down on the number of topics? Will they tell teachers which sections to skip if they run out of time?
Unfortunately, you can't just do what I suggest and compare workbooks side-by-side. Everyday Math will always look better in theory than in practice. I think they know that.

3. In spite of the many more pages in Everyday Math, they are behind in the important math skills that lead to algebra. Even if you take out all of the less important pages of EM, they are still behind. Perhaps one could take a big red edit pen to Everyday Math and trim it down to something that looks more like Singapore Math, but it would still be less.

4. I see absolutely nothing in Everyday Math that provides more understanding or critical thinking development than Singapore Math. There is nothing special about their explanations. There is little discovery. EM might have kids look for patterns, but this can be a hindrance as much as it can be a help. One could always trade off speed and amount of coverage for more understanding, but that's not possible unless you skip a lot of important material. That's a separate issue.

VickyS said...

Do our kids go to the same private school?

In my son's SMJ (Student Math Journal), after page 260: only 5 pages completed. All those pages on multiplying fractions? None completed here either.

Interesting to look over them though. Here's one on page 271: "Multiply the following fractions, using the shortcut discussed in class" and the problems are, like, 1/3 * 1/5 and 5/8 * 1/4. Umm, I'm wondering what kind of a "shortcut" would apply?? Maybe the top of the page gives us a clue: "What is the relationship betweeen the numerators and the denominators of the two fractions being multiplied and the numerator and the denominator of their product?" Is the relationship they are supposed to discover that the numerator of the product is the product of the numerators, and likewise with the denominators? And this is called a shortcut? I have a headache.

Basically, they did not get through more than 7 units of the 12 unit curriculum. The rest of the time was spent playing the Stock Market game (private school, after all), doing Dynamath, or playing something called Skip-bo.

For most kids, it was their favorite class, and favorite teacher. Don't worry, be happy!

Barry Garelick said...

And of course there's no textbook. So if your kid doesn't know the shortcut and comes to you for help, you of course ask him or her "Well what did they tell you in class?" If your kid is like my daughter, the answer will probably be "I don't know; I don't remember." What do you do then? Well, I went with Singapore Math so I didn't have to put up with that nonsense.

SteveH said...

I forgot. There was also a reference manual that came home with EM. It was useless.

In my son's class, the Math Journal hardly ever came home - they weren't supposed to bring it home. The Study Link book didn't come home either. They just tore out the pages to put in their folders. I got the feeling that they didn't want us to see the entire picture, or see all of the work they were skipping.

By the way, no stock market game at our school. The teacher just had an after-school program to help the kids who didn't know their basic math facts - after \$15,000 per year.

Anonymous said...

What complicates this is that before reform math, we trusted teachers and curriculum. Workbooks have always come home with empty pages because good teachers have never been slaves to texts or workbooks. They use them as they see fit, and follow goals rather than books. That's good teaching.

But now with reform math, we find everything suspicious, as we should.

It could be, in this case, that some of the mystery is nothing more than good use of materials on the part of the teacher.

Reform math, among other things, makes us scrutinize more closely everything they do.

What a sad state of affairs for everyone.

Catherine Johnson said...

The school likes to put the blame on the kids, especially when they see some kids doing well.The school likes to put the blame on the kids, especially when they see some kids doing well.

We are besieged by this approach, yet another reason to stay away from wealthy communities.

A woman I know who has kids approaching their 30s says the Irvington philosophy is: "We're terrific because a handful of students will have outstanding achievements by age 18; the rest will get by with no glaring deficiencies."

We met the assistant superintendent this week, who was great, but she came up with this line: "A lot of our students go through school with no tutoring, straight As, and are now going to Ivy League schools."

I didn't let her get away with that. I said, "We know these people; there is a tiny number of kids going to Ivy Leagues; many of those kids are Legacies."

The head of personnel was in the office with us; I saw her start laughing.

Some of these people must be so sick of hearing this stuff.

That said, the new asst super was great.

I would say she's not a constructivist, although she does seem to think there should be "balance" between direct instruction and constructivism.

Balance between good teaching and bad teaching isn't going to be a sale with Ed and me.

Catherine Johnson said...

And of course there's no textbook. So if your kid doesn't know the shortcut and comes to you for help, you of course ask him or her "Well what did they tell you in class?"

That's what happened this spring when Ms. K began teaching out of Xeroxes instead of the textbook.

She would send home a worksheet of problems I hadn't seen - function notation, for instance - and I'd have to scramble to teach myself the concept so I could "help with homework."

We managed to put a stop to that, though inadvertently, when we pointed out that the school had refused to Xerox answer keys because that would violate copyright law.

Clearly the school had no problem violating copyright law when it was for the convenience of teachers, not parents.

That turned out not to be the asst super's policy, so: end of accelerated math via worksheet.

Catherine Johnson said...

But now with reform math, we find everything suspicious, as we should.

This is very true, and also "invisible."

Every once in awhile I realize that the profound lack of trust I feel in the middle school is corrosive in every way.

SteveH said...

"It could be, in this case, that some of the mystery is nothing more than good use of materials on the part of the teacher."

Not in this case. Forty percent of the pages in the Study Links workbook weren't done. Some remedial supplementation was done on top of EM, but this didn't add up to much. The teacher is only part of the problem. The school and curriculum take much of the blame.

Most of the texts I've seen include more material than you can cover in a course. In college, you have a syllabus that states exactly what you are going to cover. Unfortunately, in lower schools, you never get anything like a syllabus or curriculum. I've been asking for years and nobody can tell me what they are teaching. The schools just tell me to sit and talk with the teacher. What a cop-out. It's not that they don't want to show me the curriculum, they just don't have it in one place. It's not in a simple form. It's in the lesson plans and notes of the individual teachers.

I saw this at my son's school. A few teachers left the previous year and the new teachers had to start from scratch. In Humanities, the teacher had absolutely nothing. No textbook; no notes; nothing. Everything that parents liked from previous years was gone.

It should be better in math where you actually have workbooks (if not a textbook), but you can't even rely on those. The material you see in the Everyday Math workbooks is nearly impossible to cover properly (apparently). I guess that was what struck me during my retrospective. It wasn't even close.

I am not just being suspicious!

This is a fact. I can look at the pages that weren't covered. I looked at every single piece of work that came home. The skipped material was huge and it covered a lot of material that normal people would assume should be covered in fifth grade. It is the sort of material that people would look at when they were evaluating Everyday Math for selection. They would assume that the material would be taught.

Everyday Math could use a giant edit job. Too much time is wasted on less important topics. Since they move at a slower pace than Singapore Math, They have to jam in many more pages just to get the workbooks to look like fifth grade math (in this case). The problem is that you can't cover it all. Perhaps a good teacher could salvage the curriculum by selecting all but the most important worksheets, but this didn't happen. This is not a suspicion. The teacher started at the beginning of the workbooks and (in panic mode) threw in a few pages in the last 185 pages of the Math Journal when time ran out.

This was very poor planning. She could see it coming months away. I mentioned to her that I was surprised to see that they hadn't finished Volume 1 of the Student Math Journal in February. She told me that they should be able to finish the books by the end of the year. Not even close. She wrote an apologetic letter to parents at the end of the year explaining that time ran out, but everything was just fine (according to her).

Schools have to get a lot more professional about their job. Details matter. Content, coverage, and skills matter.

concernedCTparent said...

Help! My kids aren't done with school yet. My fourth grader has an Everday Math final tomorrow and she got her review back today.

Question #23 is
"Estimate whether the sum or difference is closest to 0, 1, or 2.

She got the following question incorrect and I cannot for the life of me understand why.

23 d. 8/7 - 1/4

My daughter's answer is "1" which was marked wrong. She has written the correct answer as "0". I am not a mathematician but I fail to see how this can be. Can someone enlighten me? Please.

concernedCTparent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SteveH said...

8/7 - 1/4

= 32/28 - 7/28

= 25/28, which is closest to 1

If you estimate, you would think that 8/7 is a "little" over 1 and 1/4 is a "little" bit. If you subtract a little from a little over 1, you get 1.

I suspect that the the zero correction was a mistake.

concernedCTparent said...

Steve,
I wish it were a mistake. The second one she got "wrong" was this:

1 33/34 - 1/7

Estimate whether the difference is closest to 0, 1, or 2.

She answered "2" which is crossed out and in it's place the answer "1" is written in.

They corrected the review together in class. I asked her if the teacher explained how she got the answer. She said the teacher said that it was "closer" to the other number. I asked, "But how can that be? It's not. You were right." She said, "I don't know mom. The teacher said those were the answers."

Go figure.

SteveH said...

"the teacher said those were the answers."

I guess you will have to recorrect the final when you get it back. Just tell your daughter to stick to her guns.

VickyS said...

I've been asking for years and nobody can tell me what they are teaching. The schools just tell me to sit and talk with the teacher. What a cop-out. It's not that they don't want to show me the curriculum, they just don't have it in one place. It's not in a simple form. It's in the lesson plans and notes of the individual teachers.

Yes. Same here, exactly. Go talk to the teachers, who are all doing their own thing. The independence of the teachers in a private school is a double edged sword. Especially in a discipline like math.

I can look at the pages that weren't covered. I looked at every single piece of work that came home. The skipped material was huge and it covered a lot of material that normal people would assume should be covered in fifth grade.

Yes. Exactly, once again. Here too, the teacher just ran out of time. Got through Unit 7 out of 12 by May, and just threw in a few pages here and there after that. But of course, it's okay, we are told.

Sorry to say, but in our school they were not pokey b/c the teacher was giving over more class time to teaching the missing concepts. No, the missing material was simply not taught.