kitchen table math, the sequel: 6th Grade EM

Friday, September 21, 2007

6th Grade EM

The fun has begun. My middle child is a 6th grader in a EM program heavily supplemented with random, disconnected state testing prep and confusing "problem of the week" type stuff. I went to open house Tuesday evening. The math teacher used her allotted 10 minutes to lecture us on the importance of behavior, neatness, organization, and more behavior. We got one quick slide listing 5 or 6 topics of math -- but otherwise math content and skills and expectations were not addressed. I left thinking this teacher cares alot about behavioral control and neatness, but not so much on the math.

Then I see the first assignment -- my 6th grade daughter is to watch 1/2 an hour of television and count the number of commercials. This is called the "Great TV Ad-Venture"

I am. . . .well. . . . unimpressed.

I immediately thought of Steve -- then realized you are not dealing with this anymore!!! AHHHH! I'm all alone with a 6th grader in EM dealing with this stupidity!

32 comments:

SusanJ said...

Gee, if you had TIVO (or another DVR), you could do the assignment in much less time! You could even compute an average for several different shows.

(This is so bad I really shouldn't joke about it but what else but humor is left?)

Matthew K. Tabor said...

Counting to 6 or 7 over the course of half an hour with breaks in between? That's sad commentary on the state of math education. And the touch of bizarre anti-consumerism didn't go unnoticed.

SteveH said...

My condolences, Lynn. I went through the entire (new version) EM sixth grade EM with my son this summer because the school wanted to give him a test before allowing him to jump to 7th grade pre-algebra. It's a sorry excuse for a curriculum, and the Math Boxes are the worst distraction. They take up the majority of the pages!

There is new math in there, but it's all mixed in with the Math Boxes and not explained very well. The Math Boxes jump all over the place and disrupt the flow of new material. I can't imagine any teacher being able to identify student difficulties, let alone correct them. They don't. They assume that the Math Boxes will fix things all by themselves.

A good teacher could focus on important topics, but doing the "Great TV Ad-Venture" is not a good sign.

LynnG said...

I have yet to see the math journal for 6th grade EM. It rarely comes home. On the other hand, they are giving us a copy of the student reference book to keep at home during the year. So I have that to peruse. Otherwise, I'm in the dark as to what to expect.

There was great fanfare about the "new" edition of EM coming out. Which only means it will be harder to find used books on line to help me stay ahead of the ball.

Steve, got any tips on where we are going?

The really scary thing is that at the end of 6th grade they do a placement test for 7th grade (slow and slower?). I am desperate to make sure she tests into the higher (less slow)level. They use "Impact Math" in 7th grade. But switch to a Glencoe Algebra 1 textbook for 8th grade algebra.

Singapore Math 6 looks like a pretty good course in pre-algebra, and she's handling that. I'm wondering how realistic it is to try to skip the Impact Math entirely and jump right into Algebra 1 in 7th grade. I'm dreaming I know, but I hate the waste of time that is EM and Impact.

concernedCTparent said...

I think your daughter would likely be successful transitioning from Singapore 6 to Algebra 1 in 7th. My daughter hasn't yet finished Singapore 5 and yet her understanding is so developed that when I had her take the Saxon assessment the results placed her in Algebra 1/2. She barely missed the cutoff for Algebra. I'm not sure how that translates to Glencoe Algebra 1, but my guess would be that given Singapore's strengths, she should be more than ready.

LynnG said...

And the classroom was filled (and I mean filled) with reminders of the "Top Ten List" of problem solving strategy that we saw last year. There's a link somewhere around here to get to that discussion -- I think Catherine saw that same list years ago. For those that don't remember, here's the list again:
Top Ten List of Problem Solving Strategies:
1. Act out or use objects
2. Make a picture or diagram
3. Use or make a table
4. Make an organized list
5. Guess and Check
6. Use or look for a pattern
7. Work backwards
8. Use logical reasoning
9. Make it simpler
10. Brainstorm

But now these are everywhere. These are supposed to be the tools kids solve word problems with in 6th grade.

I'm trying to create a cue here for my daughter to always think -- bar model -- whenever she sees this list (daily), but I've only been somewhat successful. If she's told to guess and check, she doesn't question the advice. She starts guessing and checking even though she knows there's a better way. She's just a little too compliant.

Catherine Johnson said...

my 6th grade daughter is to watch 1/2 an hour of television and count the number of commercials. This is called the "Great TV Ad-Venture"

This boils my blood.

They have no right.

Dickey45 said...

What do they say to kids that are not allowed to watch TV or literally have no TV in their house?

They tried to place my son in EM for 5th grade. Let us just say I threatened them with Due Process (he is special ed). Apparently I got their attention as I had my own guide for curriculum night :) That always seems to happen to me after all of these years at the same school (starting the 7th year).

I posted this to a listserve you guys might be on so I apologize for double posting:

Why Everyday Math is Inappropriate

Issue: Everyday Math is not aligned with Oregon State Standards

Proof: After only one week of workbook assignments, the 5th grade
workbook (journal) required earning and using simple exponents (2 to
the 2nd power, 12 to the second power).

According to Oregon Standards for 7th grade (not 5th):

"DEMONSTRATE THE MEANING OF WHOLE NUMBER EXPONENTS AS REPEATED MULTIPLICATION"

The homework also included not only identifying the class of prime and composite numbers but the actual factorization.

5th grade standard:
"Identify classes of numbers (e.g., primes, composites, even, odd, multiples) in a 1-to-100 number chart AND DESCRIBE NUMERIC PATTERNS RELATED TO THEM"

6th grade standard:
"Identify prime and composite numbers less than 100"

7th grade standard:
"Determine the prime factorization of a number less than 1000 and express the prime factorization using exponents when applicable"

Issue: Everyday Math does not require mastery and assumes students will "get it" later

Proof:

Everyday Math website:
http://everydaymath.uchicago.edu/educators/lessonbackground.shtml#differentiate

"When changes to lesson content or instruction do need to be made in order to accommodate specific children, the authors recommend an approach of modification, rather than supplementation. Modify lessons only when there is a mismatch between the learner and the type of instruction or materials, or within the task assigned. Focus on the simplest change possible and be sensitive to the social aspects of modification."

Issue: There is lots of work to modifying Everyday Math to be appropriate for all students. Skipping workbook pages is not likely considered a modification.

Proof:
Everyday Math website:
http://everydaymath.uchicago.edu/educators/lessonbackground.shtml#differentiate

"Pacing is important in the overall schematic of the Everyday Mathematics curriculum. Since the program is designed to continually build on children's prior experiences, topics and concepts are revisited in a number of ways throughout the year and in the years that follow. Do not dwell on one skill area or concept, even if some have yet to master it. Everyday Mathematics provides many opportunities for children to master the content. Staying too long with a topic may help some children attain temporary mastery, but for maximum long-term retention, it is best to follow the basic structure of the curriculum as it is written."

Issue: Everyday Math homework takes too long.

Proof: My son spent over an hour on homework each night over the past 2 days. He only had to do 1/2 of the homework required of other students. Because the curriculum is not correctly spiraled, each night is like learning a whole new skill. Ask other parents how long their children spend on Everyday Math homework WHEN IT IS ASSIGNED.

Garfield Elementary School' 2007-08 Handbook declares:

"Homework assignments are meant to practice skills, which have already been presented."

Although skills may have been presented earlier in the day, many children did not learn those skills to mastery in order to do independent work at home.

SteveH said...

"Steve, got any tips on where we are going?"

I had to return the borrowed books, but I did find the reference book I borrowed. I forgot to return it, probably because I took one look at it and never opened it again.

I don't know what the old edition was like, but I suspect that all they did was to add in more (review) Math Boxes. There seems to be more review work per unit (right in the middle of the unit) than real work. As always, EM throws in advanced material just to make it look good. But there is little explanation, development, or continuity. The Math Boxes ruin everything.

For those who don't know, Math Boxes are pages, usually divided into 4 or 6 sections (boxes) that contain different types of review problems. They are located right in the middle of each unit of new material, not at the end of sections or chapters. There is no theme for the Math Boxes. Their content jumps all over the place.

The idea is that if you don't understand something the (n-1)th time through the spiral, you will see it (struggle with it) over and over again. Since there is no theme for the boxes, there is no easy way for teachers to address any difficulties that arise. Perhaps they assume that the role of Math Boxes is to increase speed, rather than help with learning the skill. I suspect (like in my son's 5th grade EM class) that most teachers will have the kids correct their own work and move right along.

EM throws all sorts of poorly explained topics into its books. I'll bet that works well on checklists when the curriculum is reviewed for adoption.

I didn't mention this before, but the school gave my son the EM end-of-year test to see if he was ready to jump to pre-algebra. It was top-end loaded with material that really was 7th grade material. He took two hours and didn't finish it all. When we went in to review the test, I pointed out all of the questions that related to specific sections in their 7th grade pre-algebra book. There were many. The principal understood, so it wasn't an issue with my son. I am just soooo happy I don't have to deal with another year of EM. (Sorry!)


"The really scary thing is that at the end of 6th grade they do a placement test for 7th grade (slow and slower?)."

I would ask them direct questions about this test. Why isn't placement based on the grades throughout the year? Why is it based on one test? Is the test from the EM course, or is it from something else? Do they have only a certain number of slots for the not-so-slow course, or will they make extra room if many kids do well on the test?


"I'm wondering how realistic it is to try to skip the Impact Math entirely and jump right into Algebra 1 in 7th grade. I'm dreaming I know, but I hate the waste of time that is EM and Impact."

I don't know anything about Impact Math, but I think that skipping 6th grade EM and going to 7th grade Glencoe Pre-Algebra is going to work for my son. EM is such a wasteland. I think it would be much harder for him to make the jump from 6th grade EM to Algebra I. One of the reasons is that his pre-algebra course is more like a real math course. They have longer math classes every other day; they cover (at least) one section in each class (the teacher actually teaches), and he gets maybe 50 problems to do as homework for each class. EM usually gave 10 or less homework problems that took 15 minutes to do. Now he has 50 problems that can take a couple of hours. (It should take him a lot less time, but he has had very little practice with large homework sets.)

Our goal wasn't to get him into AP Calculus in 10th grade, but we had to do something, he was wasting away in EMville, with no margarita in sight.

VickyS said...

My 6th grader will be using Impact math this year. I'll keep you posted. The book didn't look too bad to me on cursory review.

Steve's analysis of EM is, as always, right on target; the Math Boxes, in particular, are pernicious.

Carolyn said...

You bring it all back (Ben had EM in 4th and 5th). In 4th grade, a year in which kids should be learning important math skills like multidigit multiplication and long division, EM brought me to tears.

I still remember the shock of seeing a fraction with a decimal in the denominator in one of those (expletive-reluctantly-deleted) math boxes. There had never been one addressed in the book before. They hadn't yet been taught division by decimals, nor the relationship between fractions and decimals.

How on earth do you deal with that sort of curveball effectively? Is there any way at all?

LynnG said...

I've seen that surprise decimal within a fraction problem. The teacher's manual suggests that the kids should ignore the decimal and then take a wild guess where to put it in the answer.

That's helpful, don't you think?

For the record I'm not shooting for AP Calculus with M. What I'm worried about is going from 6th grade EM to 7th grade IMPACT to 8th grade algebra. I'm not sure she'll be prepared with this scenario to succeed at algebra (without heavy after schooling by me).

If it she succeeds, it looks like she's just going to waste 2 years of math in school and I hate losing all that time. I figure she could do something useful next year rather than spin her wheels for a year in Impact.

A quick check of the Impact Math's website (put out by Glencoe) had this revealing statement in the document called "Program Philosophy"

"The strands created for Impact Mathematics follow the Access to Algebra [an Australian program -ed.] strands in style: use of narrative and realistic contexts, personalization in the form of cartoons in which middle grades students explain how they approach problems, and opportunities for students to choose or create their own problems."

I don't find this reassuring.

concernedCTparent said...

The EM books for my second grader's school haven't yet arrived. For the past few weeks they've been doing photocopied worksheets and Holey Cards (timed +/- drills). I hope those books never show up and fell off the truck they were shipped on. I really do.

LynnG said...

I also have a 2nd grader in EM. All you are missing in the second grade is lots of random counting exercises.

Starting at 65, count by 5s for awhile, start at 173 and count by 100s. that sort of thing.

concernedCTparent said...

In that case, we're much better off with the worksheets and addition/subtraction timed drills.

Skip counting in second grade... how very productive.

*Ugh* Having such disdain for EM is one thing, keeping that disdain from infecting my second grader is quite another. But try I will.

Anonymous said...

"Having such disdain for EM is one thing, keeping that disdain from infecting my second grader is quite another. But try I will."

Here's one way to look at it:

Many of us over here in Ridgewood (yes things are pretty desperate here) are "outing" our disdain to our kids.

We've realized "What better way to develop critical thinking in our kids than to teach them to think critically about the context in which they're being taught?"

Even the most "earnest" types of kids eventually come around, learn how to analyze what they're getting, cultivate a good sense of humor about it, and learn good judgment about what to say to whom. Second grade is not too young.

As a result, our kids end up on our side, and become good consumers of their own education. Not bad, huh?

I ALMOST (emphasis on ALMOST) am glad I have to do this. Our kids become active learners.

This is a case of a cloud most certainly having a silver lining.

SteveH said...

"What better way to develop critical thinking in our kids than to teach them to think critically about the context in which they're being taught?"


My wife doesn't care much for my rationaliztion (?) of this angle when I talk with my son, but I think it depends on how you approach it.

VickyS said...

A lot of kids can smell something is not right with Everyday Math. As they get increasingly frustrated, I think it's important to let them know that it's the curriculum, not themselves, that is the problem.

concernedCTparent said...

They key is arming children with reason and understanding. For example, my son should know why a standard algorithm is more efficient than "trade-first" or "lattice" instead of only carrying away the message of disdain that EM stinks. This is empowering him to become an active learner instead of a victim.

VickyS said...

Sometimes, though, when working with my children (as opposed to dissecting these issues here) I try to remind myself of their different perspective on the issue. Does a third grader really want to be an "informed consumer" of math, being asked to understand, evaluate and choose among various "algorithms" for simple arithmetic operations? I remember digging into EM at first and--as and adult with a strong math background--finding the many algorithms quite entertaining and interesting, as well as kind of difficult to understand and apply. Indeed, even the word "algorithm" didn't find its way into my math vocabulary until I was well along into higher math.

My point is, then, that some kids just want to be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide, and be done with it. In volunteering with third graders at our old school, some found it just impossible to carry all these different ways to perform simple operations in their little heads. They became befuddled.

As we teach our kids the standard algorithms and see the light bulb go on (they see it as a "short cut" perhaps), we still have to confront the fact that they are forced to use these other clunky methods on a daily basis in school. For my kids, that made them even more convinced that "EM stinks." Then you reach the critical question of how your family is going to deal with it. Will they just choke down their EM homework? Will you talk to the teacher and ask for special treatment, like always allowing your child to use a standard algorithm? Is your child nimble enough to master all the algorithms successfully? Will you explore whether the school will let you supplant EM with a curriculum of your own? (We have a state law that allows us to do this with any curriculum).

With the perspective of having them in 6th and 9th grade now, I still cannot see any benefit to them having learned the other algorithms. In fact, wouldn't you think they'd have a great grasp of the distributive law, having had to pick apart numbers in the partial products multiplication algorithm? But no, neither of these math-talented kids have any clue about the distributive property, a basic foundation for algebra. It seemed completely new to them. So much for the conceptual understanding that is supposed to accompany the other algorithms.

concernedCTparent said...

I did go to the district and came to an agreement that my children will be allowed to use the standard algorithms in lieu of EM's alternate algorithms. It was presented to the BOE and approved by the superintendent. I just need to gently remind my son, in particular, as well as his second grade teacher, that there are to be no negative consequences for exercising this "right". I wanted to avoid him having to choose between what he knows and we reinforce at home and what happens at school. This way he doesn't have to.

He'll still have to sit through the EM explanations and wait while his classmates take 2-3 times as long to complete the identical equations using EM methods, but perhaps that will lead his classmates to wonder why they're bothering with something so inefficient.

le radical galoisien said...

What do you think about exposing kids to Mathematica?

Because I have to group work for it right now, and I had heard about it, but I must say the "manipulate" feature must be one of the greatest teaching tools ever, if you want to show kids a concept visually (especially if they find it hard to digest analytic proofs).

But it seems they assign it only at the college level. Previously, I had only heard about it from books like Fermat's Last Theorem by Simon Singh.

And even if it's too expensive (they can spend 20,000 dollars on graphing calculators that have no "manipulate" feature whatsoever?) there are always open-source alternatives.

Not to mention you could have one version to make all the notebook files and then use the free "player" for class lectures after.

le radical galoisien said...

"If she's told to guess and check, she doesn't question the advice. She starts guessing and checking even though she knows there's a better way. She's just a little too compliant."

Well, "brute force" isn't elegant, but it does work.

And I used it on the Singapore PSLE too.

And the issue with "draw a picture" is so vague. What kind of picture?

"Use logical reasoning."
"Look for a pattern."
"Make it simpler."

These are things that aren't really strategies. I mean, they might as well say, "breathe" or "do it on paper, not in your head".

Whereas "guess and check" is a more explicit approach.

anon said...

Mom,

Was she permitted to use a calcuator for the assignment?(!)

Read a book. Fake the assignment. Pull her out of this school. Now. It won't get any better as the year progresses.

KarenA said...

Allison--

Speaking as both a college instructor and the parent of K, a college freshman, yours is good advice.

K is taking a political science course and the lecture doesn't particularly follow the book. Indeed, the book itself is rather challenging. But K is diligently reading the material before class, taking notes, looking up concepts that she doesn't know, and raising questions about the material with the instructor, both during class and office hours.

As an instructor, I try to encourage my students to seek out help if they don't understand the material, and sooner, rather than later.

Catherine Johnson said...

Dickey45

So glad to see you!

I was trying to put a link to your web page up, and I couldn't find where I'd written it down!!

Catherine Johnson said...

whoa

this is quite some thread

I think I'm going to start a Greatest Comments Thread category.

Of course, if I do, I'll probably have to include the Jenny D thread - right?

AND WHERE OH WHERE IS THAT GREAT COMMENT FROM THE MOM WHO WROTE NASTY COMMENTS ALL OVER HER TERC HOMEWORK AND THEN HAD TO PHOTOSHOP THE THING TO REMOVE THEM???

I NEED THAT!

Tracy said...

le radical galoisien said...
What do you think about exposing kids to Mathematica?

Because I have to group work for it right now, and I had heard about it, but I must say the "manipulate" feature must be one of the greatest teaching tools ever, if you want to show kids a concept visually (especially if they find it hard to digest analytic proofs).


The problem with the maths curriculum appears unlikely to be fixed by Mathematica. The maths curriculum doesn't provide any coherent form of development in maths and it doesn't provide enough practice. Maths curriculum are not being tested sufficiently (if at all) in development to see their effect on actual children.

Teachers need a curriculum that has been thoroughly tested as to its effectiveness, that provides a path where new math concepts are introduced in their proper order, where there is sufficient practice to make sure that each child is firm in the concepts they need to understand before a new one is introduced.

Giving teachers another technical tool won't help with that.

Catherine Johnson said...

ok, now this is succinct advice:

Read a book. Fake the assignment. Pull her out of this school. Now. It won't get any better as the year progresses.

We're going to make our usual demands, requests, & pleas for accountable teaching this year, as always.

Currently the Earth Science teacher is blowing me off.

Thought I'd put that in there.

Ignoring parent emails isn't a good way to encourage parent involvement in the schools.

I'll find out if she's receiving emails from my address first, of course, before raising this issue with the school and district.

KathyIggy said...

2nd grade EM (which I am enduring for the 2nd time though with the "revised" edition) also has endless "broken calculator" problems like: "The 2 button is broken on your calculator. Show "25". (e.g. 10+15) This along with the "name boxes" where they have to show 10 "names" for a given number. (two, dos, 2 pennies, etc.) They do it over, and over, and over. I think I repressed the memory of those the first time around.

Catherine Johnson said...

broken calculator problems!

that's priceless

concernedCTparent said...

Lamentably, we're doing second grade EM this year as well. The EM order was delayed these first few weeks of school, but alas, they arrived today. Joy of joys.

Patience and fortitude.