kitchen table math, the sequel: The Skipper gets off Gilligan's Island

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Skipper gets off Gilligan's Island

The Skipper in the title is none other than Skip Fennell, President of NCTM who testified before a subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee. This is a guy you'd definitely want to be stranded on an island with, because he would surely know how to get rescued. Here's an excerpt from his testimony:
"I would like to address an element of a child’s education that is often overlooked by policy experts and elected officials. As members of the National Science Board and other prominent education leaders have noted, a child’s first—and perhaps most—influential teacher is a parent. Any call to action—small or large—must recognize the crucial role that parents play in encouraging children and exposing them to knowledge and ideas about any topic or subject, including mathematics. Without parental support and involvement, it will be very difficult to convince young people of the urgency and importance of STEM literacy in this country."
His politburo is quite good. The party-line answer of "the influential role played by parents" is designed to make everyone feel good. But what it really means is, if you want your child to learn math, you better do your part at home. Which means more than providing a support for learning. It means that the principle role that parents play is to make up for the lack of instruction provided by schools forced to use inferior math programs, and taught by teachers with inadequate math knowledge.

Which brings me to the Focal Points. The focal points are like an ink blot test. You can see whatever you want to see in them. If you want to adopt TERC in your school district, just say it conforms to the Focal Points. Why not? That's what Prince William County in VA did last year when they adopted Investigations. Well, actually they said it after Scott Foresman, the publisher of Investigations said it. Check it out: on the County's website is a "correlation document" prepared by Scott Foresman (publisher of Investigation) showing how Investigations meets the Focal Points. It's located here. This is for the new edition of Investigations.

You may also be interested in the School Board's document that they prepared to rebut the protests from one lone parent (an engineer) in the County against Investigations. Go here and scroll down to where it says: Clarifying Misconceptions about Investigations in Number, Data, and Space and click on it. It's described as: "This position paper was written by members of the PWCS Office of Mathematics in response to some criticisms and concerns about Investigations."

Here's only one of many gems: "The crisis in mathematics education in the United States is at least twenty-five years old. Programs like Investigations did not create the problem, but were developed after 1989 to address the problem." Reminds me of that old joke:

Mother: Stop pulling the dog's tail.
Child: I'm not pulling, the dog is pulling.
(Cue laugh track)

As they say in blog land: "Read the whole thing". Then weep.

32 comments:

SteveH said...

They link to Mathematically Sane?

Academic turf.

As Chevy Chase said last Saturday night on SNL:

"I'm still, and you're still not."

Barry, you really find the blatant ones.

SteveH said...

"...Programs like Investigations did not create the problem, but were developed after 1989 to address the problem."

They are going in the wrong direction, but they won't allow anyone to get off the bus.

Anonymous said...

Barry, you crack me up! Nice post...

By the way, I checked out the "Mathematically Sane" site and was instantly drawn to an article called "Realistic Math Makes Sense." (As opposed to unrealistic math? Huh?)

The author, a college math professor, describes her young son's math experience as a student in Holland. Talk about misconceptions... The author claims that teachers in Holland have shunned traditional algorithms for 30 years -- but nothing could be farther from the truth!

Students in the Netherlands are drilled extensively in traditional algorithms. And they take national exams to demonstrate proficiency. It's pretty no-nonsense, and you can bet there's not much coloring going on in the Dutch classroom.

The kind of misinformation evident in this article helps me understand where the views of people like Fennell come from. Small comfort, I know.

Cheryl vT in Singapore

PaulaV said...

Barry,

Thank you for linking to the Prince William BOE document. Loudoun County has jumped on the TERC bandwagon so this document could prove useful to parents (like me) who are headed to the BOE.

My sons' elementary school uses SME (SuccessMaker Enterprise), a computer math program published by Pearson digital, in conjunction with TERC investigations.

The TERC program was purchased last year, but I saw little evidence that it was actually being used. However, this year they have picked up the pace in K-3. The fourth and fifth graders seem to rely more on the SME with a few investigations thrown in the mix during classtime.

One could say Loudoun is doing a "balanced" approach and I'm positive the BOE will use this to refute any concerns about TERC.

Barry Garelick said...

Barry, you really find the blatant ones.

I wish this were the only one, but this type of thing is happening all over the country. I was in communication with the one lone engineer/parent in Prince William County who protested. To his credit, his protest must have been good for the County to put together their 12 page document trying to refute his objections. What are they so afraid of, I wonder?

What's more important is that the Focal Points can be so used, as to justify anything. Meet the new boss; same as the old boss. I know the Who weren't talking about math reform, but perhaps they were prescient.

Even more disgusting is Scott Foresman's "Correlation document".

And yes, the PW site links to "Mathematically Sane". Unfortunately, many parents new to this whole game will think that it's a good site and what is posted there is valid.

We continue to be a minority.

Barry Garelick said...

Loudoun County has jumped on the TERC bandwagon so this document could prove useful to parents (like me) who are headed to the BOE.

Oh no! Not Loudon! And they're right next door to Fairfax County where we live. Won't be long now. Keep me posted on what's going on in Loudon.

SteveH said...

"And yes, the PW site links to "Mathematically Sane". Unfortunately, many parents new to this whole game will think that it's a good site and what is posted there is valid."

If my school's web site had a link to Mathematically Sane without, at the very least, a link to Mathematically Correct, they would hear about it. I may be a minority, but minorities can make big stinks if provoked enough. Generally, I like to keep a low profile (for my son's sake), but that would be crossing the line.

Arrogant or ignorant? Arrogant! They KNOW the issues and the complaints. They could put a link in to Mathematically Correct, but they don't. They won't deal with the issues directly because they want to do what they want to do. Academic turf. Forget critical thinking when you have propaganda and control.

PaulaV said...

"Keep me posted on what's going on in Loudoun."

Yes, I certainly will.

By the way, Barry, there are many in the school system who like to brag that Loudoun is much better than Fairfax. The first time I heard this I laughed out loud!

Barry Garelick said...

There are many in the school system who like to brag that Loudoun is much better than Fairfax.

If things keep going they way they're going, Loudon will be much better than Fairfax.

LynnG said...

Talk about your ink blot statements.

When I first read that excerpt from Skip's testimony I was actually pleased. I was reading it to say that as they go forward, they will address the concerns of parents and not simply foist some new thing at us.

Oh how wrong I am, again.

You are saying Skip doesn't want my input? He just wants me to quietly keep tutoring my kid at home so she can subtract fractions with different denominators?

Barry Garelick said...

The Skipper: "Without parental support and involvement, it will be very difficult to convince young people of the urgency and importance of STEM literacy in this country."

Oh Lynne, of course the Skipper wants to hear from you. Don't mind me; I'm just a curmudgeon. Here's what I saw in the ink blot:

Without parents teaching kids what isn't taught at school, they will be ignorant of math and science.

Catherine Johnson said...

I now have the parent of a GATE child enrolled in Ms. K's 6th grade "accelerated" class taking notes on what's going on.

It is an eye opener.

Finally, I'm seeing what it looks like from that side of the tracks.

It's not pretty.

(I may ask whether I can share his experience with you guys -- we'll see.)

In an nutshell, though, what appears to be happening with the GATE kids is that they intuitively "get it."

e.g.: kids were sent home with this questions: If a whale swims 40 miles in 1 1/4 hours, how far will he swim in 1 hour?

GATE kid says the whale will be faster when he's fresh, so he'll probably swim more than 32 miles.

Dad asks kid how he came up with 32 miles; kid says "I don't know, but it's right, isn't it?"

Dad then spends 2 1/2 hours teaching the underlying concepts with child crying, dad shouting, etc. Basically, the whole megillah.

For two years now, I've wondered how it is the GATE kids can manage this course and earn As and Bs on the tests.

I've also asked myself, what do those As ans Bs mean?

Can the GATE kids possibly be learning what they should be learning?

Based on one child (which may be enough), I believe that these kids are making it through the course on sheer mathematical "intuition" or implicit knowledge or number sense or some such.

And I don't believe they are learning what they should be learning.

They may be learning nothing at all.

I think it's entirely possible the bright-works-hard kids are learning more than the GATE kids.

The BWH kids are getting lower grades, but they may be learning more.

Catherine Johnson said...

It's possible -- in the strong form or in the weak form.

Catherine Johnson said...

Here's news.

Scarsdale is contemplating dropping Trailblazers.

Can't tell, yet, whether that's good news or bad news.

Are they exchanging Traiblazers for TERC?

My friend is going to save the copy of the Scarsdale Inquirer that ran the story, so I'll find out.

Nicksmama said...

Prince William County has seen tremendous growth in it's ESL population (mainly Hispanic)over the past 5 years. I wonder how curriculum like Investigations will work with ESL students.

As far as Loudon county being better than Fairfax, that's not saying much. My dentist had a child that went through high school in FFX without reading one book. He graduated and went on to college (needing much remediation). His middle child took a chemistry class that included zero labs. FFX is another school system that is hyped to maintain outrageous property values. I remember reading an article that implied that FFX's average test scores were so high because of the imported super-brains (my words) from Asian and Indian families. Also, FFX county schools are supplemented with more than a dozen Kumon Centers.

Nicksmama

LynnG said...

Dad then spends 2 1/2 hours teaching the underlying concepts with child crying, dad shouting, etc. Basically, the whole megillah.

Teach that man some bar graphs! And quick!

40 miles over 1 1/4 hours? Draw two equal length bars. The time bar can be broken down into 5 equal length segments (4 quarters in an hour, 1/4 left over, equals 5 quarters). Now divide up the 40 mile bar by 5 to get 8 miles for each 1/4 hour.

Or 32 miles in an hour.

Nicksmama said...

Lynn, AMEN.

Nicksmama

Barry Garelick said...

Prince William County has seen tremendous growth in it's ESL population (mainly Hispanic)over the past 5 years. I wonder how curriculum like Investigations will work with ESL students.

We're dealing with Scott Foresman, here and also looking at big bucks. They've got it covered. From the Investigations website:

Any of the materials that students use are available in Spanish, including: the Resource Masters in the Teacher Resources Binder, including family letters and all of the pages in the Student Activity Books and Student Math Handbooks (and Flip Charts).

See:

http://investigations.terc.edu/
components/spanish-comp/

Catherine Johnson said...

The point is that the kid knew the answer intuitively.

His dad is teaching him things like the identity property of multiplication, etc.

Although bar models might be good, too; I just don't know. (Don't know GATE kids and their needs...)

btw, I've had the impression that GATE kids -- boys, maybe -- don't necessarily like bar models.

This happened in my Singapore Math class.

There were a couple of obviously gifted (or talented) boys who were very, very impatient with the bar models. They wanted to do NUMBERS.

So I dropped the bar models for them (talked to their parents first to make sure that was OK, then dropped the bar models).

Catherine Johnson said...

you guys - check the "tags" at the bottom of Barry's post

LynnG said...

My daughter disliked bar models at first. It added a step and that was annoying. I begged her to keep with it as it would probably come in handy.

She uses it for the stupid stuff the teacher throws at her in "enrichment" where she either has to intuit the answer or guess and check herself to death (great way to chew up time when the other kids are still finishing their work).

GATE (is this your term for gifted and talented?) will probably intuit quite a bit, but even they can get stuck on stuff when no one teaches them the foundation steps.

Anyway, the Dad might like bar models, even if his kid doesn't (I wasn't clear, I meant that the Dad should learn bar models -- the kids seems fine on his own. Maybe the kid could use a bar model to explain it to his father?)

SteveH said...

Bar model. That's what I thought of first, too. It seems that my son "sees" things like that without having spent much time with bar models. BUT, his "intuition" doesn't carry him very far, especially when the numbers aren't nice.

LynnG said...

you guys - check the "tags" at the bottom of Barry's post

HA! Arrogance , jerks! I can't believed I missed his labels.

I'm afraid we have a lot of posts we could stick those on.

Skip Fennell said...

You weren't talking about me, now, were you?

Catherine Johnson said...

Skip!

No.

No, no, no.

Definitely not.

Catherine Johnson said...

Steve H

Have you changed your view of bar models?

You've been generally skeptical, right?

Maybe I'll draw up a bar model and give it to the dad.

Catherine Johnson said...

I don't know what term to use for gifted kids, but I've seen GATE a lot and it works well for me, because it stands for "gifted and talented."

I think (not sure) that those two categories fit.

In other words, in the way I think of the term, "gifted" is a pretty tiny group, while "talented" probably takes you out as far as the top 10%.... (I think Susan knows the way this is generally defined).

That feels right to me, given C's experience

I'm going to guess that, in terms of "raw" ability (and I don't know what that is!) C. is going to be right around the 90th percentile.... I may be talking about "g" (general intelligence), not "math aptitude," who knows!

In any case, C is in the bright-works-hard category which feels like it's separate-but-close to "talented."

One of the ironies here is that I'm pretty sure C. couldn't possibly have stayed alive in this course as long as he has, parent teaching or no, without a pretty large amount of general intelligence and a very, very good memory.

Catherine Johnson said...

This course makes bright kids look dumb early on.

Catherine Johnson said...

Now we've got Earth Science doing the same thing.

C. has been getting demoralized.

Why does everyone else do better than me?

etc.

Everyone else doesn't do better than he does, but that's the way it looks to him (and the way it looks to quite a few kids in the class).

SteveH said...

"Have you changed your view of bar models? You've been generally skeptical, right?"

I think that bar modeling is just fine, up to a point. I don't like to see it used on advanced problems where algebra is a much easier choice. The problem with bar models is that they don't work well when you just change the numbers on a problem. The student can't be sure when it can be used and when it can't. This doesn't happen with algebra.

This goes along with my dislike of algebra problems that students are given before they get to algebra. Some think that kids develop some sort of magical math sense or intuition. I don't believe it. My son has some level of math sense, but I don't see that helping him with algebra. Schools should take that same time and dive right in to algebra. Don't wait until the problems get difficult to introduce algebra.

PaulaV said...

Barry,

This from Extract from this week's online conversation between Edgar Hatrick (LCPS Superintendent) and the general public, on WAPO's Loudoun Extra....

Here's our question -

Is Loudoun County committed to "Math Investigations," or is there some flexibility on a per teacher basis with respect to how math is taught? I'm unable to find ANY positive feedback, from parents or teachers, on the Internet regarding this method of teaching. Is there any evidence this curriculum is benefiting Loudoun County students? Last year's SOL scores show a lot of drops.

Edgar B. Hatrick III: We are evaluating the use of math investigations along with other means of providing the best math instruction we can for our students. We also realize that one size may not fit all needs.


Okay, from the looks of things, it looks as though Loudoun is right on par with Fairax. They mirror each other. Also, both superintendents (Loudoun & FFX) do not like NCLB at all!

PaulaV said...

NicksMama,

Do you live in Prince William County?