kitchen table math, the sequel: The Everyday Math Survival Guide

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Everyday Math Survival Guide

From what I've seen so far, Everyday Math (EM) has few redeeming qualities as a primary source of elementary math instruction. I have heard that it works well as a supplemental source of instruction. I suppose the idea is 1. to use EM as a source of somewhat atypical practice problems and 2. that students will get more out of EM's conceptual oriented pedagogy if they have a firm prior understanding of the underlying procedures.

I remain somewhat dubious of the efficacy of both of these rationales. From my experience with the first and second grade EM materials, a large percentage of EM's practice problems are simplistic, dopey (that's a technical term), or both. Usually both. And, the amount of practice problems is woefully inadequate even for students who don't require as much practice (i.e., the students who typically excelled under the traditional curriculum). Moreover, EM's "conceptual understanding" is wildly overrated. Conceptual understanding does not begin and end with pattern matching as the authors of EM seem to think. A much better supplemental curriculum for teaching conceptual understanding is Singapore Math, but I digress.

Nonetheless, the best way to get through EM without befuddlement and tears is to treat EM as a supplemental curriculum. This implies that some other curriculum needs to be used as the primary curriculum. It also implies that the primary curriculum needs to stay ahead of the rather steep spiral employed in EM. This won't be easy because teaching to mastery takes longer that teaching to exposure which is how EM accomplishes its brisk pace and steep spiral.

Step One: Identify the Enemy. Beginning no later than kindergarten, you need to identify the math curriculum used in your school. If it is EM or some other fuzzy curriculum you need to select, secure and begin using a primary math curriculum in order to not only get a jump on first grade but to also take advantage of the light homework load of kindergarten and (hopefully) first grade.

Step Two: Select Your Weapon. I'm going to cut right to the chase here and tell you that my weapon of choice is Connecting Math Concepts (CMC). Other popular choices are Saxon and Singapore Math, but I picked CMC primarily because I thought it would minimize the amount of work I'd have to do. So far it has and I don't expect that to change. There are other reasons to select CMC:

  1. It is fully scripted. This is key because while I fancy myself as an expert of elementary math, I am smart enough to know I am no expert in teaching elementary math. And, quite frankly, I don't want to become one. All I know is that when I try to teach a concept using my own words, I get a blank stare at least 50% of the time. When I use the script, I've never gotten a blank stare in over 200 lessons. You can't argue with that kind of success and I don't plan to.
  2. The scripts are short. The teacher-led parts of each lesson take about 15 minutes to get through. The rest of the lesson involves the student working problems he's just learned or working distributed practice problems. I spend this part of the lesson in the teacher lounge, i.e., on my couch. I only emerge at the end to do a work check and to say "good job." Now, that's what I call teaching.
  3. Zero prep time. My prep time consists of opening up the teacher's manual and doing some pre-reading as the student works some problems. I suppose if I was presenting to a class of lower-performers, I'd want to home my performance. But one non-low-performing student can tolerate an unpolished performance.
  4. The scripts use simple language. Simple language is good because since you're going to be pre-teaching a student who is on the younger side of the expected student level.
  5. Ample distributed practice. Distributed practice is built into the curriculum. This means you don't have to make-up your own practice sets. This means less work for you.
  6. More is more. The curriculum is designed so that lower-performers can succeed. This means that your average or high performer will succeed as well. The only trick is to know when to cut back on practice problems, when to skip lessons, and when to convert teacher-led sections to independent work (this is a classroom curriculum in which some students will likely be absent, so teacher-led portions are repeated for absent students. My student, by definition, is never absent.) The general rule is that it is easier to cut than it is to supplement.
  7. Relatively cheap. You can pick up used materials for about $100 from EBay. Textbooks and workbooks are easy to come by. Teacher presentation books not so much. The presentation books are the script. There is supplemental materials, but you can generally skip those unless the student needs extra practice, which is unlikely.
  8. Aligns well with EM. Almost everything taught in EM has been covered in CMC, at least so far. Concepts that have not been covered are generally concepts that most consider outside or tangential to traditional elementary math anyway, so relying on EM to teach these concepts is largely inconsequential. These are inert concepts anyway, nothing builds on them and they are not important to future learning, so not learning them to mastery now isn't critical.
  9. CMC is aligned with Math Mastery. Math mastery is a dvd/online review course for elementary math. It was designed to remediate struggling students, but that doesn't mean you can't use it for review or for teaching some topics for the first time. The lesson presentation is very similar to CMC, except that it's multimedia. Kids like that kind of stuff. Go check out a sample lesson. My son wanted me to teach him multi-digit division. That's a topic that doesn't get covered until CMC level D where it is spread out over the course of the year. he didn't want to wait that long, so I just put in the division mastery dvd and he was introduced to division problems. He needs a lot more practice before I'll claim that he's learned it. But it's a good start.

Step Three: Calibrate your weapon. I've done the hard work for you here. No later than midway through kindergarten begin level B and strive to finish one level every 12 months. That's about three lessons a week at most. Remember weekends are your friend. So is summer vacation. And winter/spring breaks. Just don't go too long between lessons since the student is likely to partially forget newly taught topics if they've lain dormant too long. Why cause more work for yourself? Plus, one of the reasons why you're not relying on EM as the primary curriculum is to avoid this deficiency in the first place.

At this point you may be asking: what happened to level A? You can skip level A if you've taught your child how to count to twenty and how to recognize and write numbers, i.e., the knowledge that most middle-class families send their children to school with. plus, for some reason level A is difficult to find second hand. Also, level B reviews much of level A for the first few lessons anyway.

Step Four: Fire. Right now my son is in second grade and we are just finishing up level C of CMC and we have really slacked off this year since he has quite the busy social calendar this year and the amount of homework he's getting has increased. Nonetheless, we are way ahead of the EM curve by quite a bit. He can typically complete his EM homework in about 5 minutes with minimal parental involvement or explanation. I never have to re-explain an EM lesson to him because he already understands the underlying concept. And, he scores well on his tests. In short, I don't have to worry about what he's learning in EM or whether EM is adequately preparing him for higher level math.

The only problems we have are primarily related to bookkeeping. He is fluent with his math facts and can do quite a bit of arithmetic mentally. As a result, he doesn't like to show his work for work he can do mentally, especially when "show his work" means drawing a 7 x 8 array of dots or any of the other superfluous crutches EM relies on to excuse itself from teaching to mastery.

This is not exactly a bad problem to have.

I would have preferred that his school teach him properly in the first place for the same reason that I don't like having to re-bake bread I've bought from a bakery (especailly an expensive bakery).

So if you find yourself in the same situation, this is one proactive way to survive Everyday Math. And, it surely is less painful than going the reactive route which I do not recommend. Motivation is a difficult thing to win back once you've lost it.


Catherine Johnson said...

This is FANTASTIC advice!

How hard was it for you to track down the presentation book, etc.?

KDeRosa said...

It's easy. Just go to Ebay and search "Connecting Math Concepts" and pray.

Right now I see presentation books for levels A and B, (older edition, small changes). often they are sold along with the textbook and workbook.

Check early and often and eventually you'll find them.

palisadesk said...

Amen to that, that's how I got my large personal collection of DI programs. Would have cost me 20 grand or more new from the publisher You can enter a standing search for specific items on Ebay and you will be notified when the items are listed for sale.

Dawn said...

Scripts! My daughter's grammar and ancient greek stuff is scripted and I so love that! :)

I may have to check CMC out for my son.

Allison said...

Palisadesk and KDeRosa,

If you're not a teacher, how did you know which were the DI programs? Is there a list compiled? could you compile a list?

When I find other DI websites, they are often counselors and consultant sites, and they list their own but not big lists...

KDeRosa said...

Here's the big list of commercially available DI programs.

Most people will be interested in four programs.

1. Spelling Mastery (1999)
2. Reasoning and Writing (2001)
3. Connecting Math Concepts (2003)
4. Reading Mastery (rainbow ed)

These are the editions you are most likely to find on ebay. Older editions are also available and can usually be substitute in a pinch. Newer editions are hard to come by and/or expensive.

Reading Mastery has a few wrinkles. If I were doing it over I's start off with Funnix levels 1 and 2. If you wante dto keep on going after that, I'd pick Horizons level C/D which takes care of two years of instruction in one year. The other option is to go to RM rainbow Ed level III.

Catherine Johnson said...

Conceptual understanding does not begin and end with pattern matching as the authors of EM seem to think.

I beg your pardon.