kitchen table math, the sequel: Vicky S on the lost generation

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Vicky S on the lost generation

Kids with high math aptitude do need good teaching to reach their potential; most cannot/will not do it on their own. But there's more to it than that. We are killing their interest and motivation.

Many elementary kids with high math aptitude who suffer through the likes of Investigations and EM are left terminally frustrated with math. How many of us have watched the transformation of our kids from eager first or second graders who loved math, to irritated 5th and 6th graders who no longer can even enjoy it. And since they've checked out for a few years, many are going to find it very difficult to pick up the pieces in high school. They'll have gaps. They'll be behind. And they are not too likely to struggle back to the heights they would otherwise reach.

We are losing a generation or two of potential mathematicians. They will be doing other things.


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Pissed Off said...

The biggest problem I see is poor curriuclums and elementary school teachers that don't like math.

We are not only losing potential mathematicians, we are losing potential thinkers.

Barry Garelick said...

I think this has been brought up before but it bears repeating. Reserach mathematics is a difficult field in which to make it; intense competition and so forth. The tragedy of the bad educational practices we are speaking of goes beyond losing potential mathematicians. Mathematics is key for anyone who wishes to go on to the physical sciences, statistics, and engineering. So we are losing many potential scientists, statisticians and engineers.

Agree absolutely about potential thinkers. Jim Milgram, the mathematician from Stanford, on this subject writes:

"The universe is a far more beautiful and elegant place than any of us can imagine. We must be ready and able to both construct and use mathematics to help explain ever more subtle aspects of it, and the phrase `I will never use it' should be deleted from our students' vocabularies."

VickyS said...

So we are [also] losing many potential scientists, statisticians and engineers.

Absolutely. In fact I had to cut my post short while writing it and was planning to add that! All science & engineering careers are will suffer. And so now we have these STEM iniatives--laughable! Has anyone in education put two and two together and figured out that the urgent need for STEM iniatives might be related to the dismal NCTM curricula in the elementary and middle schools??

Not to mention how mistargeted these STEM initiatives are, in the first place, being focused primarily on generating interest rather than knowledge.

Another thing that really bothers me is the implicit tradeoff that underlies this: that it is okay to ignore the high aptitude kids in order to serve the student who struggles with math. This seems wrong-headed to me for a number of reasons, such as:

--Teaching the high ability kids to their potential will result in societal benefits that we can *all* enjoy (all those scientist, engineers, etc. do good things for the world).

--The current focus isn't working for the struggling kids anyway. We can see evidence of it everywhere. Ask the employers. Or go to a high school basketball game and see if the kid at the table can make change. Or look at how much remediation is needed at the college level. Reform math has been in place long enough to say that what we are seeing now, at the end of the pipeline, does in fact represent the results of these programs.

--There absolutely doesn't have to be a tradeoff in the first place. Sequential, content-rich math curricula used "back in the day" produced generations of adults who could balance their bank accounts, evaluate the terms of a mortgage(!), understand a credit card agreement, etc. It also produced large numbers graduates who were able to enter mathematically based careers (the baby boom generation, for example). The kids who stopped with consumer math, I'd wager, graduated with a higher level of knowledge than most of today's kids. Seems to me that everyone, at all levels, achieved more.

concernedCTparent said...

Barry, that quote from Jim Milgram is absolutely beautiful. I've placed it in a prominent place as I've found it highly inspiring. I plan on sharing it with as many people as I can and I thank you for posting it.

Barry Garelick said...

Glad you can use it. I actually read it in my Literacy class in ed school. Our first class we had to do a "my bag"; pick five items that relate to ourselves and talk about them. Yes, we had to do this. This is ed school after all. The point of it was to show how to connect with your students. Among my five items was the quote from Jim Milgram. I'm the only math person in my class. The quote was met with some thoughtful "hmm"s.

Catherine Johnson said...

oh my gosh ---- that is exquisite.

CassyT said...

Raise your hand if you would love to be a fly on the wall in Barry's ed classes.

The students used to ask me to not ask so many questions when I took my Ed. Psych course so they could get out of there early each night. I bet Barry getting plenty of that with the "hmms".

Barry Garelick said...

No, I don't keep the class late with questions. I don't ask that many. Last year, though in my Math Teaching Methods class, I was the odd duck. Everyone else seemed to be able to keep their mouth shut, but at least once per class, I just couldn't take it, and would challenge the teacher on something she said. I limited myself to one such question per class because she was my advisor, after all. I didn't have too many friends in that class. There were times even I wanted me to shut up.

Laura said...


Sorry to ask an off-topic question, but I was wondering if you know anything about the Johns Hopkins "best evidence encyclopedia" (which apparently shows support for cooperative learning in math, specifically EM, I think?)--an online friend is asking about it, and I have no idea how to respond in a way that would be helpful.

Barry Garelick said...

I would hope Johns Hopkins does NOT have such a document, but I'll check with Steve Wilson, a mathematician at JHU.

Laura said...


I haven't read through it at all, myself, but here's the link:


Catherine Johnson said...

Isn't Robert Slavin at Johns Hopkins?

I think he's the person most closely associated with research showing cooperative learning is good.

(palisadesk will know)

Laura said...

yup, Slavin even wrote the report.

I've looked over it briefly now, and, two things I noticed, right off the bat:

1) Connecting Math Concepts (which is part of DI, I think) was among the "top rated" programs listed, while EM was described as having "limited evidence." What I think my friend noticed was that Saxon Math was considered to have even less evidence than EM, which surprised her, based on what she's heard about EM.

2) A couple of the programs considered to have "strong evidence of effectiveness" use something called "structured cooperative learning," and I'm wondering what that means.

Catherine Johnson said...

structured cooperative learning is gonna be a Slavin thing

(Has anyone posted the new Saxon Math study yet???)

Yet another thing to get to....

Barry Garelick said...

Just looked it over. The limited evidence for EM was based on WWC's evaluation; he quotes the same studies. Saxon did worse from WWC. But the evaluation from WWC is no ringing endorsement of EM given that the one study that showed potential positive effects was by Noyce who wasn't exactly what you'd call independent.

lefty said...

We are losing a generation or two of potential mathematicians. They will be doing other things.
To add to Vicky's concerns, there's also the problem of "grade reversal" (which I've blogged about at in which certain types of math buffs get lower grades than their less capable peers. Cities like Philadelphia, where all half-way decent public high schools are selective, admitting students largely based on grades, are doing a particularly effective job creating this lost generation of would-be mathematicians (and scientists, and engineers...)

Laura said...

But the evaluation from WWC is no ringing endorsement of EM

Yeah, they actually even say "NSF-funded curricula such as Everyday Mathematics,
Investigations, and Math Trailblazers might have been expected to at least show significant
evidence of effectiveness for outcomes such as problem-solving or concepts and applications,
but the quasi-experimental studies that qualified for this review find little evidence of strong
effects even in these areas"

(Has anyone posted the new Saxon Math study yet???)

this one?

Barry Garelick said...

Just checked with Steve Wilson about the Slavin report.It's as we suspected: just repackaged WWC stuff.

Laura said...

Just checked with Steve Wilson about the Slavin report.It's as we suspected: just repackaged WWC stuff

Thanks so much for checking. I know there are critiques of WWC out there, so I guess I'll look into those when I get a chance.