kitchen table math, the sequel: the empire strikes back

Sunday, May 31, 2009

the empire strikes back

Andy Isaacs on The Case for Everyday Mathematics
"Everyday Mathematics is the most researched and trusted elementary math curriculum in the United States. It is the program of choice for nearly four million students nationwide."

"The highly efficient paper-and-pencil algorithms that have been traditional in the U.S. may no longer be the best algorithms for children in today’s technologically demanding world. Today’s elementary school children will be in the workforce well into the second half of the 21st century and the school mathematics curriculum should reflect the technological age in which they will live, work, and compete."

"Research shows that students learn best when new topics are presented at a brisk pace, with multiple exposures over time, and with frequent opportunities for review and practice. The sequence of instruction in the Everyday Mathematics curriculum has been carefully mapped out to optimize these conditions for learning and retaining knowledge. Test results show that this approach works."


I'm particularly keen on the 21st century argument. Apparently, in the 21st century people are going to do things a lot slower.


SteveH said...

I'm glad you saw this. It's hard to believe that Everyday Math is still officially pushing these ideas. I don't think anyone chimed in to support his position.

"The highly efficient paper-and-pencil algorithms that have been traditional in the U.S. may no longer be the best algorithms for children in today’s technologically demanding world."

How many ways can we pick this apart to show that it's just not true? I came across some comments I made (and Barry too) on D-Ed Reckoning back in 2006. The only change I've seen is that fewer people are jumping in to defend EM.

This 21st century stuff is just crap. This is what Mr. Isaacs says in an EM classic: "Algorithms in Everyday Mathematics"

"Reducing the emphasis on complicated paper-and-pencil computations does not mean that paper-and-pencil arithmetic should be eliminated from the school curriculum. Paper-and-pencil skills are practical in certain situations, are not necessarily hard to acquire, and are widely expected as an outcome of elementary education. If taught properly, with understanding but without demands for “mastery” by all students by some fixed time, paper-and-pencil algorithms can reinforce students’ understanding of our number system and of the operations themselves. Exploring algorithms can also build estimation and mental arithmetic skills and help students see mathematics as a meaningful and creative subject."

This screams low expectations. How can less be more? When you have really, really low expectations. They just don't believe in mastery, even for partial products or the Lattice Method. OK, by sixth grade, kids see math as meaningful and creative, but they don't have the skills to get on the algebra in 8th grade track. Game over.

Most modern reform math curricula talk the "balance" talk, but EM can't ensure it for even their own focus algorithms. It's designed around the idea that there is no "fixed time" for mastery. Then they throw in a bunch of Math Boxes in 6th grade and hope that takes care of the problem.

Everyday Math is fundamentally flawed because it's designed around the idea that mastery is either not important or that mastery will happen naturally. There is absolutely no way for teachers to systematically diagnose and fix all of the mastery issues that they ignore for so long.

SteveH said...

"It is the program of choice for nearly four million students nationwide."

As I said on the other site, the students or their parents didn't choose it. Educators choose it and then hold Math Nights to tell parents (who may know exactly what it takes to get a degree in math, science, or engineering) why less is more.

There was also this...

"A how-to section on holding school events such as the Back-to-School Night, Open Houses, a Family Math Night, and Portfolio Day. Each event is designed to welcome parents into the math education process and provide the background knowledge for them to do so successfully."

The assumption is that it's a problem with the parents. When kids get to 6th grade and they can't seem to self-fix all of their gaps using Math Boxes, then the assumption is that it's their problem.

Also, if your kids have any issues with understanding or mastering skills, they don't tell you to go to the teacher. They give you web sites to use to fix the problem yourself.

SteveH said...

"...has been carefully mapped out to optimize these conditions for learning and retaining knowledge."

I want to see their optimization studies.

SteveH said...

I haven't been to EM's web site in a while, so I decided to take a look. I think my head will explode.

I read their information on differentiation. One "colleague" stated that she has 4 centers going on each day. She works with the kids who need the most help and the rest play games.

"We have ready-made games in baggies for centers. After a while, you easily know how to differentiate the games (for example by using more digits in a game, or more cards)."

Boom! There goes my head.

concernedCTparent said...

I clearly recall a parent orientation for the grade 5/6 school where a teacher stood up and asked parents to please work on math facts with their children over the summer because the students were coming into 5th grade not knowing them securely. Of course, these are Everyday Math kids; what did they expect? So, the principal jumps in immediately and cuts off this teacher by saying that they don't need to study their math facts they just need to be playing more games. How she said this with a straight face and a clear conscience, I'll never know.

SteveH said...

From the pacing and planning section:

"How can I complete the majority of the lessons in the program during a school year?"

[Ed. a majority is the goal, not all?]

"Complete an average of 4 lessons per week."

"Just keep going — don't expect mastery from all students on the same content at the same time!"

"Find a parent volunteer, share the load with a team, anything that will help spread out the preparation of games and activities. Some games take an hour to prepare and we use it once!"

"In sixth grade we strive for teaching 4 lessons per week. This puts us on pace to finish both journals by the end of the year. This also gives us a buffer day each week. We use this day to review concepts, do Math Boxes, play games, and use some of the Enrichment material."

[Ed. rush, rush, rush, and little time left for Math Boxes. There is no time for individual assessment and help to ensure mastery.]

"Just keep telling yourself that the program spirals, and students do not have to master material before moving on."

"You have to be willing to move on!"

"How can I manage the spiral structure of the program to support student learning?"

"Trust the spiral. Do not skip over lessons or teach out of order. Try your hardest to do all lessons with fidelity."

"Keep going even when some of the students don't have mastery of the objective. Because of the structure of the program, it is okay to move on. Unlike in a traditional program, if students did not "get it" today, there will be other, later opportunities when they have more experiences, or embedded in a different context that will provide them with access to developing the skills or concept."

"Trust the spiral."

Then blame the students.

My head would explode again but it's already gone.

SteveH said...

More explanations from the EM web site.

"What can I do for parents to support them working with their children on homework?"

"Make sure parents know about the Everyday Mathematics webpage for homework help for their grade level."

"Copy sections of the lesson instructions with explicit directions and steps for how to do problems and send these home with homework."

[Ed. Teachers get to "trust the spiral", but parents have to make sure learning gets done.]

"Make up a packet for families with tools like a number grid, fact triangles, paper dominoes."

[Ed. That's a good one. Just try sending something like that home and see what response you get.]

"Include a worked example with the homework so family members can figure out what to do if their child is confused."

[Ed. They EXPECT parents to do this work. This is a little bit more than turning off the TV and providing a quiet work area.]

"What can we do at our school to support students who do not have someone to help with homework?"

"I have about 25 minutes in the morning when a student who does not have help at home can sit with me to do the homework."

[Ed. So kids who have no support at home are supposed to get to school 25 minutes early?]

"Allow time for them to complete it in class during recess, activities, or early morning."

[Ed. In class, so they get further behind? On their own, so they can try to figure it out without help? Tell them to skip recess?]

I can't go on.

If teachers can "trust the spiral", then why not the kids and parents? They are lying to us. Apparently there are times when we can't trust the spiral and we have to work with the kids at home. I want a list of those key times and skills, and I want an explanation why schools can't or won't ensure that learning. I also want to see the results of each assessment and how many kids fail to master those key skills.

ChemProf said...

The playing games thing in particular gets to me -- games are great for reinforcement of mastered or near-mastered skills, but if you don't have mastery already, they are a heck of a way to reinforce error!

My sister and I got good at mental addition through games (mostly a three card game called Blitz or Three Aces, where your score is the sum of the three cards of a single suit, face cards count 10, aces count 11). We played it a lot with our parents because the three cards were manageable for small hands. For the strategy of the game, you had to know what was in your hand, so do the math without asking Mom and Dad (who were your competitors after all!) But, if I'd had a fact wrong in my head, and was playing with other kids, it wouldn't necessarily give me the fast correction I would need.

Games are great, but they don't replace drill or mastery!