kitchen table math, the sequel: Everyday Math Frustration

## Monday, September 14, 2009

### Everyday Math Frustration

My kids started Everyday Math this year:

My 4th graders Everyday Math homework worksheet:

Find examples of numbers--all kinds of numbers. Look in newspapers and magazines. Look in books. Look on food packages. Ask people for examples.
Write your numbers below. If an adult says you may, cut out the numbers and tape them onto the back of this page.
Be sure to write what your numbers means.
I am sure glad they didn't have her waste time doing multiplication or something.

p.s. thank you for letting me vent.

Barry Garelick said...

Fun with the edu-culture, exercise 1:

Just for fun, why don't you show the teachers at your daughter's school what kind of problems are in Singapore's 4th grade math book. Before you go write on a slip of paper "It's because of the culture" and put it in your shirt pocket. After the teacher looks at the problems and says "It's because of the culture" whip out your slip of paper and tell her the psychic that you see gave you this when you told her about your upcoming visit to the teachers.

SteveH said...

Please give us more. I've passed the EM stage with my son, but we need to keep coming back to this silliness, especially with exact (home and class) work examples. People need to keep seeing what they try to pass off as mathematical understanding.

There are always new parents coming to KTM. We need to bring them up to speed. The Math Wars is so much more than just which algorithm to use and drill and kill. Parents can't wait because by 7th or 8th grade it will be too late. If your school tells you to "trust the spiral", watch out!

SteveH said...

"...and tell her the psychic that you see gave you this ..."

Hahahahahahahaha!

Jo Anne C said...

I'm so sorry your kids will have to suffer through the EM instruction.

When you or your wife decide you just can't take it anymore, there are several public school options in Alaska using the K-12 online curriculum.

We're on our 2nd year of home schooling with K-12 and I am loving the content rich curriculum. The best part is the freedom you get. As long as we stay in K-12 we'll never have to do another poster for a book report again!

KathyIggy said...

My 4th grader is also in EM (my second time through it) and, yes, we were told last night at open house "don't worry because it always spirals back around." Sigh. We are doing Kumon workbooks in the evening so she actually learns to multiply. The only worksheets we have seen have been about finding examples of line segments around the house and "constructing" line segments with rubber bands on a geoboard. Even she complained that this "looked like a Kindergarten worksheet for babies."

TerriW said...

*Fourth* grade? As in, what, 9-10 year olds?

That sounds like something I'd do with my 3 year old boy. My five year old has moved beyond that stage, but she'd be a good sport and pitch in to help her brother.

Hey, maybe we can do that today, and I can tell them that they're so Super Smart that they're doing Fourth grade work!

Anonymous said...

There almost needs to be some kind of EM Survivor's Guide for Parents. Somebody could make a lot of money.

Speaking of surviving, my son cracked open his honors Engish writing text and nearly fell out of his seat. Everything that I had been supplementing with for years was right there, and the poor kids in his class were expected to at least have been exposed to it.

He told me that some of the kids in the class looked positively ill when they saw what was going to be expected of them.

I guess KTM is already kind of a Survivor's Guide for parents. I would have never known what was coming if it weren't for all of the many posts and comments.

SusanS

SteveH said...

"EM Survivor's Guide for Parents"

Rule Number 1: Never trust the spiral. Make sure your kids know how to do every problem in every homework the first time.

Rule Number 2: Don't assume that the spiral gets to all of the material. In fifth grade, my son's teacher didn't get to 35% of the material, but declared victory over problem solving and critical thinking.

Note: If you are told to "trust the spiral" but your child is not on track to cover all of the material by the end of the year, then it's really OK to (loudly) practice your critical thinking with the school.

Rule Number 3: Most teachers have some flexibility over what material to cover and what material to skip, so if your child is just looking for numbers in 4th grade, then be very, very afraid. The teacher does not have a clue.

Rule Number 4: If the school says that it supplements Everyday Math, call them on it. Ask to see exactly what is taken out and what is put in. EM is so large that it can't be supplemented. They need to call it replacement.

Rule Number 5: Ask the school to see the exact rules and tests used to place kids into the algebra in 8th grade track. If the school offers something like CMP rather than a real algebra course in 8th grade, be very, very afraid. Our middle school used to use CMP only, so kids who wanted to take geometry in 9th grade were in big trouble.

Anonymous said...

SusanS,

My daughter is struggling with writing. Could you please elaborate about "everything that I had been supplementing with for years"? Knowing what specific curriculums or texts that you have used with your son would be enormously helpful.

Thanks!
A.

Anonymous said...

SteveH,

What is CMP?

A.

Anonymous said...

My daughter is 6 and attending Montessori School. The math is all hands-on so Kumon supplements the paper practice and she is ready to begin Singapore Math 2A and 2B. The sequence is slightly different with Kumon.

She also does Kumon reading and is doing SRA at Montessori. How do I get from 1st grade to high school? I think we should continue to supplement as we NEED the structure of getting to school.

Please list the supplements you are using besides math. (I've taught math, so I feel like I can do that with singapore, etc.)

history, science, etc.

Or did you make up your own?

Thanks also!
Sherri

Anonymous said...

Our district uses Terc Investigations(Elem.), CMP(Middle), and Intergrated Math(High). At a meeting with the Elem. principal a parent asked about the math program. She has a relative who graduated at the top of his class and can't get into a college math class because of the placement test. He had never seen problems like those on the test. It was a shock to everyone in his family because he had excelled throughout his years in school.
I don't think this family was alone in their situation and shock.
Unfortunately, many equate good grades with learning and don't look at the quality of what is being taught.

Anonymous said...

Be sure to write what your numbers means.

Huh?
"I see six jelly beans on the table. That means..." What?

SteveH said...

CMP = Connected Mathematics Project

It's not a proper pre-algebra and algebra sequence. It doesn not prepare kids properly to take geometry in 9th grade.

Anonymous said...

oh I know what six means!
The planet `Venus` rules number Six.

Venus is the planet governing love, harmony, luxuries, arts and beauty. Hence inclinations towards all these factors are present in the people or entities related to this number.

Six enhances the inherent characteristics of Libra and Taurus.

OK so your kids won't be prepared for calculus but at least they'll be able to understand the horoscopes published in supermarket tabloids!

ari-freedom

Anonymous said...

Hi A!

Years ago, I had noticed in my youngest son's grade school that a new "reform" curriculum was being implemented to align with the state tests (I'm in IL). Spelling was barely addressed and grammar was pretty much non existent.

I had already assumed that grammar would be taught no better than when I was in school, so I just started teaching it to my boys a few times a week. It really could be as little as a ten minute worksheet. I just wanted them to know the 8 parts of speech well, and to understand the parts of a sentence before walking into middle school.

The book I used and modified for grade schoolers was Steps to Good Grammar by Genevieve Walberg
Schaefer. But, there are a lot of good homeschool texts that also cover all of these bases.

If I had it to do all over again, I would have stuck closely to the Grammar and Writing series by Mary Hake. It's comprehensive and very coherent. It's a bit more expensive, but I would have invested in it and stuck to it.

For spelling, I took Catherine's advice and used the Megawords series. It teaches all the little syllabic rules your school may or may not be teaching. The series starts in 4th grade, but you can still start it late and it will cover certain bases that often aren't covered in school.

I'm not sure of your child's age, but part of my son's problem was the sheer lack of practice. Most of the early grade school practice was journaling, which he hated, so he wrote as little as possible. When he was in the 4th grade, they let him type his essays.

A good book for late grade school/early middle school struggling writers is The Paragraph Book. It's more for remedial writing, but we need a low pressure approach at the time.

Around 7th grade, I started having him handwrite summaries and reports just to get the pencil comfortable in his hand. He could barely get a couple of sentences out without complaining that his hand hurt.

I still didn't notice how serious this all was until I saw some of his writings and journal entries in the 8th grade. The mistakes were numerous and uncorrected. He seemed to have no idea how to structure a paper.

I finally realized that no one was going to teach him how to outline, paraphrase, or summarize, so I looked around for more homeschooling aids. One book is Analyze, Organize, Write by Arthur Whimbley. Another good one is Summerizing, Paraphrasing, and Retelling by Emily Kissner.

I also just had him outline or summarize articles in magazines or textbooks once or twice a week.

Catherine is a big fan of sentence combining. The series I used right up until this summer was by the author Kilgallon. The book has three levels and I've used them all at different times.

I suppose we need a Writing Survivor Guide for Parents, too.

The thing about the writing problems that were different from math issues was how they quietly snuck up on us. I just didn't realize how difficult it was to write anything when you don't know the basic building blocks. You need a procedural fluency with writing as much as you need one for math. Half of my son's brain was taken up with the mechanics of writing to the point where he couldn't get his thoughts out. Struggling with spelling and proper syntax just slows everything to a crawl, so he absolutely hated it.

Anyway, I hope this helps a little.
SusanS

Redkudu said...

As part of my guerrilla teaching I sneak in the Whimby book when possible.

My 10th graders have just finished a unit on deconstructing 3 classification essays we read into outline form, and they are outlining and about to write their own essay. Other classes have just finished their "all about me" poems, illustrations, and social contracts. It's the 4th week of school.

What I've found interesting over the years is that as soon as I start direct, explicit writing instruction (a modified version of "Writing To The Point" [Kerrigan] which I call ABC - X123) most of my students become much more relaxed and confident in their writing - because all of a sudden they can succeed at it. (I work with a very at-risk population.)

I keep saying to other teachers that structure isn't the enemy of creativity, but it's like pounding my head against a brick wall. I know that students like and respond to structure in the classroom (policies, procedures, expectations), and I know they like to understand the structure of writing - but no one seems to want to let them in on the secret.

I think there are more teachers than we know that either want to use better strategies or who guerrilla teach like I do. I think many of them, unfortunately, just don't know the strategies and keep fishing around to find them, many of them don't know how to subvert the system well enough to defend themselves when they get caught - so they avoid it and live in frustration.

And while I welcome the support of parents who advocate for real, solid approaches that promote mastery, the truth is I've also been burned by parents who saw what other classes were doing and thought that was better for their children (or at least more "fun"). So it's a tightrope, or maybe a trade-off. Sometimes you give a little lip-service to constructivism, whole language, etc. in order to deflect scrutiny from what you're actually doing. Haul out the test scores later if anyone starts poking their nose in.

Just the other day the math facilitator (like a department head) at our school struck up a conversation with me about her daughter. The elementary school reading teacher told her that they "never EVER teach phonics because it's just wrong." Her child, who already reads very well, comes home with lists of sight words every night. I got the impression she was fishing for info - what was my opinion as the high school reading teacher? I told her that since the majority of our students are born and raised in this town, and educated completely here, she'd just helped me solve the mystery of why few-to-none of my English students could be considered on-level, and why my high school reading classes end up having to start at about a 3rd grade level every year.

She's brand-new to our school this year. She proceeded to share with me how appalled she is that students are using calculators for addition and subtraction. She'd never heard of Singapore or Saxon - but she has now. She seemed very interested. :)

Anonymous said...

Sherri and A.

I agree with the recommendations of SusanS and have a few others. First, I highly recommend reading The Well Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer. It gives a good framework for K-12 with lots of curriculum suggestions. My favorites:

Hake Grammar, but that isn't really appropriate until 4th or 5th grade.

Institute for Excellence in Writing is my hands down favorite for a complete writing curriculum.

Writing with Ease (Bauer) for younger kids.

Story of the World (Bauer) volumes 1-4 for elementary school history. Definitely get the Activity Guides. I learned more history doing this with my kids than I did all the way through college.

K.

VickyS said...

She has a relative who graduated at the top of his class and can't get into a college math class because of the placement test.

That's why, with all due respect to the President, students working harder is not the answer.

VickyS said...

Sometimes I think curricula like Everyday Math, Writer's workshop etc. are intentionally confusing and clunky so that all kids have to put in the same amount of time and the same amount of effort to reach the same level of success (as peculiarly defined, of course, by the curricula themselves). The goal is equality at all levels: equal time, equal effort, equal outcome.

The constant focus on effort, especially, sidelines what I consider to be equally important academic goals such as efficiency, progress and achievement.

Katharine Beals said...

I think VickyS is exactly right about the underlying goal being equal effort and outcome. Equal outcome, in turn, translates into Catherine's "grade compression."

But the "equal effort" goal has brightest math students often getting lower grades than their classmates. Because they do the math in their heads, don't explain & illustrate their answers, and find it especially difficult to summon up any enthusiasm for assignments like the one posted here, they aren't perceived as expending as much effort as others. Today's grades, meanwhile, are largely determined by perceived effort.

Allison said...

See, we CAN erase the achievement gap! Achievement Compression! Voila! Now if we can just adjust the standardized tests to reflect how we wish to grade on effort, and for collages and videos, then the problem will be defined away!

PhysicistDave said...

VickyS wrote:
>Sometimes I think curricula like Everyday Math, Writer's workshop etc. are intentionally confusing and clunky so that all kids have to put in the same amount of time and the same amount of effort to reach the same level of success (as peculiarly defined, of course, by the curricula themselves). The goal is equality at all levels: equal time, equal effort, equal outcome.

Vicky, have you ever seen Kliebard’s classic book “The Struggle for the American Curriculum: 1893 –1958”?

This is a serious academic monograph, used in some ed schools I hear, about the development of American educational thinking in the first half of the twentieth century.

The book is pretty readable, even entertaining in parts, and the author actually seems somewhat sympathetic to the “progressive” turn in American education.

Precisely because the book is not a political rant but a serious historical study, it is utterly devastating: at one point, for example, Kliebard mentions that a few decades into the twentieth century there was *no one* among the leadership of the US educational community who emphasized academic content. (He points out that there were of course people outside the education establishment who were not too pleased about this.)

It is not that the educational establishment was an ideological monolith: there were competing groups with competing goals -- social efficiency advocates, political utopians, child-development theorists, etc.

But there was no one whose goal was to teach kids the best, most-up-to-date, most advanced knowledge the human race possessed about the natural world, about human history, etc.

E. D. Hirsch has of course written a number of essays, such as his famous “Romacing the Child,” at a more popular level tracing all this back into the nineteenth century and to Rousseau.

The rot goes back much further than is often realized.

They really do not have one single goal – that is part of what makes it so difficult to challenge them. The “social adjustment” and “social efficiency” types really do have different goals from those who see the schools as training grounds for social revolution.

The only thing they have in common is a rejection (or ignorance) of the old Aristotelian ideal that a good human life consists of developing your potential as a rational being to the fullest. I suspect that most of our contemporaries, and almost everyone in the ed schools, would find that ideal to be as alien as the mores of some exotic African tribe.

Dave

VickyS said...

Now if we can just adjust the standardized tests to reflect how we wish to grade on effort, and for collages and videos

This is exactly what portfolio assessments do. Minnesota used to have portfolio-type assessment as the state standard. Edubabble terms for portfolio assessment include "performance based assessment" and "show what you know" both of which sound like rigorous standards unless you know what they REALLY mean. Sad to say, I have heard there are some east coast states that are moving (back) to portfolio assessment.

VickyS said...

No, Dave, I did not even know about the Kliebard book and that might be something Catherine is interested in too if it is new to her. Thanks for telling us about it. I am somewhat familiar with the history of progressivism through reading Hirsch.

From what I have observed and read I think the various factions of the progressive movement in elementary and secondary education also share a common antipathy toward knowledge, especially disciplinary knowledge, which they seem to regard as inherently elitist. Which leads, I suppose, to the preference for "constructing" your own.

VickyS said...

Right, Katherine. If it takes a kid less effort to solve a math problem than his peers, it's somehow not "fair" so they have to layer a bunch of other junk onto it to slow him down. Think about it: they are intentionally dumping on the most promising math students, many of whom end up hating math. What a bizarre end result. And what a loss to society!

Allison said...

SusanS, and anyone else who is familiar with the Hake series,

Do you suggest both the student workbook and the teacher packet?Do you know what the difference is between the "Grammar Grade Kits" and the "grammar and writing" books?

How many grades of material are there? Amazon sells grades 5-8--is that complete?

VickyS said...

More about effort... Getting the same job done with less effort pretty much defines efficiency, does it not? And is this not what a free market economy is based on? So here we are, trying to prepare these kids for the "21st century workforce" and with it, intense global competition, and we are rewarding them for increased effort without a concommitant increase in the quality of the output?

PhysicistDave said...

VickyS wrote:
>From what I have observed and read I think the various factions of the progressive movement in elementary and secondary education also share a common antipathy toward knowledge, especially disciplinary knowledge, which they seem to regard as inherently elitist. Which leads, I suppose, to the preference for "constructing" your own.

Yeah. They actually have invented various complicated justifications for all of it, though, which is part of what makes it appealing to people who are literate but not very analytical.

For example, in a sense, “constructivism” is correct. You do not really understand how to do long multiplication until you have, in a sense, reconstructed the algorithm in your own brain. Until you internalize knowledge and integrate it with the rest of your knowledge, it is not really your knowledge. It really is not enough to just parrot back some facts that have been fed to you. Similarly, you don’t really know French until you can actually construct thoughts of your own in French.

However… good traditional teachers (and students) already knew that and were already doing that before the progressive movement in education.

The problem with “constructivism” is the belief that you prevent a kid from constructing his own knowledge if you show him how the standard algorithms work, if you teach him facts about history, etc. On the contrary, it is offering him that basic information that enables him to really construct his own knowledge.

There is a serious theory that progressivism is actually motivated by a “Brave New World” agenda in which the educational elite will rule the roost and the rest of the populace will be docile sheep who have been taught not to think.

Could be.

Personally, I incline to the view that, at least nowadays, the progressivsits are simply stupid and know not what they do.

Dave

Barry Garelick said...

Dave,

Exactly right. Information gets into long term memory by our "constructing" such knowledge. But such construction can occur via direct instruction -- not only by "discovery". "Aha" experiences are not limited only to discovery.

SteveH said...

"I incline to the view that, at least nowadays, the progressivsits are simply stupid and know not what they do."

I've never been quite able to figure out this ratio. Some know exactly what they are doing. You might say that they are wrong, but they aren't necessarily stupid. Then, there are those who seem (ironically) to have learned the ed school mantra by rote. I see these people all of the time. I would call it ignorance of what it takes to achieve mastery of a complex subject area. Maybe some do have an idea, but they think it has to be done in some sort of natural way. While high SES parents push and tutor, the academic gap widens. Perhaps I would use the word stupid in this lack of analysis.

They talk about critical thinking, but I don't see much of it. They won't even admit that there are other effective approaches. They (cynically) talk of best practices and authentic learning. They KNOW that others have a different opinion, but this doesn't stop them from forcing their views on others. This is not just a matter of ignorance, it's a matter of turf. If you take away their ed school learning, they have nothing. At best, they will resort to the "balance" argument, as long as they control the balance. But what does balance of whole language and phonics mean? In our school, it means phonics as a last resort.

Choice is a better approach. Large school districts could easily offer both Everyday Math and Singapore Math. In a few years, they would have a lot of data. They won't like what it tells them. That brings to mind what Feynman said about how scientists have to be rigorously honest with themselves. And, of course, we are once again back to a discussion of Cargo Cult Science, but it's much more than simple ignorance.

"Hello. I'm Chevy Chase, and you're not." That's what schools tell parents.

Barry Garelick said...

To Steve's comment, I also get confused, but in general I shy away from conspiracy theories. Working for the govt, I can say that the bureaucracy is just too inefficient to carry out any conspiracy. I think the same is true in education. I think it's a matter of being outwitted by stupidity as a friend of mine likes to say.

Having been a student at ed school over the past few years, I've seen the ed school mentality up close and personal. It's a classic case of mass denial or mass hysteria to use the Freudian terminology. I've watched too many Annenberg videos of classrooms that use the discovery techniques. I even posted a video on KTM(not an Annenberg video) of a boy struggling with a proportion problem--struggling because he wasn't given the instruction and information needed to solve the problem. People see what they want in such videos, and the ed school mentality oohs and aahs at the "evidence" that the students are "really learning" at a "deep" level. People like us see a bunch of confused kids, a bunch of information shoved in front of them for them to sort through and make sense of (PaulB can comment more on this, and has, through his experiences with CMP).

When confronted with arguments or evidence to the contrary, the ed school set deflects and finds excuses. I overheard one professor say to a student that although students may not do well on short-term assessments when using "discovery" and "inquiry based" approaches, "research shows" that over the long term they retain more than students taught with direct instruction.

As for grade compression, I hear both arguments. I get emails from parents sometimes stating that their kids are getting A's in their math classes, but get low marks on state tests. Or low scores on the SAT.

The standard excuse when confronted with an argument against the current mode of math education(as I once did to my advisor in class) is "But math education has been failing kids for years." Such a statement is incredible. They expect people to say, "Yep you have a point there, can't disagree with you there, so you must be right." Sorry, but I do disagree. What era are they talking about first of all? If in the last 20 years, they are correct. Since the 1989 NCTM standards came into play, many students have been failed. Is that what they mean? If confronted with that evidence they will quickly duck and say "Well some courses/teachers don't follow the NCTM recommendations" blah blah blah. BARF.

If I point out test score data from the 40's through 60's that proves them otherwise (and I have such data) the standard response is "You can't trust tests".

They have an answer for everything. And unfortunately, an unsuspecting public, and a math phobic public, buys into it. Those who don't are labeled as "those who would have done well in any case" and conveniently dismissed.

Anonymous said...

Allison,

I'm not familiar with the grade kits, but I did get the teacher's edition. I don't know if they've changed it, but the teacher's edition mirrors the regular text, so it's easy to follow along. I just feel more comfortable with the answers right there so I don't have to think. There's also some diagramming, so I definitely needed to see the answers for that.

I also thought the essay and writing sections were quite good, but I just couldn't find the time.

I think ConcernedCTParent uses it. It's very similar to how Saxon sets its chapters up. Very sequential with immediate practice, and then a distributive practice section. Review is just built in to each chapter.

Redkuku,

I did the same thing with the Writing to the Point book. I just modified it a little and had him practice the ABC-X123, and he responded like your kids. He relaxed.

I was definitely late with writing because I didn't spot the extent of the problem until middle school, but I did have a homeschooler friend loan me The Well Trained Mind years ago. That book is always a great place to start.

SusanS

Anonymous said...

But the "equal effort" goal has brightest math students often getting lower grades than their classmates. Because they do the math in their heads, don't explain & illustrate their answers, and find it especially difficult to summon up any enthusiasm for assignments like the one posted here, they aren't perceived as expending as much effort as others. Today's grades, meanwhile, are largely determined by perceived effort"

This happened to my son whenever he was stuck in the room with his regular class. Since he was accelerated in math, he got to miss out on a lot of it, but whenever he was stuck in there, he was often graded down for the dumbest things.

He was also penalized on the state tests for knowing how to merge steps and simply solve problems mathematically.

Also, 4th and 5th grade state tests don't have a lot of algebra in them, so the accelerated kid needs to remember all of the baby stats they've added.

In the 4th and 5th grade, the gifted teacher had to teach the kids how to go back 2 years to answer the problems the "right" way. One problem needed multiplication to solve. All of the kids knew this and could do it in their head, but she had to spend the day teaching them how to draw a big diagram to "show" the testers. They had to pretend to be at a lower level or they'd be penalized.

SusanS

SteveH said...

You've seen it in action, but I still can't quite grasp it. Do they (especially the professors) really not know what it takes to achieve mastery of a complex subject? Is it because pedagogy is their turf and content and skills are not important enough? I suppose it's no fun to go to meetings and talk about knowledge retention and ensuring mastery of basic skills. (Hard work.) They want something that ties their work to brain research, not basic compentency. They want to do the fun stuff in class and then send notes home to parents telling them to practice math facts with their kids.

It's almost as if they are in their own world from cradle to grave. They go through K-12, go to ed school (isolated from the rest of the college departments), and then go teach K-12 or end up teaching the teachers. This is perhaps why many of them see no difference between teachers and accountants, engineers, or software developers.

My sister-in-law has taught high school english for more than 30 years. Everything is about creative writing and finding one's "voice". She seems to have no idea of the writing needs I have for technical proposals.

Barry, you must hear questioning comments from at least some other students. Apparently, debate is stifled. Doesn't the irony drip from the ceilings sometimes? Do many professors see it all through a political filter?

Maybe it's not a consipracy, but I'll wager that you don't get tenure in education schools without passing a litmus test.

Barry Garelick said...

Barry, you must hear questioning comments from at least some other students. Apparently, debate is stifled. Doesn't the irony drip from the ceilings sometimes? Do many professors see it all through a political filter?

I do, but the debate is stifled generally. In the example I gave in which I and some others objected to something, the teacher told us that math has been failing kids. That's the standard response. I found generally that those who shared my views kept quiet and just got the class over with. Others tended to acquiesce to what the teacher was looking for. In the end, when teaching high school, there is so much content to cover, that there really isn't time for all the games they recommend you play. I recall one student complaining about that, and saying he wanted to try some of the more innovative things, but because of what he had to cover, and the state exams, he was forced to teach in the traditional manner. The teacher said it takes time to start doing innovative things.

It's at the lower grades, though, that things are really out of hand. And of course in high schools that use programs like Core Plus or IMP.

I agree with you about getting tenure in ed schools. I haven't compromised my views in ed school but I'm careful how I express myself. I've written some good papers, and have received good grades on them. What I have not received is anyone saying "Have you considered going for a PhD?" I have heard that said to other students who play the game, however.

lgm said...

So...does anyone's high school still include Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron"?

K9Sasha said...

...and the rest of the populace will be docile sheep who have been taught not to think.

All in the name of teaching critical thinking skills.

Doesn't the irony drip from the ceilings sometimes?

See above.

One of my first ed school perfessors, in a class on pedagogy, repeatedly exhorted the students to keep an open mind. At the same time his mind was hermetically sealed. I was in my early 20's at the time and even then was not gullible enough to not notice this issue. But, then again, my undergraduate training was in the sciences (biology) and I knew how to think and weigh evidence.

Anonymous said...

SusanS & K.,

Thanks for the writing curriculum suggestions. I'm off to research them now.

A.

SteveH said...

"It's at the lower grades, though, that things are really out of hand."

In high school, reality sets in and some students can track out of the silliness. I wish that reality would push down to the lower grades.

To some extent, it has in my son's middle school. Because of the needs of the AP calculus track and the need to offer a path to a second year language course, our middle school was finally (!) pushed to offer a real algebra course rather than just CMP. They were also pushed to align the language courses with the curriculum at the high school.

Now, if we could only find a way to push these requirements into earlier grades. These are top-level requirements, not low NCLB requirements. By seventh grade, our school finally feels it can (it is pressured to do so) separate kids into different class levels. But in the lower grades, it's all about full-inclusion and differentiated instruction. The kids might get real world problems, but the school doesn't. They get to stay in their pedagogical dream world.

KathyIggy said...

Last year our district just added a math placement test given in Dec. of 5th grade. If the child gets above an 85%, has exceeded standards on the state exam, and is in the top 10% on the SAT-10, they get to skip 6th grade EM and take Pre-Algebra in 6th, Algebra in 7th, and Honors Geometry in 8th. This would be followed by Algebra 2, Analysis, and Calc I and 2 in high school The test is given again in 6th grade, and those passing the test, exceeding state standards, and scoring in the top 25% on the SAT-10 take Pre-Algebra in 7th grade.
Others would take Pre-algebra in 8th grade. Our district has a good-sized Asian Indian population. These families are mostly "guest workers" in the IT departments at State Farm. I know a large number of these families have their kids doing Kumon and they are way ahead of the game in EM. I could not find anything with sample questions. As I recall, the announcement of this test gave the date and placement criteria but it would shock me if any practice questions were provided. My daughter will be in 5th grade next year so we will have to see.

KathyIggy said...

I told my daughter last year to "babble" on the answers to the extended response problems on the state tests and draw lots of elaborate tables and pictures whether she needed to or not. She saw the ridiculousness of it all in 3rd grade. Kind of early to explain about "playing the game" to get past these requirements. I see dislike for Math given all this stuff, along with writing issues. The personal journaling is endless. Last week she said "I've run out of things to write about. Don't they know I'm only 9 and haven't done very many things yet?" You can only get so much mileage out of favorite movies, favorite TV shows, my family, and recounting the trips to Disney World over and over again. My 8th grader still has to do this along with writing a "personal reflection" along with every writing assignment. Current events, a paper about Obama's school speech...everything has a personal reflection paragraph required.

SteveH said...

"... math placement test given in Dec. of 5th grade."

I assume that this is clearly explained to all parents. In our school, the test is given at the end of 6th grade (you don't get to skip 6th grade EM), with no notice to parents. The assumption is that the results reflect the child, not the curriculum. I've been trying to at least get a sample test and make sure that parents know what it's all about ahead of time. That won't fix EM, but at least parents will have something concrete to use to evaluate the progress of their kids.

My son came back to our public school in 6th grade and I managed to have him skip EM and move to a real Pre-Algebra course. Now he is in 8th grade and I'm teaching him geometry because all that the school offers is an online course. At least they didn't say no. Many think that what he is doing is extremely unusual. It's nice to know that other schools offer geometry in 8th grade as a regular course. I'll make sure I mention that as often as possible.

I like these tests because the school actually quantifies what it takes to get on the top math track. Some schools, however, base the placement on grades, teacher recommendations, and available seats.

PhysicistDave said...

Barry Garelick wrote to me:
>Exactly right. Information gets into long term memory by our "constructing" such knowledge. But such construction can occur via direct instruction -- not only by "discovery". "Aha" experiences are not limited only to discovery.

Yeah – I think the cognitive science work is pretty clear that creating memories is not simply mechanically “writing” something to the brain, but rather an active process on the part of the learner.

I think part of what allows the “constructivists” to pull off the con game is that they are able to maneuver many of their critics into a position of “Hey! I just want my kids to learn how to do long division right.”

“Just” learning how to do long division is *not* enough -- conceptual understanding really does matter, especially if you want to understand math at a level high enough to learn real science, the more challenging parts of engineering, etc.

But, as Liping Ma has emphasized, you do not attain a deep conceptual understanding by ignoring the standard algorithms. You don’t become a genius by ignoring the fundamental stuff; rather, a genius is a guy who grasps the fundamentals so thoroughly and so automatically that he can easily move beyond them to a higher level.

This of course is connected to the "10,000-hour-to-mastery" meme that does seem to be seeping into the popular culture (though not, I take it, the ed schools) – I just checked and got half a million Google hits on it: whether it is chess or plumbing, you become really good at something by truly knowing it inside-out.

Dave

KathyIggy said...

The very specific guidelines were just put into place last year, I think. In past years one could not skip 6th grade EM and to take Pre-Algebra in 7th you had to score in the top 25% on the SAT-10 or get a teacher recommendation. Before that, according to friends with older kids, they never let the parents know anything about getting into accelerated or Honors courses (Math, Science, and LA) and it was all top secret. A co-worker's child scored at the 99% on the Math SAT-10 but was not recommended for the accelerated track because of a personality conflict with his 6th grade teacher. He only got in after my co-worker specifically inquired; the principal looked up his scores and put him in the class.

ElizabethB said...

Dave-

That looks like an interesting book, thanks. Our library had his 2002 book, it's on hold for me now!

You may enjoy Geraldine E. Rodgers "History of Reading Instruction," you can get the e-version at author house for 8.95. It follows the decline of reading teaching through France, England, Germany, and the U.S., including a period of whole word instruction from 1826 - 1876 in the U.S.

I have a short summary here:

I also enjoyed reading Liping Ma. I learned elementary math easily, I hadn't realized how hard it was to teach elementary math well until I started to try to teach my daughter. (I had successfully tutored Algebra and Trig to summer students at my work, who knew that addition and subtraction could be so hard!)

Barry Garelick said...

So, speaking of constructivism, differentiated instruction, and other edu-trends, perhaps readers would be interested in Alfie Kohn's latest
over at EdWeek, which is offering free views of articles this week. Don't forget to read the comments from adulating fans of Alfie.

rocky said...

Kathylggy: would a student be allowed to write the journal of a fictional character, perhaps an alien kid pretending to be a normal student, or a spy living under cover?

I remember being very upset about having to tell others about my personal life and opinions, but I would have been happy to write about the events and opinions of a pirate kid who washed ashore and found himself in Disney World.

This would be a real test of teacher motivation. If is is really just to practice descriptive and persuasive writing, it should be fine, but I would be wary if the teacher disallows it. Perhaps the teacher is using peer pressure to instill important political values.

Hainish said...

I sometimes think that people like Alfie Kohn walk around wearing translucent plastic bubbles over their heads that selectively filter what information reaches their brains. If I were to tell them that I, as a student, would have benefited from more rigorous math, opportunities for acceleration, more drills, clearer direct instruction, grammar instead of creative writing, and overall a more structured and organized experience... I think that information would just hit the bubble with a splatter and drip off like broken eggs.

SteveH said...

I call it a big idea filter. He gets an idea (that happens to match his ideology - those are the only ones he gets) and then filters everything through it. There might be an interesting nugget worth exploring, but that might jeopardize the "Big Idea". The big idea determines the justification.

PhysicistDave said...

ElizabethB,

Curiously, I had more trouble with elementary math than with high-school and college math. My grade-school math grades were mediocre – I particularly remember being confused about division of fractions (although, being an obedient kid, I followed the algorithm I was taught and normally got the right answer).

I eventually worked out the logic behind division of fractions for myself, pretty much along the lines Dr. Ma explains, but it would have helped to have had her explanations when I was a young kid. In fact, even as an adult, I found that her explanation of the “cancellation law” really explained what was going on more simply than my own explanations, which were logically equivalent.

In criticizing the constructivist nonsense, I think it is important not to fall into the opposite error of mindless learning. As Ma emphasizes, kids can be taught to understand why the algorithms work.

Apropos phonics, my kids and I are learning Mandarin Chinese, which is of course written in pseudo-pictographic characters, not a phonetically-based alphabet. I’d estimate it takes three to five times as long to learn to read words in Chinese as in English, and, indeed, my understanding is that even a highly literate Chinese person *never* attains a vocabulary in his native language as large as the average educated Westerner has in our languages that use an alphabet.

That American teachers ever considered forcing children to learn to read English (i.e., “whole-word” instruction) as if it were written like Chinese would be hilarious were it not tragic.

Dave

Hainish said...

Dave,

I've read that these days, Chinese students are taught to read first using a phonetic Chinese alphabet (Pinyin, I think it's called, and traditionally used/developed by women). Then they transition to the characters. Apparently, this has made literacy much easier to achieve.

PhysicistDave said...

Barry,

I read over Alfie Kohn’s article, and it strikes me that he suffers from a false dichotomy.

He contrasts an approach that gives kids “opportunities to discover answers to their own questions” with an approach that subjects them to “mandates handed down from on high… where test scores drive the instruction and students are essentially bullied into doing whatever they’re told.”

He does not seem to consider the possibility that adults, working with a vastly larger knowledge base than children, could actually *explain* to children what the adults know and how we know it.

I frankly find it bizarre that so many people cannot envision this alternative. After all, in real life, we explan to kids that you need to brush your teeth *because* you will otherwise get cavities, you need to wash your hands *because* there are germs on your hands that can make you sick, etc.

The idea of giving rational explanations, as opposed to the false dichotomy of either issuing irrational commands or forcing the students to discover everything for themselves, is really not that complicated!

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Hainish,

I think you may be confusing pinyin with another writing system that women invented (I’ve heard of that, too – it’s a rather weird story).

The original versions of pinyin came from various Western scholars (e.g., Wade-Giles). The current pinyin system was created by the Chinese Communist government about fifty years ago.

If I understand correctly, Chinese kids do now start in pinyin, but they transition rapidly into character learning, and, indeed, learn characters at a very demanding pace (I’ve looked at data from the Hong Kong schools on this).

For Westerners learning Chinese, pinyin is pretty much a necessity. However, if you want to be literate in Chinese, you pretty much have to learn the characters – almost everything is written in characters, and the written style presupposes characters: there are lots of homonyms, which can be distinguished in writing by the different characters.

So, alas, we Westerners also have to learn characters.

Dave

ChemProf said...

rocky --

I don't know about KathyIggy's class, but back in the day, when we were required to keep a journal junior year in high school, we were not allowed to write fiction. Of course, that high school teacher was looking for gossip to share in the teacher's lounge...

I remember getting sent to the office when I retaliated by writing a long rant in French in that journal. Hated those assignments!

SteveH said...

"...forcing the students to discover everything for themselves..."

What they really want is child-centered group learning, not discovery. Discovery is just the pedagogical cover. If they really wanted discovery, they would try to ensure that it happens for all kids. Nope. They just go through the process.

They break kids into mixed-ability groups, give them a problem, and hope things happen. As long as they see "active learning" going on, they are happy. In the group, perhaps one child actually has the light bulb go on and then proceeds to directly teach it to the rest of the kids in the group. (They could have the wrong light bulb go on.) This is supposed to be better than having a trained teacher do the job?

If they really wanted to push each individual to achieve their own discovery, they would have them do the work at home or individually in class. Nope. It's not about discovery. It's about happy time group learning in class with the teacher as guide on the side.

The counter argument is that it's good to have students struggle before you finally directly teach them. Of course, this is no longer about discovery, but struggle. Are kids better primed for learning if they struggle? I remember struggling with math even after I was directly taught by my "tradititonal" teachers. Clueless struggle is better than primed struggle?

Sometimes I feel I can have a better discussion of the problem if I argue their side too.

Allison made the argument once that a good approach is to show how to do what they want to do, but do it properly. I've thought about this, but what it will show is not so much the difference of discovery, but the difference of rigor, hard work, and high expectations.

PhysicistDave said...

SteveH wrote to me:
>What they really want is child-centered group learning, not discovery. Discovery is just the pedagogical cover. If they really wanted discovery, they would try to ensure that it happens for all kids. Nope. They just go through the process.
>They break kids into mixed-ability groups, give them a problem, and hope things happen. As long as they see "active learning" going on, they are happy…
>If they really wanted to push each individual to achieve their own discovery, they would have them do the work at home or individually in class. Nope. It's not about discovery. It's about happy time group learning in class with the teacher as guide on the side.

I only learned as an adult (okay, I can be slow in understanding human psychology!) that some people have a real aversion, perhaps an actual fear, to engaging in solitary activities separated from other people. The epiphany came in a lunchtime conversation when a coworker, a fairly bright guy, made clear that he could not envision staying at home reading on a Saturday night – indeed, he explained that he did not read for pleasure at all.

I wonder if some of the advocates of group learning have a real fear of engaging in solitary activities and project that fear onto children?

You also wrote:
>The counter argument is that it's good to have students struggle before you finally directly teach them. Of course, this is no longer about discovery, but struggle. Are kids better primed for learning if they struggle? I remember struggling with math even after I was directly taught by my "tradititonal" teachers. Clueless struggle is better than primed struggle?

It seems to me that this is a judgment call based mainly on the size of the step that has to be made to get to the next stage.

I cannot see the point of forcing a kid to struggle to invent long division. On the other hand, if you are far enough along in algebra (and if you fully grasped long division!), figuring out how to divide polynomials on your own might make good sense.

As you say, you remember struggling with math even after being taught by the teachers. The truth is that anyone who has not struggled with math has simply not gone far enough in the subject, as I am sure some of the professional mathematicians here can attest to.

Even the genius Andrew Wiles, who solved Fermat’s Last Theorem, initially announced an erroneous proof. And Terry Tao, the child prodigy who is now a math professor at UCLA, has posted a conceptual error in math on his blog (he later corrected it, of course).

You don’t need a “constructivist” approach to ensure that students will struggle with math!

Dave

SteveH said...

There is a world of difference between the talk and what goes on in class. They talk about discovery, but it happens at most for just a few. They talk about understanding, but it's conceptual or superficial. They talk about motivation, but it's like eating mathematical Twinkies. Yummy one minute, gone the next. They talk about learning styles, but nobody is given a choice. They talk about how parents should support their kids, but everything gets hidden away in portfolios.

I've been studying this for 9 years and the worst part is this disconnect. They talk in high level generalities and theory in the hopes that we will never notice the reality. It's really quite amazing to see. Our school talks about learning styles, but nobody asks them why their kids are not allowed to choose. Actually, our school requires work covering several learning styles, but everyone has to do them all!

How can you nicely tell a school that what they are doing makes no sense at all; that what they are doing has little to do with what's coming out of their mouths? What do you do? You go to the open houses, nod (shake) your head, and then go home and make sure that learning gets done.

concernedCTparent said...

Allison,

I haven't checked in for a couple of days and just saw your question. We're in our third year of uing Hake Grammar & Writing. It's only available for grades 5-8 and since we skipped grade 5, I only have experience with 6-8. It fits very well into the classical education philosophy as it has solid grammar instruction, dication, and writing instruction. You can check out samples from each of the grades here:
http://grammar.cc/?content=products

I definitely suggest the teacher packet as it contains the tests which are an important way to gauge mastery of the grammar (and some vocabulary/roots) as well as a good way to double check the more complex aspects of diagramming. I also like the writing component very much and think it does a pretty good job of breaking down the writing process and encourage editing and re-writing. This also includes a list of specific and targeted journal topics.

What I didn't know, until today, is that Saxon is now the publisher of Hake Grammar & Writing. I had always purchased Hake directly from them (Mary Hake). That explains why it's available on amazon now that Hake isn't selling directly-- that's a pretty recent development. The change in publisher probably accounts for the unfamiliar setup you've described (Grade Kits). Originally, you purchased the student book and teacher packet.

I'll have to figure it out since I plan on using the program with my other two younger children.

Anonymous said...

I was Googling around using the term "algebra readiness test" and found these links at an Alabama middle school.

Based on the wording of the "disclaimer", it sounds as though this district allows parents to choose the appropriate course placement, vs. it being dictated by the results of the test(s).

SteveH said...

I like the fact that it (apparently) is up to the parent and child. For algebra, however, it seems more likely that a successful completion of pre-algebra would be the best guide. They do give a pre-algebra readiness test, but many of the topics are reviewed in pre-algebra, so a really good score should not be a requirement.

Notice how the tests are all about mastery of basic skills.

This school also has sixth grade math divided into regular and advanced math classes, and they have a math team. I couldn't find out what math text/systems they use in K-6. They do, however refer to pre-algebra as (normally?) an 8th grade course, and algebra as a high school course.

Peach Pod said...

I teach 8th grade math in Georgia so I pulled out core standards for the 4th grade:
Concepts / Skills to Maintain

- Multiplication and Division of whole numbers
- Area
- Perimeter
- Place Value
- Length
- Elapsed Time

I know they teach EM at the elementary school level here and the only thing I can think of is it is a pre-activity for place value. At least that's what I'm hoping!

Anonymous said...

My son was tested on his readiness for pre-algebra using the Iowa Algebra Aptitude Test (IAAT) in fifth grade. When I asked his teacher how she prepared students for the test, she said you couldn't really prepare and that the test was geared toward those with natural aptitude.

Needless to say, he did not do well on the test (52%) and you have to have 82% or better to get into Pre-Algebra in the 6th grade. On the Virginia state test, he was passed/advanced with a score of 530. The sections tested are number and number sense, computation and estimation, measurement and geometry, probability and statistics, patterns, functions and algebra. He missed three out of 10 on the algebra section and this made his scaled score a 32. He missed four questions on the whole test.

It's funny because the performance level description on the test results says "the student demonstrates exceptional and consistent attainment of the knowledge and skills necessary to solve problems" and then it goes on to list the sections tested.

Unfortunately, his teacher did not prepare the kids for pre-algebra. SOL scores and the fact your kid makes all As in math during the year means nothing in middle school. They want to see how you did on the IAAT test.

My son said he remembers taking the test and how the teacher told the class it didn't matter what they made, but to do their best. What a crock! Of course it matters because it decides your placement in middle school math.

I was okay that he wasn't recommended for pre-algebra as long as he was in an accelerated Math 6 class, but I learned in May they've done away with the accelerated classes and only have math 6 and pre-algebra. Here is the kicker: the ability levels in math 6 are huge! You have accelerated kids lumped in with those who can't even add, multiply or divide.

After attending the first Math 6 class, my son came home and asked me had there been some mistake in his placement. I asked for him to be removed and I was told no due to his IAAT score.

He is now in a private school in an acclerated math course that truly prepares him for pre-algebra in 7th grade.

--Paula V.

Anonymous said...

I meant to mention that the school my sons (I have a third grader too)attend is a Christian private school. One of the English (not Language Arts) teachers is a professor at Patrick Henry College and when I told my neighbor this she said, "That school is terrible...it is so radical. It is small and kids probably go there because they don't want to go away to school. It's like going to NOVA (Northern Virginia Community College)." Of course, it is not, but she is quite "liberal" and while I'm not shocked by her outburst, I thought it was incredibly rude.

I wanted to tell her Patrick Henry College couldn't be any more radical than her alma mater, UNC, but I thought this would send her over the edge and I have to live near her.

Anonymous said...

Peach Pod -

The textbooks on Georgia's list for math reflect the mindset of the Instructional Frameworks and don't really cover the content on the Perf Standards.

Since the CRCT and EOCTs reflect the content of the standards students generally do poorly. The announced explanation - the difficulty of the standards.

There are textbooks that cover the content of the GPS with worked examples, explanations, and word problems from science but they are not on the approved list. The National Science Foundation has paid the Ga State Board of Ed and the University System many millions to push and implement the new math. Part of the grant is to push NSF funded math textbooks.