kitchen table math, the sequel: Modern math is a river in Egypt

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Modern math is a river in Egypt

It's been decades since any sort of traditional math has been taught in most K-6 schools, but we still hear the same arguments. Our schools have used Everyday Math for years, and before that, they used MathLand. When schools and the state look at the testing numbers and whether they go up or down, it has nothing to do with any sort of traditional approach to teaching math.

Kids get to middle school and high school and still can't show mastery of very basic skills. Even those who favor discovery methods claim that mastery is needed. It still doesn't happen even though mastery of basic skills is much easier to check and correct than vague critical thinking skills.

My conclusion is that it's a huge case of denial.

It's Anti-Math. It's anti-hard work because hard work and expectations separate kids. They claim that kids will learn when they are ready, but that just keeps them from the hard work of figuring out whether there are other causes. It allows them to avoid working on things they don't like. That's why we parents get messages telling us to work on math facts with our kids.

In 5th grade, my son's Everyday Math teacher realized that many kids were struggling with simple things like adding 7+8. She knew these kids were "ready". She tried to fix the problems, but then didn't get to 35% of the material in the course. She believed in mastery, but the other teachers were happy enough to "trust the spiral".

Everyday Math facilitates this denial. They want math to be a pump and not a filter, but what they are doing is pumping along the failure until its too late and then dumping that guilt trip on the kids.


LynnG said...

I'm with you, Steve. But to make things worse, the State tests obscure the problem for years. Kids in EM programs do fairly well on the CMT in Connecticut because the test is written as if EM had a hand in it. By the time kids get to college, it's too late to compensate, and for some, this is the first indication that there is a problem.

Kevin said...

I just call it absurdist math because it takes what could be a decent approach if balanced with direct instruction and takes it to an illogical degree by barely teaching anything.

concerned said...

Thanks Steve! Unfortunately you'll find no mention of this truth in the recent Report to the President!

SteveH said...

"Kids in EM programs do fairly well on the CMT in Connecticut because the test is written as if EM had a hand in it."

Yes, and nobody comes out and says that you have to do much better than meeting proficiency on state tests to get on a STEM career path. They should work backwards to show what state test scores are obtained by those who make it to algebra in 8th grade. They should also find out how many kids who didn't get to that key course went on to STEM degree programs in college.

Then again, I don't like the term STEM because educators don't see much difference between studying computers at the local community college (designing web sites) and getting an engineering degree at the state university.

Ignoring all arguments about pedagogy, how do you show that their expectations are too low, especially when they go on and on about critical thinking and 21st century skills? Our basic claim is that there should be many more students who get to algebra (a proper course) in 8th grade, and that is the key turning point.

Anonymous said...

State tests were used as the reason for adopting EM and the others around here, also. The tests almost seemed written by the people who developed the curriculums. But, I have never seen this addressed seriously anywhere (but here.)


SteveH said...

"The tests almost seemed written by the people who developed the curriculums."

Our state tests definitely relate to the discovery and integrated curriculum (Everyday Math) many use. They break out scores for various categories, one of which is mastery of basic skills.

However, these results are not correlated to whether anyone is prepared for a STEM career or not. There is no meaning to their proficiency cutoffs. The Common Core Standards, however, propose to tie state standards to some sort of vague "workplace analysis". The result is that everyone will have to "Achieve" some level of algebra II skills. Unfortunately, these skills are not enough for many careers, and too much for others. Perhaps one could reason that these standards meet the minimum needs for taking the SAT test, but they are surely not meaningful for career preparation.

The answer to that is to look at the degree requirements for various careers. Just because you get a SAT score to be accepted into a college, it doesn't mean that you are ready to handle any degree requirements.

This is not a difficult thing to do. Just go to a college web site, look up a department, and find the degree requirements in math.

However, even with pseudo-algebra II as the ultimate math goal in high school, there is still the problem that this will be as far as the student goes. Rather than form a base camp for tackling the math mountain in college, their high school math leaves them at the top, with nowhere to go but down.

concerned said...

Corporate America definitely has a vested interest to step in and rid our schools (and state tests) of the EM approach to miseducation!

Glen said...

My son's case illustrates the point you all are making. He and his close friend (a girl) were in the same third grade math class studying Everyday Mathematics. They'd been friends since they were in diapers, and both were equally bright. Outside of class, both reliably did their EM homework but, afterward, she would go off to train hard in competitive gymnastics, while my son trained hard in more advanced (AMC 8-level, middle school contest) math. Yes, she occasionally did a little extra math, and my son took basic gymnastics lessons at her gym, but these were minimal efforts. Both made progress in gymnastics and math in proportion to the time spent in serious training in each area.

When they took the state standardized test, she got a perfect score on the math section, while my son missed one--presumably a careless error. If the gym, with former-Olympian coaches from Russia and China, had been asked to evaluate their gymnastics levels, they would have done so in a way that easily detected the girl's superior skills. Only a test dumbed down to a game of Simple Simon ("touch your left ear!") would have allowed my son a chance to outscore her in gymnastics, and these Russian and Chinese coaches would never have used such an uninformative test.

Yet the standardized math test is such a test. It is designed in such a way that a physics professor could not reliably outscore a bright third grader, because most of his math proficiency would count for nothing, while random careless errors would be duly noted.

If you use the statistics produced by such a test to "scientifically" evaluate the effectiveness of Everyday Mathematics, it should look pretty good. "Look, many third graders using EM are as good as--and some even better than--physics professors who studied the old, traditional way!"

But if we let Russian and Chinese former math Olympians design a test that gauged true level of proficiency, spanning the range from counting bunnies to the differential equations of bunny populations, and used that to evaluate math programs around the world, I suspect EM wouldn't fare well in worldwide competition.

As long as EM level is defined as the highest-possible score, research will show that EM produces plenty of top scorers.

Anonymous said...

"Corporate America definitely has a vested interest to step in and rid our schools (and state tests) of the EM approach to miseducation!"

What Corporate America does *NOT* have, though, is an incentive to spend the money trying to do so.

Given a choice, the people running corporations would prefer more potential employees had good math skills. But when the time comes to decide where to spend the next $1M (or $10M or $100M) of corporate money, fighting math wars is not even on the list. It has no return (or maybe even a negative return from the company's viewpoint).

-Mark Roulo

concernedCTparent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
concernedCTparent said...

In Connecticut, at least, the state tests (CMTs) are overtly tied to math programs such as Everyday Math. You don't have to work to hard to connect the dots: Steven Leinwand served as Mathematics Supervisor in the Connecticut Department of Education for twenty-two years. One of his lasting contributions to education in CT was his leadership in developing the CMT's math portion. Fast forward to 2010 and Everyday Math is the gold standard in the public schools.

Why? Because you pretty much need Everyday Math to do well on the CMTs. Otherwise, how would you ever know how to construct a written response to a math question?

Anonymous said...

In our grade school, the gifted teacher had to spend a couple of weeks teaching the pullout students how to be two years behind where they were. If there was a problem they could solve in their head, they still had to learn to draw pictures and charts as examples of showing their work or they would have gotten it wrong, even if the answer was right.

We could all ignore the state tests scores except they are often used as a measurement for placement.


Anonymous said...

I have a science background. My kids use EM and I am horrified. It is a trojan horse of our education system. We are going to have only two choices. Lose our competitive advantage or import thousands of highly skilled people.

Allison said...

No, we've already made that choice. Companies need people *now*, and they've needed them *now* for 20 years.

They've been important tens of thousands of highly skilled people for decades.

When I lived and worked in the SF Bay Area, my husband and I knew almost no software engineers under 40 that weren't on H1 B visas. I was generally the only white woman in a tech field at the places I worked, and the other women were on visas. Visas drive down the wages of the rest of us significantly. And people with H1 B visas were prisoners to their employers, because they had less than 10 days to stay in the country if they found themselves unemployed.

It's a shame that companies didn't push back harder on K-12. They did push on the universities, but it was all bribery--we'll give you all of these resources if you use them to convince your students to be engineers and science majors.

Gates spends a fortune now trying to fix schools, but he'd have done more if he and Ballmer used the stick rather than the carrot on K-12, demanding they improve or that they would simply not hire those people as adults.

On the bright side, most of the other countries are moving toward discovery math, too. So I guess none of them will be able to replace us in the future. But then again, none of us will be able to replace our Ipod, either.

lgm said...

Tech CEOs could help by simply funding the public schools that their employees' children attend. In my area, the difference between the high schools that operators' children attend and mgr/executives' children attend is night and day. These children are all interested, but are being starved of resources as the tax deals go on.

Allison said...

oh, that's absurd. Funding is not the problem. Culture is.

right now, I know only a few families who send their kids to public schools in CA. In 2 of those cases, the PTA has decided they need to raise *200k* to buy a teacher. Given more money, they just want lower teacher ratio, shown to be of no statistical value in improvement. The schools are disasters of curriculum--in both cases, Everyday Math is used over the objections of parents who want Singapore Math. Money is not the issue--priorities are the issue.

SteveH said...

"Visas drive down the wages of the rest of us significantly."

There used to be a big flap in IEEE about this long ago. There really isn't a shortage. It's just that they don't want to increase salaries to solve the problem. It probably wouldn't solve the problem completely, but Allison is right, some companies use the visa program to control wages.

However, I never liked the shortage issue argument. I prefer the individual educational opportunity argument. I've met many people who might have had great technical careers, but never did well enough in math. They got pumped along and then dumped out. It's not what's best for the country, it's what's best for the individual.

SteveH said...

I just don't know how you change the culture or philosophy of K-6 education. There are few good role model schools to show what average (not gifted) kids can do. You can't just drop Singapore Math into our schools. Even if you went back to "traditional" math, it wouldn't fix the problem. Lots of kids didn't do well with traditional math. It's just that what we have now has gone in the wrong direction.

We have the external "stick" of SAT and AP classes for high school, but there is nothing like that for K-8. They have state tests, but proficiency cutoffs have nothing to do with preparing kids for STEM careers.

It IS a culture thing. Parents will fix things at home and keep quiet. I hardly say anything at my son's schools because I know that it will always be spun the wrong way and cause problems. My arguments work better with other parents, but not all. Besides, I'm not an education expert. It's a turf and culture thing.

Parents were able to drive out CMP in our middle schools, but I don't know how you can drive higher expectations into the lower grades, especially when educators go on and on about understanding and critical thinking. They have no basis for knowing how many kids should get to algebra in 8th grade. Many don't like that concept even though the numbers show that it is a critical turning point.

I see a lot of damage being done by 6th grade and no way to change the culture. Maybe it would help if schools separated math instruction in the lower grades and used teachers with special training in math. Unfortunately, it would probably be specialized training in Everyday Math.

It's also not just the pedagogy. It's a culture of lower expectations. You can have very rigorous couses with discovery and critical thinking, but our lower schools talk all about the modern 3 R's: rigor, relevance, and relationships. The point is clear; they are the experts and you are not.

lgm said...

>>oh, that's absurd. Funding is not the problem. Culture is.

YMMV Maybe not in your area, but in my area it is. In my area, to live in a district that offers Linear Algebra and the path to get there means the family must be making much more than double operator wages, even with OT. The engineers I know can't afford to live there, even in a fifty year old bilevel on a quarter acre, unless the spouse is also a full time working professional. The property taxes are very high. The operators are forced into districts right next door that don't offer the courses needed for a technical career. You can google...try City of Poughkeepsie vs Arlington in NY.

It isn't the culture of the students. It is the culture of the admin who are funding remedial over college prep b/c of lack of funding. Of course, if they would stop giving themselves cadillac compensation, it would help, but it would certainly not be enough to restore the amount of lost college prep courses.

Check out the NYT for this week's article on CUNY/IBM joint partnership. Opportunity has to be available.

Allison said...

--It is the culture of the admin who are funding remedial over college prep b/c of lack of funding.

Show me the pension of the NY teachers where you live, and then you can try to tell me it's about lack of funding.

Your school's lack of funding has everything to do with culture, not with the actual lack of the funds.

lgm said...

Teacher pensions don't vary much between districts. Special ed, security and ESL support do.

A district with a profitable high tech business and high property values can and does offer more than a district with little more than low income housing and gov't services.

If LocalHighTech could fund a college prep math class for each grade level it would be a significant improvement over the current offerings. The current trend in my high is for grant funded programs, such as Aviation Academy etc etc that provide for education leading to technician level jobs. I'd like to see High Tech companies do the same for college prep math and science in the poor high schools that the majority of the employees' children attend.

I don't have the time to go into the deals the local towns are making with tax givebacks to entice businesses, but that seems to be adding up to.

Anonymous said...

"It isn't the culture of the students. It is the culture of the admin who are funding remedial over college prep b/c of lack of funding."

I'm focusing on the "b/c of lack of funding" part of the quote.

I don't think this is correct. Using Wiki (, I find that the Poukepsie City School District has a student population of about 5,000 and a budget of about $80M. This works out to $16K per student per year.

California averages about $10K per student per year, and the richer districts don't get much more (because the budgeting is done at the state level for fairness).

With an extra $6K per student (or, alternately an extra $100K per class room of 16 kids), I don't think that the lack of desirable math programs is a lack of funds. The money is just being squandered.

If you think that $16K per student is insufficient (and keep in mind that this is equivalent to $320K per classroom of 20 students), what funding level would be sufficient?

Mark Roulo

Auntie Ann said...

Our school uses Everyday Math as well (private in Los Angeles), and it's really pathetic. I live with my sister and her kids, I have degrees in Physics and Engineering, she's an MD, and our brother got a PhD in Math.

We're a math family. What I hate most about the program is the fear that the doors to the same sort of education and careers that we got are already closing for the kids--and their only TEN and EIGHT!!

Spiral, my *&$! I swear I believe that the system was specifically designed to PREVENT kids from attaining mastery. Its philosophy is to touch on everything so lightly, that kids never get a full grasp on anything, then come back to it a year later and do it oh-so lightly again.

Last year, our fourth grader brought home a homework that should have been left behind in preschool: look around your house for things shaped like triangles, squares, and circles. I'm not kidding! I guess four years later it was time to spiral back to simple shapes!


Allison said...

Auntie Ann,

Welcome to KTM! You're absolutely right: the door is being shut for these kids, and almost no parents will be able to determine that until it is too late. By 5th grade, it's too late. If the kids aren't learning their times tables or addition facts, it's over before then.

Following what Catherine's been saying, I've come to think that the way to reach college-educated parents and show them what a crisis math ed is for their kids is to show them what the SAT is going to ask of their kids. The problem is it's touchy to tell parents, schools, and teachers, how terrible their textbooks are. Schools tell you that teachers don't want to hear it, and that parents don't want to hear it. But I think mostly it's schools that don't want their teachers and schools to hear it--because what are they going to do about it? Teachers I think, are just shocked to see how badly they've been misled by their textbooks, and if the parents rise up, then what?

But parental pressure is working in some places. CassyT works as a consultant helping schools go to Singapore Math, and that basically happens when the parents demand it, and not before. And I hope MSMI can thread this needle of parental outreach, telling parents the truth in a way which empowers them rather than causes them to despair.

SteveH said...

I'll repeat what Allison said:

"By 5th grade, it's too late."

This is NOT hyperbole. Just ask the parents of the kids who make it to algebra in 8th grade. They know. They (re)teach at home or use tutors. Just ask many of us here at KTM. We've been through it or are going through it.

I find it extremely annoying because K-6 schools will tell parents that what they are doing is better(!) than the old traditional math. They talk about conceptual understanding and decry "drill and kill", but if you look at the details, it's just a cover for lower expectations.

Many educators think that reaching algebra (a proper version) in 8th grade is way above normal. On the other hand, they want more kids to be prepared for STEM careers. In an effort to ignore this paradox, educators push hands-on, real world classes as if everything boils down to engagement and motivation. No. It's about having enough math skills to get through differential equations (etal) in college.

Since many parents don't catch on, or don't catch on until it's too late, it's hard to get them to deal with the issue. It could be that little Johnnie or Suzie is just not good in math.

Curricula like Core-Plus don't get much traction in high school because, by then, many parents have it figured out, at least those with kids still on a proper math track. For K-6, parents are still figuring out what's going on and many don't feel able to counter the silly critical thinking arguments that get thrown at them.

There are no "AP"-type tracks in K-6 to show what could be done. Schools could, if they wanted, offer K-6 math tracks that are designed to lead to algebra in 8th grade. However, most schools would claim that curricula like Everyday Math does that. Nobody is stopping you from climbing Mt. Everest. Just look at how many do it each year. Just look at how many go from Everyday Math to algebra in 8th grade. They need to ask what goes on at home or with tutors. They don't dare.

FedUpMom said...

I don't think it's helpful to tell people that it's too late and the situation is hopeless.

Auntie Ann, if your sister is really worried about her kids, she should get hold of some Singapore Math workbooks and start working through them with the kids. If the kids are bright, it doesn't even take a lot of time.

Auntie Ann said...

I've actually been hunting for a good math curriculum for them. There are so many out there, and so many of them look just as bad as what they're doing now.

Are kids are bright and ace math at school...but since it's Everyday Math, that means absolutely squat.

I would love to find 40-year-old math textbooks somewhere, but can never find any. Obviously Singapore comes highly recommended by lots of people.

I've already worked with the younger kid in reading and spelling and have no problem doing after-school home schooling with both in math. (If anyone needs a simple and comprehensive spelling curricula for their grade schooler, you can't go wrong with "All About Spelling"--it teaches all the rules we never learned and makes spelling easy. The boy was regularly score in the 30% range on his spelling tests in January, by May he had brought home two 100% ones.)

lgm said...

What texts are you looking for?
I have found preAlg and up from the 70s.

The children may need grammar and composition instruction also. We found that instruction on outlining, parts of a paragraph and parts of an essay were totally omitted until Gr 9 social studies.

SteveH said...

Singapore Math is well regarded at KTM, but it's not a remedial sort of thing. It won't (necessarily) help you find and correct large gaps in skills. I used it with my son while he was getting Everday Math at school. It wasn't an easy thing to do. He really didn't want to do one math at school and another math at home. However, I never let my son get any gaps in the first place.

Mostly, I made sure that he understood the material in EM on the first pass through the spiral (or before that in many cases). Singapore Math was used as a supplement, but I was never able to follow it sequentially. It didn't match up with EM and (unfortunately) EM was the main main focus.

I did get him to skip 6th grade EM by working with him on the 6th grade material in the summer after 5th grade. The school gave him a test (EM's version) and he got to go directly to pre-algebra. (There are ways to spin differentiated learning to your advantage. Some schools are sensitive to criticism about not differentiting enough for advanced students, especially when they see an exodus to private schools.)

There are really two issues. The first is how to analyze past problems and fill in the gaps, and the second is what you do at home while having to do the Everyday Math schoolwork and homework.

Workbooks that are just filled with practice problems might work better than an official curriculum. My son liked it when I boiled everything down to the basics. He didn't like it when I lectured on and on, or if I tried to cover Singapore Math like one would in a regular class.

EM is only workable if you never trust the spiral and provide more practice problems at home. This is difficult, becasue EM quickly jumps to new topics. It's not distributed practice. It's partial learning. The other danger of EM is that the school may never cover all of the material. I've talked about my son's 5th grade EM teacher who never got to 35% of the material in the course.

When I say that "it's too late", I mean that it's too late unless you get help at home or with a tutor. By 6th grade, it can be difficult even with outside help. You have to get the child on the algebra in 8th grade track. If the school doesn't place him or her on that track, then any sort of STEM career becomes much more difficult, even with tutoring.

SteveH said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Auntie Ann,

Search the archives here for some good suggestions.

Also, if you can pick up a copy of The Well-Trained Mind, you will find a ton of helpful info (and curriculums) for homeschoolers.

Patching the gaps is only one thing you can do, but you will find it exasperating. I also had to just parallel teach from a good coherent curriculum. In my case, I used all of the Singapore books, but for my slower son I used Saxon.

Later, I realized that no one was really teaching him how to write properly, so I dug up curriculums for that, also.

You have to teach writing and grammar because rarely does any school do it nowadays. Spelling, too.

Check out homeschool sites, also. They saved me a lot of headaches back then.

You have to do what you have to do.


kcab said...

The district I'm in does offer tracks that get kids to algebra in either 7th or 8th grades. (Test @end of 5th to get into pre-algebra in 6th, tests given @ end of 6th, pre-algebra, and/or 7th grade math to get into 8th grade algebra.) It's not a bad system, but I'm still concerned that it's not enough.

The problem is, what is taught during those courses also needs to be good enough. The 7th or 8th grade algebra supposedly contains the same content as the HS honors algebra course, but it seemed weak to me & doesn't meet all the criteria for "authentic algebra". Ditto the 8th grade geometry course (supposedly same as HS honors geometry), early days still in that course for my 8th grader but the text is Serra's Discovering Geometry. The kids taking this course are supposed to be (well, they *are*) the top math kids in the district and I'm concerned the math just isn't rigorous enough for that group.

jtidwell said...

I just found a school in the Boston area that teaches Singapore Math! Huzzah! (It's the Anova School, a new private school for gifted students.)

Not only do they use Singapore, but they form the math groups by mastery, not age. (Or is it "achievement"?) Each child is expected to finish at least a year's worth of Singapore work by the end of the school year, no matter where they started. Apparently some of their math groups have kids of wildly varying ages. We'll see how it works out for them, as it's a brand new school.

Problem is, they seemed somewhat hostile to the idea of actually stating what overall content and skills their students ought to learn over their years at the school. And they couldn't (or wouldn't) tell me what curricula they were planning to use for history or grammar -- I hope it's something.

At least the math plan looks good. All the other private schools around here, Montessori excepted, use TERC or EM.

SteveH said...

"... they seemed somewhat hostile to the idea of actually stating what overall content and skills their students ought to learn over their years at the school."

Were they hostile to a request you made? I'm looking at their web site now and they do talk a lot about being student driven, thematic, interdisciplinary, with independent learning projects and hands-on experiences. Outside of using Singapore Math, I see little that is concrete and direct. It's sounds more like top-down, discovery, thematic learning on steroids.

jtidwell said...

"Were they hostile to a request you made?"

Yes, although I admit that I pushed them a bit. :-) I asked about their curricular for history, literature, grammar, etc., and I also told them that one of my educational goals for my kid was excellent writing skills. I wanted some assurance that they had a plan for that. (They did, sort of, but the director then announced, "We don't do checklists. If you're looking for a Core Curriculum school, this is not it!")

This was at an information session for parents of potential students, so -- to be fair -- they were trying to cast this school as being different from the public schools. Lots of emphasis on independent learning, freedom to learn quickly and with depth, complex topics presented early, mixed-age classes, and other aspects that gifted kids just cannot get in our public schools. Plus, a teacher "on the ground" let me know that they *do* teach quite a bit of geography, grammar, spelling, and all that. Core Curriculum hostility or not, the school may still be the best option for my kid.

SteveH said...

"If you're looking for a Core Curriculum school, this is not it!"

That would raise red flags for me. I guess you have to cultivate your "ground" connection.

Hainish said...

This is heartening:

A NYTimes article on Singapore math becoming more popular int he U.S.


(Did one of you guys sneak onto the staff of the New York Times?)

jtidwell said...

I suppose it didn't help my case when they spoke glowingly of Lucy Calkins's approach to writing workshops, and I said, "When I hear the name 'Lucy Calkins,' I get nervous. Can you tell me more about how your students practice writing and get feedback?" Or something to that effect.

The Core Curriculum comment followed quickly after that. I guess they're onto me. :-)

SteveH said...

In sports and music, skills, practice, and hard work are king, but in education, many see that approach as not only wrong, but damaging, even for gifted kids. This isn't an issue of "drill and kill" where they don't want to kill their love of learning with drill. For many of these kids, it's not drill, it's absorbing like a sponge. Facts don't preclude or inhibit their understanding.

My son memorized the periodic table last summer. Would the school discourage that sort of thing as being rote and meaningless? Many gifted kids have incredible memories, but it's not just some sort of genetic rote trick. At the same time, he learned about the categories of elements, valence electrons, and why they combine in different ratios. He read a book on string theory. Memorizing the periodic table was not an unnecessary step (for him) in terms of his understanding. Perhaps some don't want to see the huge connection between facts and understanding. He could look everything up in a book, but his brain is already miles ahead because it's all right there. Every new piece of information is visible to him because it does not have to be processed through a book.

It sounds like it's a school for gifted kids that avoids one of their dominant learning styles. My son does quite well discovering things via facts and skills.

jtidwell said...

SteveH, I completely agree. Memorized texts and sets of facts can be tremendously rich sources of insight and connection-finding. I won't say much more about my kid or my friends' kids, as they're still quite young and have yet to be able to make the kinds of connections your son is making, but that's not far in their future.

Meanwhile, the best I can do is encourage him to use his brain to learn high-quality stuff, not just memorize car makes and models or TV shows. :-)

What schools or curricula *are* best suited to kids like this? They need to move at their own paces and be allowed to pursue their academic obsessions, but some discipline and year-to-year structure would be nice too.

(I now have Tom Lehrer singing "The Elements" in my ear. I might have memorized that song once.)

SteveH said...

My son complained that the elements were out of order and that there are now more elements. I think he just wanted to avoid our request to sing, if you could call it singing.

We are now trying to direct what he memorizes. When he was young, he memorized things like the full list of Pokemon. A couple of years ago, he started to memorize a lot of digits of pi and 'e'.

The periodic table, however, has many more connections. Since he memorized them in order, he could see the structure and meaning of the columns. He would ask me to give him two elements so he could figure out if and how they combined.

My wife got him to memorize Poe's "The Raven", although some might claim that there are fewer side benefits from that kind of memorization.

Perhaps some kids need an alternative curricula or structure, but now that our son is in high school taking honors courses, I see no issues. Even in the lower grades, I would prefer a proper (Core-Knowledge) curriculum, with very specific goals for content and skills. I never, ever thought it would be a good idea just to turn him loose academically with minimal structure.

Anonymous said...

The funny thing about the grade and middle school's disdain for memorizing is how disconnected they are from the requirements of high school. Bright/gifted kids suck in more facts and can spit them out easier. Everyone else could use some techniques, perhaps, or at least some experience having actually memorized something in the past.

AP and honors classes appear to require massive amounts of "regurgitating," as many lower grade teachers would call it (ours did). Yes, there are critical thinking expectations that are more sophisticated than in the regular classes, but the fact-collecting machine is also in full gear with the higher classes. The fact that the lower schools would ignore this is very important for parents to know and realize as they look toward high school and college.

The "regurgitation" and "superficial knowledge" that my son was a natural at became critical to him getting good grades in high school. No one is making fun of him here. But if your child isn't a natural at it, don't expect the schools to help you. Apparently, critical thinking is an isolated island of the mind.

If my son doesn't soak in the facts naturally, he knows how to approach content rich material because, like Steve and others, I had him memorize all kinds of things when he was young, when he thought it was fun.

"It sounds like it's a school for gifted kids that avoids one of their dominant learning styles."

That's a good way of putting it. In fact, it is often actively discouraged as some of us have witnessed over the years.


jtidwell said...

"My wife got him to memorize Poe's "The Raven", although some might claim that there are fewer side benefits from that kind of memorization."

Poe might not be the best author for memorized passages :-), but if one has a religious or classical bent, there are plenty of historically important texts out there that warrant a lifetime of memorization! The Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence come to mind, if one is from the USA. Likewise various Biblical passages and religious creeds. Key passages from Shakespeare, classic novels, etc. Short but influential poems. Songs. That kind of thing.

SusanS, that's a really good point about high school AP classes requiring memorization and "regurgitating." I'd add that rigorous STEM college courses require the same. And it really is a skill that can be practiced. (Not to mention that memorization is sooo much easier when one has a scaffolding of preexisting knowledge to hang it on.)

Auntie Ann said...

The Singapore Math books came yesterday, and I was actually pretty happy with where our kids stand with respect to them. The 3A book is a pretty good fit with our 3rd grader, and I'm still getting a feel for where our 5th grader fits in.


If you want a great spelling program, I can't say enough good things about All About Spelling. It's really good, uses multiple teaching techniques, including direct instruction, and has all the rules clearly spelled out.


I agree that memorization is a dying art. It's a great skill to have, and like any other, it takes practice. I think our 10 year old is in pretty good shape, because she's been in a theater group for years and is used to learning lines. The 8 year old could stand to exercise that part of his brain. My grandmother used to make it a point to memorize things all the time. She was in her early 90's when she died, and her mind was sharp as a tack.

Anonymous said...

Auntie Ann,

That's great that your 3rd grade child is ready for 3A. Many of us found out that our American children tended to be a bit behind, so your 5th grader might end up somewhere different than Singapore 5 and that's perfectly normal.

Some of us also noticed that there was a pretty big jump from 3B to 4A. You may not find that to be true, but I thought I'd throw that out.

I wish I had known about a good spelling program, but my youngest is a sophomore now. We did use Megawords, but not as much as Catherine. It all helped, but I was plugging gaps here and there, rather than just parallel teaching with a separate curriculum (which I found to be more effective in the long run.)


Allison said...

Have you used the free placement tests on singapore math's website? it should give you a finer grained idea of where there are gaps.