kitchen table math, the sequel: 10/10/10 - 10/17/10

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Barry G on the Times story

The New York Times ran a story on September 30 about Singapore Math being used in some schools in the New York City area.  Like many newspaper stories about Singapore Math, this one was no different.  It described a program that strangely sounded like the math programs being promoted by reformers of math education, relying on the cherished staples of reform: manipulatives, open-ended problems, and classroom discussion of problems.  The only thing the article didn’t mention was that the students worked in small groups.


The mistaken idea that gets repeated in many such articles is that Singapore Math differs from other programs by requiring or imparting a “deep understanding” and that such understanding comes about through a) manipulatives, b) pictures, and c) open-ended discussions.  In fact, what the articles represent is what the schools are telling the reporters. What newspapers frequently do not realize when reporting on Singapore Math, is that when a school takes on such a program, it means going against what many teachers believe math education to be about; it is definitely not how they are trained in ed schools.  The success of Singapore’s programs relies in many ways on more traditional approaches to math education, such as explicit instruction and giving students many problems to solve, in some ways its very success represented a slap in the face to American math reformers, many of whom have worked hard to eliminate such techniques being used.


Singapore’s strength is the logical consistency of the development of mathematical concepts. And much to the chagrin of educators who may have learned differently, mastery of number facts and arithmetic procedures is part and parcel to conceptual understanding.  Starting with conceptual understanding and using procedures to underscore it is an invitation to disaster—such approach is making profits for  outfits like Sylvan, Huntington and Kumon.


Fortunately, the logical structure and word problems in Singapore’s books are so good it will work in spite of the disciples of reform.  My friend is right.  If the education community wants to think that Singapore Math is student-centered and inquiry-based and the realization of US reforms, let them think it.  For those of us who know better, it will remain our dirty little secret.
Singapore Math Is “Our Dirty Little Secret”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Waiting for Superman

cross posted to the Irvington Parents Forum

Waiting for Superman

Tue, October 12 5:10 || 7:25 || 9:40
Wed, October 13 5:10 || 7:25 || 9:40
Thu, October 14 5:10 || 7:25 || 9:40

Jacob Burns Film Center Theater
364 Manville Rd., Pleasantville, NY 10570
Info-line: 914.747.5555


Hi everyone -

Waiting for Superman is incredible. So moving. Entertaining, too; Geoffrey Canada in particular is riveting. The title comes from a story he tells about the day his mother told him Superman doesn’t exist.

The film follows 5 or 6 children whose families are trying to find good schools for their kids, including one mom who can no longer afford the Catholic school her daughter has been attending. The lottery scenes at the end are excruciating.

Amazingly, the film does **not** give wealthy, white suburban schools a pass. About three quarters of the way in, the film tells us that suburban schools have the same underachievemement problems urban schools do; then we see data showing that the top 5% of U.S. students rank far below the top 5% of students in other countries. Which is true.

Here’s a picture of the suburban girl waiting to see if her number will be called:

Here’s the trailer.

What about the US's better students? When asked, Schmidt replied, "For some time now, Americans have comforted themselves when confronted with bad news about their educational system by believing that our better students can compare with similar students in any country in the world. We have preferred not to believe that we were doing a consistently bad job. Instead, many have believed that the problem was all those 'other' students who do poorly in school and who we, unlike other countries, include in international tests. That simply isn't true. TIMSS has burst another myth - our best students in mathematics and science are simply not 'world class'. Even the very small percentage of students taking Advanced Placement courses are not among the world’s best."

TIMSS - Trends in International Mathematics and Science Studies

Monday, October 11, 2010

MSMI for schools and homeschoolers?

In the Homeschooling by the Numbers thread, there was much back and forth critical of criticisms of homeschoolers lacking content knowledge--mostly centered around the ideas that a) schools have the same problems, and b) tailoring to one's child is a good thing.

Wrt to the first criticism, that school teachers lack content knowledge, I've created a not-for-profit corporation to address this. MSMI, the Middle School Mathematics Institute, is aimed at parents, teachers and schools serving students in grades 4-8, offering a variety of services to help build the bridge to Algebra 1.

For teachers, we offer intensive workshops, known as "institutes" that teach the math behind the school mathematics that teachers are teaching. It teaches the foundational pieces to help teachers understand that math is meant to be coherent and precise, and they must teach it that way as well. For schools, we help them to move away from their textbooks-as-curricula, and understand that nearly all available textbooks have incredibly great deficiencies, so great that only a very skilled teacher will be able to overcome them, We then help schools to address their standards and curricula to raise the difficulty and mathematical maturity slowing over those grades so students are prepared for algebra. For parents, we over free talks and pamphlets to help navigate what a good mathematics education would look like for their children.

One group I've not reached out to, even though I have many contacts in that group, is the homeschooling community. Should I? How? I'm happy to reach out to them as I do parents, but I haven't tried involving them as teachers.

My last institute was 5 full days. My next is going to be 9. It takes that many days just to begin to start to teach what mathematical reasoning looks like, even to experienced elementary math teachers.

I find that they homeschoolers I know are even less likely to find the time to attend such an event. One day workshops every month aren't enough. None of the homeschooling mothers I know, even if they are willing to afterschool Singapore, are willing to essentially take a course in learning elementary math if it required meeting weekly.

Am I pitching it wrong? Is there something I can do to reach them? I'm willing to admit that I must be all things to all people, but what would it take to get to them?

I already have to thread the needle--positioning MSMI as supporting teachers in a way that makes them not feel attacked for lacking content knowledge, but instead, supportive of their being asked to teach more and more sophisticated math. I have to reach administrators and tell them that their textbooks are terrible and teachers don't have the knowledge they need to do what their state has asked them to do, and they've basically been given no other options, since all US textbooks are terrible and elementary teacher certs don't require any math. I have to help parents to feel empowered even as I sound the alarm about their child's math program.

That's a lot of defensiveness to dance around. And yet, in homeschoolers, it seems even higher. So even as they admit to me that they don't know any math, and their children know more than they do, they don't want to learn more.

What should I do? How could I reach them? What would it look like?

onward and upward