kitchen table math, the sequel: the problem

Thursday, June 16, 2011

the problem

Even though the Singapore method has won acclaim from researchers, no large urban or suburban school system in the United States has fully embraced it.
D.C.’s Bruce-Monroe school faces challenges as it tries Singapore math method
By Bill Turque, Published: June 6
Washington Post
That is the problem.

When was the last time a large urban or suburban school system embraced methods that have won acclaim from researchers?

Speaking of acclaim from researchers, I opened up my latest issue of Direct Instruction News and spotted the name of the elementary school in my town: the very same elementary school two of our kids attended ... and there it was, inside the pages of a publication about Direct Instruction ----

I was gobsmacked.

Turns out the BOCES program housed inside the school is using SRA programs.

A person on the DI list says some of the BOCES programs have been using SRA programs for 5 years now!


Glen said...

When was the last time a large urban or suburban school system embraced methods that have won acclaim from researchers?

Unless I'm missing something, every urban or suburban school system embraces methods that have won acclaim from researchers. You pick the method, and its proponents will supply the researchers who support it.

Crimson Wife said...

Having used Singapore Primary Mathematics with my children in our homeschool, I have noticed that it often makes conceptual leaps and assumes that the student can follow along. If he/she cannot, it's up to the teacher to help bridge the gap. Asian teachers tend to have a much better conceptual understanding of math than American teachers (as Dr. Liping Ma detailed in her research) and are therefore better able to do this.

My oldest is very bright, but she cannot always make the conceptual leaps required by Singapore. I have turned to a program called Math Mammoth to provide a more step-by-step-by-step approach for certain topics.

I have heard that the new Houghton-Mifflin program Math in Focus: The Singapore Approach is more incremental than Singapore PM. That might therefore be a better option for American schools.

Allison said...

Do you use the home instructor's guide along with your PM series? Which PM version are you using?

Glen said...

I realize you're asking Crimson Wife, but I'm also teaching my kids using Singapore Primary Mathematics, Standards Edition. I started off using the home instructor's guides, but they were a lot more expensive than the PM textbooks themselves, and I found that I never used them.

For me, the textbooks provide a well-sequenced checklist of topics along with some useful diagrams and practice problems. I come up with all of the explanation for each topic out of my head, but in a way that matches what they see on the page. For my kids, at least, the PM texts would be useless as self-teaching guides. They were designed to be taught, as visual aids for the teacher, not read as tutorials.

When I encounter what seems to me, too, to be a conceptual leap in the sequence, I often wonder if I just missed something that I hadn't noticed. The missing prerequisites are either obvious to me as I contemplate explaining the next topic, or they soon become obvious as I try to explain it.

Oh, well, since I -- not the kid, not the next teacher, not the curriculum or government, but I -- am totally responsible for my kids fully getting each topic, I grab our clipboard and pencil and create my own bridge lesson. And I always turn elsewhere for appropriate "problem sets" for work outside the lesson. I don't find the associated PM workbooks sufficient for this purpose. I quickly stopped buying them, too. I don't just want problems for the current lesson, but a strategic mixture of problems from all previous lessons.

Singapore Math is a much better curriculum than Everyday Math, but it poses some challenges to those of us who would like to see it replace EM. It requires heavy supplementation, in my opinion. Worse, since it is real math, not pseudo-math ("Today, let's write in our math journals about ways indigenous people might use math in the rainforest!"), it places much higher demands on teachers. If they don't know how to teach real math, and that's all Singapore Math contains, then teachers will just "supplement" it into oblivion ("Class, get out your math journals..."), and the results will end up looking just like the results of Everyday Math.

Allison said...

Glen, I'm glad you answered, because I think that various answers will be helpful.

I think the different editions have different conceptual leap issues, for one, which is why I asked that part.

I think the home instructor's guides are instrumental for many parents in bridging those leaps. I haven't spent enough time with the teacher's editions to know how they compare, but I imagine the teacher's guides are similar.

You said you punted the instructor's guides--at which levels, do you know? Because I think most parents don't use them, and then don't know what to do when they are stuck (and don't have the mathematical maturity you do to overcome it), but I think they are very good for exactly those purposes. The instructor's guides make clear to me, at least, and I try to make this clear to other parents, that the textbook and workbook aren't meant to be the "teacher" of the material. They are, and they are going to have to learn the material and do the activities in the teacher's guides with their students.

Interesting that you punted the workbooks. I suggest parents use them, but not as appropriate problem sets as you call it. My experience with the workbooks is they are meant as formative assessment, not practice-to-mastery. They are meant as a method to quickly see how a student is doing, and where a student needs more help. Then, you go back to the instructor's guide and do the activities, games, lessons, etc. in them to teach and to practice mastery the topics as needed (and indicated by the workbook.)

Anonymous said...

We used the Singapore edition of Primary Math (the names and examples were more interesting than in the more recent Americanized edition).

My son did self-teach from the Singapore books, but found that all he needed were the workbooks. I think he ended up looking at the text only half a dozen times, to clarify what the workbook was asking for. We never used the Intensive Practice books—the regular workbook was all the drill he needed.

Neither of us noticed any "leaps" in the Singapore books. They seemed to progress very incrementally, but without throwing away what had previously been learned (unlike most US books that start from a tabula rasa at each new unit).

Glen said...

You said you punted the instructor's guides--at which levels, do you know?

Yes, I stopped using them at 3B, but it's not because they were poorly done. My impression was that they were very good, but they weren't what we needed.

I discovered Singapore Math last year as my oldest son was beginning third grade (he just finished fourth.) I started him in 3A for afterschool enrichment only, wrongly assuming his "good" school had prepared him for it. I thought SM might be good for some extra practice. Oops. I discovered I had a LOT of remedial work to do with him which, naturally, was not covered in the instructor's guide, so I was out of sync with the guide from the start. I probably should have backed up to 2A, but I didn't know any better. Also, the guide broke up the lessons into chunks that were the wrong size for our more haphazard afterschooling schedule. Also, though it provided good explanations for how to solve all the problems in the text, I didn't need them as long as I tailored my explanations to match the diagrams in the text. Though out of sync with the guide's schedule, I seemed to be in sync with the authors' intentions.

I found I hardly used the guides and stopped buying them after 3B. He's almost finished with 6B now and getting ready for Algebra I in the fall, so we ended up never needing the guides.

Even so, I always recommend the guides to other parents if they haven't done a lot of reading elsewhere about the details (Ma Liping, Wu Hung-hsi, Wickelgren, Coates...). Reading the guides is easier.

Interesting that you punted the workbooks.... My experience with the workbooks is they are meant as formative assessment, not practice-to-mastery.

In my case, I found that I got enough assessment of the current topic from the problems in the text itself and almost as much practice as I needed for the initial practice to mastery. BUT, that's because when my son stumbles on a problem, I help him through it then replace it with another that I make up on the spot. If he still needs help, I explain and demonstrate, then give him another, continuing until he can get through them on his own. The matching workbook would provide these similar problems ready-made but most of these arithmetic problems are easy to make up. Made up problems can be tailored to systematically probe for weaknesses (test all cases), which I'm learning to do, so I don't need that particular workbook series.

But I do use a wide variety of other sources to create problem sets that exercise skills from past lessons that I think he needs. Some I think he needs just because they haven't been exercised for a while. Some, such as the math contest problems, require skills not taught in the Singapore curriculum, and I deal with them on an ad hoc basis, after which I have to keep exercising those skills, too. The matching workbooks are too similar to the texts to provide the variety. I could pull problems from previous workbooks, of course, but I would rather he face practice problems from widely different sources to avoid "overfitting" Primary Math.

lgm said...

I used Sing Primary Math nonUS edition for 3A-6B as afterschooling for my mathy child since the school went to full inclusion and declined to place by instructional need. My mathy child found it overkill do more than the workbook. The only time we needed the text was for the division algorithm. CWP3 was worthless - no challenge when attempted simultaneously with 3A and B. IP5A had some worthwhile problems, but we used less than 5%.

My nonmathy child used 3A and 3B since the school went to full inclusion that year and declined to offer him 3rd grade math. He completed 3A over the summer, and 3B during the fall. He liked it enough that he continued with 4A&B.

There were no conceptual leap problems at all for either child with SM - they had firm foundations from school durng the pre-inclusion years with number bonds, mental add/subtract and problem solving skills.

The school uses a Houghton Mifflin product for Grades 3 -5. It is fine as it has material for all types of learners and it includes concepts - I didn't need to afterschool with it. The biggest problem is that school won't fit the instruction to the unclassified child's needs until he falls far behind enough to qualify for rti. The practice in the included classroom is to not present the sections in mid chapter - the intro sections and the problem solving sections are done. If the student can't 'get' the problem solving by extending the intro, then he's 'not smart' and should consider a tutor. It was far easier to go to HM's website and get the missing material than go thru the school, once we realized that the big gap in time between the intro sections and the problem solving sections was due to leaving time for the included children to attend pullouts and do the missing material. Then there is the problem of only doing 4 of 11 chapters.

The second biggest problem is lack of qualified teaching. Too many are presenting by grade 5, no classroom teacher has the responsibility to teach - instead they have a responsibiity to refer to a specialist. The specialists are trained in sped techniques, so the students get rote algorithm memorization, not concepts from them.

The next problem is classroom time. In the included classroom, much time is given for pullout. No lessons can be given during pullouts. Math is not daily - the focus in on literacy in English and many hours are put into that endeavour. Math needs to be 45 minutes daily at the instructional level of the child.

lgm said...

For clarification:

when I write "No lessons can be given during pullouts" I mean the remainder of the class is not to receive instruction in the classroom while classified children are attending their academic pullouts. Instruction is allowed to continue for the whole class if a classified child is going to a nonacademic pullout.

concerned said...


Were your children in attendance during the time the school used SRA?

Are parents of other children in attendance at the school now aware that SRA is available?

It bugs me that districts are not required to provide this information to parents.

palisadesk said...

Are parents of other children in attendance at the school now aware that SRA is available?

It bugs me that districts are not required to provide this information to parents.

If I interpreted Catherine's post correctly, the BOCES program is using one or more SRA Direct Instruction programs for a group of children in Catherine's elementary school -- a group of children with some exceptionality or classification, as that is the population that BOCES serves, sometimes in separate facilities and sometimes in classrooms located in neighborhood schools.

Thus, the SRA programs would not be available to other students in the school who did not meet criteria for the special program.

A problem with expecting the district to provide information on who is using DI programs where, is that it is rarely a constant. Whether a school uses any DI programs depends on:
-- whether they have access to the materials, which are extremely costly;
-- whether they have staff who are trained (even self-trained) to use DI effectively;
-- whether they have the ability to timetable the homogeneous groupings (these will usually cross grade levels) on a regular basis
-- whether they have the right program for the particular needs of a given year's student population (there are more than 30 DI programs in a number of different subject areas)

Let's say I am using Language for Thinking with some young kids this year. Next year we might not have a group for whom Language for Thinking is the appropriate teaching tool. Or, we might not be able to group kids homogeneously enough to use a DI program (that has happened this year in one of my schools. I'd love to do a DI reading program with the students, but the range in each group is too great for any of the DI programs).

If a school regularly used Corrective Reading (say) for middle school reading remediation, they could conceivably make this known, but parents don't automatically get their child into the remedial groups if they change schools.

Very few SRA/DI programs are suited for use in the general ed classroom as usually structured, because they require homogeneous groupings, which are rarely to be found. Thus, few schools would have them for core instruction unless they were using a Joplin Plan of instructional level grouping.

Crimson Wife said...

My DD used the U.S. edition for 3A/B and then switched to the Standards edition. I had the HIG for both. The U.S. edition HIG was basically useless. The SE HIG is better, but I still find myself needing to supplement certain chapters with Math Mammoth.