kitchen table math, the sequel: Hello! and how Math Trailblazers saved my district

Friday, September 6, 2013

Hello! and how Math Trailblazers saved my district

UPDATE 10/26/2013: Wrong again. Here and here.

Hi everyone -

Sorry to be sooooo absent. I got stuck in the middle of a math post the other night, and then got swallowed up by the new semester.

Will get back to the chart ASAP, but in the meantime, sneak preview:

After introducing timed worksheets two years ago, my district has some of the best math scores in Westchester County, a development that required a mere 10 (or was it 12?) years of sustained local Math War, annual Parent Uprisings, the creation of Kitchen Table Math and the Irvington Parents Forum (followed by threat of legal action issued by the union), and the election of two anti-Trailblazers members (here, too) to the Board of Ed. (Three now, counting last spring's election.)

All this to get Mad Minutes.

Turns out Mad Minutes is enough to raise student achievement. Through the magic of synchronicity, I happened to be re-reading my 72 pages of notes from Morningside Academy's Summer School Institute 2012 (I gave a short talk on precision teaching at my college!), where I found this:
Chief Joseph [a school in Montana] - they had no aims, no celeration aims, no peer coaching...they just had the kids practice computation (& some other things) - last 30 minutes of the day (worst time to ask kids to do anything) - real simple - use daily chart - timer on, timer off - use practice sheets & chart - by June the kids at the Chief Joseph school were now scoring at the 80th percentile while district kids were in low 60s - ITBS Chief Joseph School (Precision Teaching) Great Falls, Montana school district (comparison) THAT IMPROVEMENT was just from drill and kill at end of day
In other words, doing nothing but introducing timed worksheets works. Achievement goes up.

I wonder if we are the only district in Westchester County with Mad Minutes?

We may be.

Meanwhile Dobbs Ferry, next door, which adopted Singapore Math a few years ago, has an 8th-grade pass rate half ours (30% in Dobbs; 61% in Irvington). From what I gather, Dobbs has always been devoted to progressive education, to a degree Irvington has never been (again, as far as I can tell). I'm sure that accounts for it.

Dobbs hired a math coach who gives interviews to the local paper saying Singapore Math "isn't about finding the right answer" and is about extensive use of hands-on manipulatives. I remember being so horrified by the first story on Dobbs' adoption of Singapore Math that I wrote a letter to the editor. (Wonder if I can find that now....)

We've still got Math Trailblazers and we're killing them.

We don't want Math Trailblazers; parents have been protesting Trailblazers for years. The result: the administration & board dug in their heels, and we are today the last man standing: the very last district in all of Westchester still using Trailblazers. (Though in theory Trailblazers has been 'hybridized' with Singapore Math.... "Hybridizing" Math Trailblazers with Singapore Math is the kind of desperate measure administrators have been driven to.)

Thinking it over, I have to believe that Trailblazers is a major reason for the fact that my district now uses timed worksheets.

Parents hated Trailblazers so much that they stormed the ramparts every year, year in and year out; the issue never went away.

Usually the dogs bark and the caravan moves on, but not in this case. The dogs kept barking; there was no escape. So every year there was a scramble to fix Trailblazers until finally a part-time interim curriculum director (who had previously worked in Chappaqua, the one district far ahead of us) started talking about "automaticity" and brought in timed worksheets.

I used to always say: if you want to have parent uprisings every year, adopt Math Trailblazers.

Now I'm thinking: if you want timed worksheets, adopt Math Trailblazers and suffer through 10 years of parent uprisings.

Will get my chart finished & posted soon, I hope. Lots more to tell on various fronts.

I am lobbying now for timed worksheets in grammar, reading, and writing.

UPDATE 10/25/2013: Wrong again.


Anonymous said...

Um, Singapore math is about the process *and* about finding the right answers.

Crimson Wife said...

What a flipping idiot. Singapore uses a concrete -> pictorial -> abstract methodology so while students start out using manipulatives in the primary grades as a way of introducing concepts, they are supposed to also master pencil and paper calculation using traditional algorithms. And yes, learn how to get the correct answer.

SteveH said...

It's a sad commentary that to get improvement, one has to have a curriculum so bad that it gets parents to pay attention. However, parents should NOT be satisfied with the 80th percentile score.
I've mentioned in the past that schools can screw up Singapore Math if they don't value mastery. One would be better off (without carefully trained teachers) with the old Saxon Math.

Many schools talk about supplementing things like TERC and Everyday Math, but it's rarely anything that specifically targets mastery of skills on a clear grade-by-grade basis with specific time laid out for that purpose. You just happened to have a curriculum director who selected a good choice. It could easily have been a home-brew integrated solution that was ineffective.

This shows the real importance of mastery of basic skills and how relatively easy it is to obtain. It also shows how so many educators are so wrong.

Kai said...

I absolutely agree--if a district is not going to train its teachers to teach Singapore style programs properly, they would be better off with Saxon. And frankly, even if a district does provide appropriate training, there's not guarantee that individual teachers are going to implement what they've learned.

Auntie Ann said...

Our grade school had one brave K-1 teacher (the grades were combined back then) who insisted on using RocketMath and the mad-minute concept. There was a great deal of contempt heaped on her by other teachers. She stayed with it, and even got promoted the head teacher of the grade level.

It must have worked well enough to impress, because within a few years, the whole grade school was doing math-minute timed tests. Just between the time our now-13 year old went through and our now-11 year old went through, you could tell the difference. The older kid got none of the math-facts drills in class, and we were barely told (one quick, passing reference at back-to-school night) to take care of it at home.

The school is in the progressive-ed camp, but has just started rolling out Singapore (on a ridiculously-long timetable of several years.) I'm sure they'll try to progressivize it, but we're hoping that the quality of the curriculum will survive.

Anonymous said...

I can't remember if they called it Mad Minutes, but my kids elementary school definitely did this. And yes, we are in Westchester County, not Irvington. Personally, I thought them pointless but the teachers loved them.

lgm said...

"In other words, doing nothing but introducing timed worksheets works. Achievement goes up."

Doesn't that mean the students needed more repetition or practice than they were being offered previously?

In my area, the Title 1 ele. schools do it all in class. The nonTitle1 schools tell the parents to do the drill at home if the student didn't get the facts in memory from what was offered in class.

Anonymous said...

Mad Minutes is actually a book of around 30 math facts going from addition through division, and maybe more, I can't remember. But you can easily create your own from online math sheet generator sites. I did for years.