Sunday, March 13, 2011

Maddening Math

I'm starting to feel like a journalist in that I hear stories and are told things I want to share with everyone. I can't though as I'll anger some people or reveal things that could jeopardize their careers or get them into trouble!

Yesterday I heard some hair-raising things from a student teacher about high school students in a wealthy Litchfield County school. They can't do math. They can't think. They are unable to do Algebra I in ninth grade. They can't do the math in science due to a low math ability. I'm talking about asking to put the ml of the components of a fluid that totals 10 ml when the list of items submitted by the students goes higher than 10 or even 20 ml.

I blame this "new new math", the Chicago Math.

It's time to revisit this YouTube video "Math an Inconvenient Truth". This video discusses these two curriculums:

1. Everyday Mathematics

My town's public schools use Growing with Mathematics which my parent-friends tell me is the Chicago Math but also tries to cover the "old fashioned math". The parents I spoke to hate the text and the methods and the Lattice Multiplication and guessing games.

If you are a parent, you need to sit down when you have 15 minutes to watch this. Homeschoolers, watch this and ponder how you want your kids doing math.

But before watching, I want to direct you to a quote from the Everyday Mathematics teacher's manual as discussed and shown in this video. I've transcribed it here:

“The authors of Everyday Mathematics do not believe it is worth students’ time and effort to fully develop highly efficient paper and pencil algorithms for all possible whole number, fraction, and decimal division problems. Mastery of the intricacies of such algorithms is a huge endeavor, one that experience tells us is doomed to failure for many students. It is simply counter-productive to invest many hours of precious class time on such algorithms. The mathematical payoff is not worth the cost, particularly because quotients can be found quickly and accurately with a calculator.”  from Everyday Matematics, 11.2.4 - Division Algorighms

Last year when my younger son was asking to try school the dealbreaker for me was I didn't want him exposed to this type of math. To me this is not REAL MATH. This was my number one concern regarding educational pedagogy of our public school. Second was my worry over what they'd do to his love of reading, and cringed at the idea of his only writing composition being to match the CMT formula writing style.

Okay, I've said enough. Settle back and watch this and let me know your thoughts.

To Learn More

Do an Internet search or YouTube search on these keywords to find criticisms or praise for these topics. You form your own opinion.

Chicago Math (style of this math)
Growing with Mathematics (curriculum)
Everyday Mathematics (curriculum)
TURK (curriculum)


love2teach2day said...

Students learning mathematics need to be taught in ways that lead to deeper understanding. For many students, the memorization of algorithms fails to accomplish this. I was definitely one of those students. I had no problem memorizing algorithms (hence my straight-As in math!), but I could not have begun to tell you what multiplication or division, etc. really meant. (Imagine my ah-ha moment a couple years ago when I finally realized that a square number is actually square! ;) )

While I agree that at face value videos like these make some strategies appear less efficient than the standard algorithm, I can say that I'm finally (as an adult) understanding mathematics because I'm beginning to learn "new" strategies that no one ever taught me as a child. I'm very grateful for this deeper understanding.

I am not closely familiar with Everyday Mathematics or Investigations, but based on my slim knowledge I would choose them over the methods with which I was taught. I agree that parents should research...the unfortunate reality, however, is that there probably aren't a lot of accessible ways for parents to get an unbiased education/understanding on what some of these methods offer.

Joyful Learner said...

I couldn't agree more which is the reason we're homeschooling too.

Joyful Learner said...

I can comment on Everyday Math as I've tutored children who used it. What I've noticed is 1) children hating math 2) writing/drawing many ways to solve the problem and then petering out in the end...therefore forgetting to do the actual computation. I think because doing computation wasn't emphasized, it proved to be a weakness in the students I've observed.

I've always did well in math, getting straight A's but due to the way I was taught (opposite extreme), I'm poor with mental math.

If I had it my way, I would teach the way my 5th grade teacher taught who was my inspiration in studying math education. She had us do Math Olympiads and given sufficient time to solve numerous problems. She, then would ask us how we solved it...followed by modeling a more efficient method. We didn't have to learn the lattice method or hundreds of other methods that Everyday Math focuses on. We were taught to problem solve and figure it out on our own, first and foremost. If I had it my way, I would have loved all my math classes to be taught this way. It would have at least kept the interest and joy alive.

1girl1dress1year said...

I have a hard time buying that this woman is genuinely concerned with the curriculum. It seems to be a case of "I don't understand this, so I'm rejecting it's validity"

ChristineMM said...

It's a stupid accusation to make that those who worry about this radical math are ignorant.

I learned in public school in the 1970s and 1980s the dry old way just pencil on paper and operations, drill and kill. I learned it but didn't get what was going on with the numbers.

I have homeschooled my kids & approached math from a games perspective in the prek years, my 2nd one was a toddler overhearing and participating with the older and picked more up casually.

I used a nontraditional curriculum Math U See which has manipulatives so they "get it", touch it and see it done out not just pencil on paper.

We also used many math supplements that are manipulatives or games alongside the Math U See.

We worked to mastery though.

At a lecture at MIT in Nov 2010 a math public school teacher explained in Japan and Singapore they teach 2-3 math topics a year to full mastery whereas USA teaches maybe 20 or 30 a year, touches on them very shortly, uses the spiral approach and doesn't allow time to work to mastery. Something to ponder.

Lastly how about more practice time in class on the concrete stuff and do math games at home for homework with family? That would be: 1. fun 2. bonding with family 3. let class time be used more effectively. (Regarding that it is based on what teachers have said and the curr company says about their Chicago Math where a lot of class time is spend playing math games, see YouTube & poke around a little to find it.)

They also don't use a lot of mental math like Singapore they use the calculator from a young age. In my town grade 3 is when they start with the calculator for easy operations.

love2teach2day said...

>teach 2-3 math topics a year to full mastery

We'll have an opportunity to see how effective this method is... The new Common Core Standards require it so most states are moving that way. (Most grade levels are required to focus on either 3 or 4 "critical areas.")

But we have something very different happening in the USA that isn't happening elsewhere. In other countries not everyone would be expected to master or go on to higher education. I'm wondering what will happen with this technique (of mastering a few key items/grade level) if, say, a fourth grader is unable to master double-digit multiplication in one year. When/where/how will he get what he needs when that year is over?

Warden of Chaos said...

Wow. I am so glad the husband and I have decided to homeschool our kids next year. Our oldest will be in firs grade, so we won't have to untrain him from this type of lazy mathematics. We've been using Saxon Math to supplement his kindergarten teaching, and we love it. I hop more parents see this video and truly understand why excessive calculator use and "group work" in math creates problems, not solutions. Have you ever had to have a cashier give you change when the cash register is down? Can't do simple math in their heads. I wonder why we haven't been as globally competitive as other nations?

C T said...

Everyday Math is a dealbreaker for me, too, and I will never let my children be "taught" math using it. I have a B.S. in Math and tutored at my university for three years in the math lab, everything from remedial math through calculus. The fact is that basic computation and algorithms are useful, even when you don't know exactly why you're doing them initially. My preferred math curriculum introduces concepts with concrete explanations, shows efficient algorithms, provides enough practice to make the algorithm automatic, and then moves on to the next logical step in mathematics knowledge (which usually involves reviewing why previously memorized algorithms work). I have found Everyday Math and similar curricula to be confusing and poor at actually conveying lasting understanding of math concepts, much less at developing computational ability.

Fire Wife said...

OMGoodness! Fireman & I were JUST discussing this over the weekend. One of his co-workers was explaining how they teach math at his school, which sounds like this Chicago Math.

We had a long talk about how none of this (ie. "new" math and sight reading) works if you don't know the basics first. You can't teach shortcuts in the beginning, then expect students (later adults) to be able to effectively advance their learning.

We still have a few years to decide, but I told FireMan that if we find out that the local schools (public & private) teach either/both of these, then I'd just as soon homeschool FireGirl, since I'd end up spending so much time at home re-teaching her the basics that she should have learned at school anyway.

RLRPhilosopher said...

Wow...I got a headache watching this. My son uses Singapore Math(I homeschool). It uses different methods to motivate higher-level understanding and mental math. He's in 6th grade, and still hasn't used a calculator - he uses the standard math algorithm - and he's quite skilled at mental math.

ChristineMM said...

Everyone's comments are so interesting, thank you.

Regarding core concepts and 3-4 ideas per year in the basic arithmetic (everything before algebra) it cycles and is re-used as it gets higher. Addition and subtraction is still used in long division, for example.

Something that might be an issue depending on the school policy is tracking and grouping by ability. It's a problem with mass education in classes to meet every kid where they're at. The only way seems to divide up kids by ability. In my middle school in the late 1970s we were grouped by general ability. The honors kids took honors math. The same thing happened with reading back in elementary school, we had those reading groups by ability and text readers with levels. Today in my town they offer hundreds of picture books to kids ranging from low word count toddler board books to easy chapter books and say "you have 30 minutes to read go pick something". This happens all around here and I've heard it from concerned parents. Kids are not guided up and to appropriate level books.

Schools have a real challenge, that's for sure.

One more thing. Sometimes I think the new ways to teach things that are invented by adults who have mastered the basics miss the mark. It makes since to them as they already know it and it seems to them the kids will respond to it. But when it's used on kids who know nothing of that topic, it may fail.

Parents are sick of having to re-teach concepts through homework. If it's some quirky method they don't know, it's a mess.

Another friend who used a rigorous private school for first grade said the new material was sent home as homework and the parents were told to teach it, then it would be gone over in class because "it's too hard to teach the new material only in class". When that grade ended she switched to another private school.

KC said...

Hi Christine,
Great video! I had my 11yo dd watch it with me and she was horrified. :) She kept saying "I'm so glad I'm homeschooled!"

She did spend some time in public school in 3rd grade and they used Investigations. A couple weeks after she'd been in class I had a meeting with the teacher and asked where the real math program was. She didn't understand what I meant. I had to explain that Investigations, in my opinion, was a great supplement to a math curriculum (which it is, it has fun games and problems and stories, etc. just none of that icky 'teaching of math' in it). The teacher tried to justify it, with how great it was that they weren't bound by 'rules' of math and how wonderful working in groups is. :/

My husband just watched the video and he said that the multiplication techniques are some type of matrix algebra (he can't remember the exact name) problem he wasn't introduced to till he was in calculus in college, and he's never had to use it since (he's an engineer, so not a stranger to math in the workplace). So why are they trying to teach these things to elementary students?!

Anyway, my kids both 'get' math and we use Saxon and are very happy with it. I supplement in the summer with the Singapore Extra Problems book, since it does introduce a new way of looking at math. And like I said, Investigations isn't that bad if it's viewed as a supplement to a real math program that teaches algorithms and mastery.

Thanks for stirring the hornets nest!

Alison said...

Thank you so much for posting this video. I absolutely loathe Chicago Math. It is the form of mathematics that is taught in our school district, and I have a fourth grader who is really struggling to grasp the methods. My husband and I are spending hours each week trying to "unteach" these methods and teach him traditional math so that he can be successful in school. Very frustrating. Also, I find it interesting that most of the teachers I have spoken to you about Chicago Math dislike it also. I have a friend who is a 7th grade math teacher and has said that he has incoming students who cannot complete simple "mental math" subtraction because they are still touch pointing. Ridiculous!