Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Let's switch gears to math

JIS Topics has focused lately on reading and writing in curriculum, but what about the third "R"? (that's 'rithmetic, to those from outside the US.) What choices do schools make when it comes to deciding how to teach math, and how do they make them?

Education expert Barry Garelick walks us through the thought process in his excellent article, "A Textbook Case of Textbook Adoption" (via the edublog JoanneJacobs.com). Garelick is an analyst for the US federal government and a national advisor to NYC HOLD, an education advocacy organization that addresses mathematics education in schools throughout the United States.

In his article, Garelick examines how the Washington, D.C., school board decided to adopt the Everyday Math curriculum "despite considerable opposition." According to Garelick, the board used several dubious tactics to shoot down opponents of Everyday Math (a program that many mathematicians, educators and parents say falls into a a category called "fuzzy math").

Garelick also provides some valuable history on the so-called "math wars," describing the relationship between the National Council of Teachers of Math (NCTM) and the Everyday Math curriculum. (You'll remember it's the NCTM that came out with new curriculum guidelines last month, but since has danced around the issue rather inelegantly.)

I've heard that JIS is now having a look at the math program it uses at the elementary level, so this article might be particularly timely as the school tries to unravel the facts and opinions on the various math programs available, such as Everyday Math, Singapore Math, Saxon Math, and a myriad of others.

I don't know what program JIS currently uses, but I did spy a set of Everyday Math workbooks on the shelves in my 5th grade son's classroom the other day while I was volunteering. (Although interestingly, my job that day was to drill students on multiplication and division facts -- something that definitely wouldn't normally happen in the fuzzy world of Everyday Math.)

Anyway, it's a wonky read, but worth it, especially for anyone in the position of setting curriculum policy on math.

UPDATE (9:25 p.m.): JoanneJacobs adds more fuel to the fire with a New York Post guest editorial on "fuzzy math" -- this time from the trenches of the Big Apple:

"In New York City, the program required in the vast majority of schools is called Everyday Mathematics. Chancellor Joel Klein swears by it. If you ask administrators to explain it, they'll use just enough jargon to make it sound decent.

But the truth is, Everyday Math systematically downplays addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, which everyone knows are the foundations for all higher math. Instead of learning those basic four operations like the backs of their hands, students are asked to choose from an array of alternative methods, such as an ancient Egyptian method for multiplication. Long division is especially frowned upon.

There are no textbooks; that would just be too traditional. Instead, the idea is that kids ought to sit in groups, while a "facilitator" - that's the teacher - helps. And, oh, one more thing: Calculators are introduced in kindergarten."


UPDATE (10/20/06): Check out this article on a recent presentation by Stanford University professor emeritus of math Jim Milgram, in which he concludes that "
The numbers of mathematical concepts American children are expected to learn each year results in shallow understanding of the subject." He proposes dramatically narrowing the scope of math study to "six concepts such as place value and basic number skills, fractions and decimals, functions and equations, and measurement." (Via a great education blog Edspresso.com.)

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: During yesterday's 5th-grade ISA test (that's the International Schools Assessment), my son got to use a calculator for the math section.... Sheesh.


At 3:16 AM, Anonymous Barry Garelick said...

A wonky read? What meanest thou?

At 7:27 AM, Blogger Cheryl van Tilburg said...

Wonky in the most positive, respectful, admiring way, of course!

At 5:21 PM, Anonymous Barry Garelick said...

Oh. I knew that!

I enjoy your blog.

At 10:13 PM, Blogger Cheryl van Tilburg said...

And I enjoy your writing.

Thanks for checking in with what's happening in Jakarta, Barry. It's a real honor.

At 11:18 AM, Anonymous sanjay kao said...

truly mystified/ horrified... calculator to do basic mathematical tasks! with spell-checks a customary limb and calculator yet another extension, the mind less exercised at this "ripe" age will delve into searches to fill a void...papa, what 's that you said about empty vessels and decibels...and idle minds attract devil kinds...staring at strange figures with even stranger names and more strange language creating a torniquet that may be difficult to entangle...yes, i am exaggerating to make a point...we want our children to get the best...start their minds with a good jog, build to a canter to take on a hi-speed world...get them to do the 4 basics of math in-the-mind, and build the roots to spell the words (however illogical spelling may be at times) - to the extent they are capable ...reduce addiction to reach out for a fix... those darned calculators and spell checks...an eye for detail develops through the mind...

At 9:03 PM, Blogger Cheryl van Tilburg said...

I, too, was horrified to hear about the calculators. Anyone who argues that young students shouldn't bother with "rote memorization" of things like multiplication tables has never seen those same students struggle to quickly solve an algebra or trigonometry problem.

Thanks so much, Sanjay, for your thoughtful, thought-provoking comment. Hopefully others at the school are scratching their heads in bewilderment, too.


Post a Comment

<< Home