Friday, December 27, 2013

Talking about Teaching Math

 Update:  some of you may have missed the link below to a video of a kindergarten teacher teaching math via Common Core standards.  I'm putting it in this thread as well.

New York State's Education department has a website to promote its work called EngageNY.   @The Chalk Face education blog has a story on Common Core videos that are being used. 
I personally found the one in the story - for kindergarteners - to be somewhat disturbing.  There is something so mechanical and detached about the way this teacher is providing the teaching.  I also learned that there's two ways to think/learn about math.  The teacher does not state the name of the first way (as she starts) but she calls the second way, "the math way." Can a teacher or someone who knows about teaching math explain why the students would need to learn to think of math in two different ways?

What is interesting as well are the comments to this story.  Is warmth and engagement just as important as teaching and learning?  Does it matter more at one grade level than another?


End of Update.


First, a link to a great interview in the NY Times with Liping Ma, a former teacher and principal in China, who writes about the differences in how China and the US teach math.  Important reading if you care about math instruction (thanks to reader Dan Dempsey).

The writing below is from a member of the SPS math committee who does not want to be named but wanted to give input on what is happening with the work.  This person is careful to state that he/she does NOT speak for the committee but is reflecting on their work.

I appreciate the input on Common Core standards.

Start of reflection (bold mine):

In response to a comments from a publisher forwarded to a community member…

Publisher: "Seattle, like many other districts currently conducting curricula reviews, has rigid guidelines based on the Common Core. The boilerplate publisher applications are exacting to the letter of the CCSS, but not necessarily the spirit of the movement. Thus, our currently available series would not pass the muster despite the obvious parallels between [our framework] and the Standards for Mathematical Practice. Looking forward, we will be releasing a new CCSS-aligned edition [of our product] this coming Spring and therefore will be much better positioned to market to schools and districts looking for ‘CCSS Stamped’ programs."
Community member added: “So CCSS and national testing will dictate what is taught in the classrooms.”
I can give you my impression of the email based on my experience as a member of the Math Adoption committee, but recognize I am not an expert. I first confronted the common core (CC) standards in detail when I first joined the committee.
I am not sure whether perspective from the marketing manager is accurate, at least the way I have experienced it. I don't know the exact timing of the solicitations but I think that the requests to all the publishers went out before the committee ever met – our first task was to come up with our evaluation criteria, and the scoring and weights were not developed until last week (week of December 20th). Not sure how the publishers could not have known the rigidity, or lack of it, until after they chose to not participate. From their email it appears perhaps that they are just late, which is too bad since they do have a good reputation. But there are other publishers who have participated who also have a good reputation, including one based on the same teaching method as this publisher, and others that are the favorite of a few teachers at my daughter’s school.

The evaluation method derived by the committee to me appears thoughtful, but not overly rigorous; it includes reasonable room for interpretation within the core components and while a majority of the weight is given to adherence to the core elements, it is not much more than half, and the other part is given to a broad category of its "effectiveness of implementation/delivery”, including things such as the ability of the teacher to deliver the lessons, navigate the tools, support a variety of student backgrounds, and also help support parents. Being a parent member you would think that I would have been the strongest supporter of the latter component, but the teachers are dedicated to making sure the curriculum is understandable to parents. I did not have to advocate for this at all

As for the Common Core itself the tone of the letter below seems to be mocking it. I have spoken to nearly all of the teachers who are on the committee and not only do they like the Common Core but there is genuine enthusiasm about it; I can be cynical about a lot of things, and some have called me a nihilist, but the enthusiasm shown by the teachers has made be a believer.

I have also learned to view a standard differently. One should not view it as a way for some body to impose their will on others I now think of if it as a guidepost for teachers to work well together across grades, or school, etc. The benefits of having confidence in what their next brood of students will know is worth restricting their own options slightly so that they can provide the same courtesy to the teacher’s one up the ladder. This and they appear to think the standards are actually good.

As far as testing, the perspective of some teachers is that it may now be the other way around; the teaching will dictate the tests, and the teachers appear to anticipate the testing will be helpful to them; yes, you read that right, these teachers appear to like the tests when they are aligned with both the standards and the text. Imagine being a teacher when the tests, standards, and texts are not speaking with a single voice. Who wouldn’t hate tests.

They are an impressive dedicated bunch, the teachers on the panel – they are dedicated, professional, thorough and thoughtful. They are so good in fact that I have been struggling to find a way to contribute since it is clear they do not need me to do a good job.
The evaluation process is a massive undertaking; but it did not have to be. It is time consuming by their choice to not exchange thoroughness for expediency. Each publisher includes up to 6 and some times more texts per grade level, plus computer (web) help for teachers, parents, and students. All of it needs to be evaluated and scored. In a group of three I spent between 10AM and 2PM on just one publisher and when I had to leave at 2:00 the other two were only halfway through this single offering, and all the other committee members were still at it too. The room was largely quiet but with an occasional inquiry or moment of ad-hoc deliberation over elements they were reading. They were helping each other understand the structure and nature of the offerings without even a hint that they were influencing each other’s opinions. They were all bringing their expertise to the problem in a vigorous and thoughtful way. I am a cancer researcher and I can say that I wish reviews of grants to the National Cancer Institute were always evaluated with as much thoughtfulness and care.

As the publishers comments states, that the common core is closely aligned to the principles used in their product; I know this is true because I once compared the CCSS boilerplate to this publishers own boilerplate and recognized the similarity. Perhaps there is an element of turf invasion here now that everyone is doing it their way and competing. A curriculum expert I spoke to said that the big losers in the CCSS movement will be the large-textbook markers because they now will have to compete on a national market, rather than simply making texts for Texas and California, then offering trivial modifications for small states like ours. This could bring a lot of innovation -- and some duds – but from what I have witnessed the teacher committee members, and the other non-teacher members (other than me) Seattle will be able to eliminate the duds pretty easily.

Hard to know what it means to be "exacting to the letter" of the CC which is intentionally not very exacting; from my perspective I wish it was more “exacting” then we would not have so many variations to consider. But the offerings vary quit a bit from each other while still addressing the core standards. It does not appear to have any risk of turning your teacher into a robot.

But I am all-new to this myself, and it is also based on my short experience, so reasonable people can disagree. When I started this evaluation I had no idea what to expect. The professionalism and enthusiasm of the teachers who are involved makes me feel highly optimistic about the changes that are coming. My enthusiasm was not there when I started. I acquired it by spending some time looking at what the CC is and inquiring about the enthusiasm seen in these teachers. There is not a note of pessimism in the room.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's indeed good news from the math committee to end 2013 and start 2014 with.

cheers

ben said...

I finally found time to spend an hour and a half looking at the textbook samples downtown. Its an overwhelmingly large amount of material so I mostly looked at the different fifth grade fraction chapters to check a sample from each publisher.

Here's my impressions:

1. Being common core aligned right tends to make all the books fairly similar. Almost everyone followed the standards to a tee. That means every topic was taught in exactly the same order as the standards and no more and no less was present. They are both a ceiling and a floor for what's going to happen in the classroom. Thew worst examples of this actually printed the common core requirement in the margins of the textbooks for every section which I found depressingly rigid and had the effect of making the book feel excessively bureaucratic.

2. Overall there was a lot of focus on extra materials but for the most part the textbooks felt more like workbooks. There wasn't much pure instructional material anywhere. (One of them didn't even have a table of contents to lookup a topic from if you wanted to) If you ever have bought one of the practice workbooks in the book store that is about the level most of these books were at. The teacher is going to be key with any of these books, because none of them felt very complete. I nthe worst samples, the textbooks were very incomplete and you'd need to use the teacher lessons + probably the online resources (which I tend to distrust) to even assemble a semblance of a curriculum.


3. There was an odd tendency to downplay the level of the books. You had to look on the spine or back cover for a clue with most that this was 3rd grade vs. 4th grade book. One didn't even dare print numbers and just had 5 dots discretely tucked away on the cover. At the same time, several of the books seemed overly cutesy with lots of animated characters at the fifth grade level that didn't entirely seem age appropriate to me.

Overall, I just wasn't very impressed. They all provided plenty of practice material. A good teacher could use any of these books as a spring board for a solid year but I didn't really love any of them. They all felt very mediocre. I happened to have recently seen the Art of Problem Solving elementary school series and I thought while it was not the least bit aligned, it was alot better than any of these samples.

Ben





Linh-Co said...

The obsession of Common Core is rather silly. Good math instruction exist before CCSS and will continue after CCSS.

Common Core is not internationally benchmarked to any of the top achieving countries. Although CCSS is very similar to our current Washington state standards some of the topics have been shifted. For example, mastery of long division is a fifth grade WA standard but is not required until 6th grade in Common Core. The same goes for multi-digit multiplication. Currently the required fluency for that topic is in the WA 4th grade standard but is pushed back to 5th grade with CCSS.

The delay in long division is troubling when kids are expected to convert fractions to decimals. It is easy enough to go from 1/4 to .25 and 25%, but would be impossible to convert 1/7 to a decimal without long division or the use of a calculator.

Linh-Co said...

I meant good math instruction existed before CCSS...

Anonymous said...

I also carefully reviewed the offerings but came to a slightly different conclusion than the first commenter. While most of the material is overlaid with endless cutesy graphics and computer tie-ins, there are a couple of programs that are black-and-white and noticeably rigorous. Among the best I think are Math In Focus, which is the Americanized Singapore math, and JUMP math, which comes out of Canada and is actually published by a charity whose goal is to...wait for it...increase numeracy in the general population. These two programs also have the distinction of being written by actual mathematicians, which I can tell you the others are not. If either of these two curricula were adopted, test scores would almost certainly jump 10% after one year.

- math for the masses

Anonymous said...

If we were actually interested in improving the academic performance of students, the big focus on Common Core would be discarded and a focus on Ms. Ma's points would be followed.

In the 12 years of Terry Bergeson at OSPI WA State and Seattle put a huge emphasis on "Conceptual Understanding" while never being able to measure or actually define it.

Check the latest from OSPI here =>

http://www.k12.wa.us/Corestandards/default.aspx

Common Core is a real-world approach to learning and teaching. Developed by education experts from 45 states, these K-12 learning standards go deeper into key concepts in math and English language arts. The standards require a practical, real-life application of knowledge that prepares Washington students for success in college, work and life.

Common Core provides:
Consistent learning expectations for all students.
Clear standards that focus on understanding over memorization.
Emphasis on the critical topics students need to succeed after high school.
Faster testing results with a better, more focused online assessment system.

-------
The Content Standards for math were not developed by "experts from 45 states".
These are not internationally benchmarked against high achieving countries.

The 8 Standards for Mathematical Practice look a lot like the same nebulous nonsense pushed by Team Bergeson=>
http://www.corestandards.org/math/practice

Now Dr. Joe Willhoft formerly heading the OSPI WASL .... is the executive director of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

Look at the latest results from TIMSS and PISA and scratch your head about why we do the things we do?

Jay Greene's blog nails it on "Best Practices"=>

http://jaypgreene.com/2013/12/03/let-the-best-practices-rorschach-test-begin/

.... just eyeballing the top performers and making up stories about why they succeeded based on picking and choosing characteristics about them is pure quackery. As I’ve said before, best practices are the worst.

To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data....... Apparently there is no plan to do much leadership using a plan to improve the system....

So, reach for your Duck Dynasty duck quacker and watch as folks make up stories

-- Dan Dempsey

dw said...

1) Thank you, whoever you are on the committee for this write-up. So often these committees are thrown together and decisions get made without anyone on the outside having a clue, then the committees disband and there are no more clues to be had. I'm sure others on the committee have their own views and different specific things they feel are important, but I really appreciate being able to read something about what's happening, and it does make me feel a little bit better about the process. Thank you!

2) I am concerned about CC acting as a de facto ceiling. For example, if, as Linh-Co points out, multi-digit multiplication fluency is 4th grade standard in WA, but 5th grade standard in CC, then the problem is crystal clear. Even though it's possible to work ahead of CC, if the text books are so rigidly designed to follow a specific prescribed path and they are used grade-by-grade as designed (3rd grade textbooks for 3rd graders), then much of Washington State will be losing ground, dumbing down our kids. Very disturbing. Is it even remotely possible that SPS could choose to implement a set of CC-aligned books, but use them one year ahead? That might not make sense in K/1, but is there any reason we couldn't implement a textbook adoption where we use the materials, but at a faster pace in some years than the CC recommends?

3) I haven't seen most of the textbooks under review yet, but I will echo 'math for the masses' comments about Math In Focus, which is an outstanding program.

If you only have 30 minutes free to review the various material, take a look at Math In Focus for an example of how it can be done.

'masses' 10% improvement may sound like a lot, but I think over the course of 2-3 years (giving teachers a chance to change gears and learn a new, better system) we'll see even more improvement than that, especially in schools where there isn't much support at home.

Michelle Dempsey said...

I'm on board with Math in Focus.... which is a HoughtonMifflin product.

MIF would allow parents to supplement it with Singapore Math standards edition materials which have several supplemental books for each grade level.

SingaporeMath.com

http://www.singaporemath.com/Primary_Math_s/21.htm

http://www.singaporemath.com/Supplementary_Math_s/43.htm

ExtraPractice and Challenging Word problems
may be very beneficial for those wishing to supplement at home.

I believe the Ed Machine runs largely on politics and money. MIF may well be the "best choice" under current conditions.

Linh-Co said...

JUMP Math and Math in Focus are my favorite. I'm a little disappointed with Math in Focus. It is definitely not as strong as the original Singapore Math. It is fuzzier and not as rigorous but is a better choice than enVision and My Math.

JUMP Math is very explicit and does not leave anything to chance. The workbooks are stand-alone and do not need a textbook for clarity. The workbooks from the other programs are pure worksheets with little or no explanations. I feel parents using JUMP math can easily help their child without looking at the textbook. This is crucial since most textbooks are left at school.

Anonymous said...

Info about JUMP MATH

Jump Math has a positive track record most new CCSSM aligned programs have just begun.

-- Dan Dempsey

Anonymous said...

Some interesting discussions around JUMP Math (a few years old, and I'm guessing we are now reviewing a US version aligned to CCSS, rather than the original Canadian version):

http://mathforum.org/kb/message.jspa?messageID=7437293

http://blog.oaknorton.com/tag/jump-math/

It was designed as a remedial program, so it does raise a small red flag for me. The reviews sound positive in terms of the mathematical soundness of the program, though I'd be interested in feedback on the level of challenge - is the pace appropriately challenging?

The JUMP website says they are piloting materials in California, New York, and Washington State for the 2013-14 school year and some material is still under development.

JUMP Math USA

-mathy parent

Linh-Co said...

I still stand by my original statement as noted in the posting.
that, "CCSS and national testing will dictate what is taught in the classrooms.”

I had a chance to review some of the materials at the JSCE last week. I specifically chose to focus on the development of fractions because this is seen as a key strand in determining success of algebra.

Lowest common multiple is not taught in Common Core until 6th grade.

6.NS.B4 - Find the greatest common factor of two whole numbers less than or equal to 100 and the least common multiple of two whole numbers less than or equal to 12.

Notice that the CCSS standard only requires students to find LCM for two whole number less than or equal to 12. This is also another delay from the current WA state standards which require 5th grade students to determine LCM for all numbers.

Compare that to WA state 5th grade standard:

5.2.D Determine the greatest common factor and least common multiple of two or more whole numbers.

Some of the new CCSS aligned textbooks being considered do not teach lowest common multiple in 5th grade. This really limits adding and subtracting of fractions with unlike denominators. While it's fine to add 1/2 + 1/4 and using 8 as a common denominator instead of 4. It is a lot more cumbersome with 5/12 + 7/24 and having to deal with a common denominator of 288 because the students have not been taught about LCM.

Our current WA standards expect 5th grade students to fluently and accurately add and subtract fractions, including mixed numbers.

Anonymous said...

SPS procurement guidelines, as dictated by state law, don't require competitive bidding for books so they can do whatever process they want to evaluate materials and vendors.

If they want to see Singapore Math then they can still pursue it.

I'd like to see the original vendor participation solicitation.

Ann D.

Anonymous said...

What's concerning about the delayed mastery of some concepts (under CCSS) is that we are only adopting an elementary math program. How will the transition from 5th to 6th be for students? Do the current middle school materials (for which I have few flattering comments) cover the CCSS concepts that are now being pushed into 6th grade?

I agree that facility with fractions is key to being successful in middle school and beyond. Having tutored middle school students, I can see weakness with fractions holds back many students - how can you work with ratios, percents, proportions, linear equations, simple probability, simplifying expressions, etc., without being completely fluent in operations with fractions?

-mathy parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

"CCSS and national testing will dictate what is taught in the classrooms.”

I concur.

Anonymous said...

A Scientific American interview with JUMP creator John Mighton:

Kids JUMP for Math

-just fyi

Anonymous said...

We used JUMP math books to cover 6th and 7th grade math with daughter when she was making the transition to APP in middle school. I really liked the JUMP text books (and obviously they are so much better than the CMP math books).

Jane

Anonymous said...

I am a retired quantitative researcher (life and earth sciences) and am now a K - Calculus math tutor.

With my students I am using primarily Singapore Math, Saxon Math, and H-M Unified Math (the latter is out-of-print, but is used at Ingraham HS), and am very happy with these texts.

I went to JSC this week, to look at Math-in-Focus (MIF) and JUMP Math (JM)

I find JM equal to if not superior to Singapore Math (SM), and will be offering JM as an alternative for my clients.

I thought the JM supplemental topical booklets written for the weaker students, as a means to build up their skill and confidence so that they can be successful in the standard workbook series, were outstanding.

I find this curriculum appropriate for the entire spectrum of students: struggling through Gifted.

While I would not choose MIF over the standards-based edition of SM, I think Seattle Public school students will be well-served by either MIF or JM, should either be adopted.

I also looked at Ready for Common Core, Envision Math, and Go-Math. I did not find any of these to rise to the level of JM or MIF. I found various problems these three curricula, Including Missing increments, too much text, insufficient practice, poorly framed presebtation and confusingly worded practice problems, distracting graphics.

This adoption cycle there are a couple of very good candidates, so I am hopeful that the adoption will result in a decline in my K-5 business.

90% of my clients are kids who need outside help not because they have a math-learning disability to overcome, but rather because they have received years of poor instruction in SPS. I have no doubt that if SPS had been using a decent curriculum since early in their academic career, most of my students would have no need for outside tutoring.

Signed K-13 Math Tutor

Anonymous said...

I want to add that I think good curriculum leads to improved instruction.

Craig Parsely, who brought Singapore to Schmitz Park elementary, (a school with phenomenal scores on district- and state- standardized math assessments), told me that, when Singapore was adopted there, the teachers who were not confident in math learned right along with the students, and thus became better math teachers.

It is this is this example that makes me hopeful that good curriculum will lead to better instruction and therefore more successful students.

If a student has a good textbook and/or workbook, then even if the teacher is poor, the student still has a chance to grow in their mathematical knowledge.

K-13 math tutor

Anonymous said...

Gatewood is using Jump Math for K-5 this year, but some teachers are still using the old curriculum alongside it. Highline switched to Math in Focus not too long ago I think. Maybe the math committee can be get some data on the results in the local schools that are already using these. -Was There

Anonymous said...

I hope the math adoption committee picks the best curriculum to replace the inferior discovery textbooks. We cannot lose another generation to remedial math classes.

Both of our sons had good math teachers in Seattle Public schools but the curriculum held them back. The unnecessary confusion related to discovery math was criminal. Outside tutoring did not overcome the deficiencies.

Parents need to speak up strongly to insist upon a fundamentally sound math program from elementary though high school. It would be the most positive development in years for SPS.

S parent

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Anonymous said...

I am wondering if this document influenced what math curriculum publishers responded to the RFI

K–8 Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics

http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Math_Publishers_Criteria_K-8_Spring%202013_FINAL.pdf

Ann D

Anonymous said...

I am wondering if this document influenced what math curriculum publishers responded to the RFI

K–8 Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics

http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Math_Publishers_Criteria_K-8_Spring%202013_FINAL.pdf

Ann D

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