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Monday, October 02, 2006

Math, Math & More Math

The math curriculum debate rages on, here in Seattle, and around the country. At the upcoming School Board meeting this Wednesday, October 4th, Pat Murakami will once again testify on this divisive issue. The conflict is between "reform" math and "traditional" math. An article in the PI from April of this year, Seattle's teaching of math adds up to much confusion, has a good summary of the issues.

I think the math debate is like the literacy debate from the 90's, which pitted "phonics" against "whole language" as two opposing ways to help children learn to read. Most teachers now accept that good literacy instruction includes bits of both strategies. Hopefully, the math debate can reach the same place, where quality math curriculum uses some of what is good from both "reform" math and "traditional" math.

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If you are interested in learning more about math curriculum and instructional strategies, there are several upcoming events you may wish to attend:


Competitive Mathematics for a Global Economy
October 6th, 7:30 PM
Kane Hall 120-University of Washington

Where's the Math? will sponsor an evening with two distinguished national experts in K-12 math education Professors David Klein and R. James Milgram. Moderated by King5's Weather Reporter Jeff Renner. Also Featuring Representative Glenn Anderson and Representative Ross Hunter. This event is FREE and open to the public.

AND

Mathematics and Our Children’s Future
7-9 pm. Monday, October 16
Roosevelt High School

Nationally known mathematics educator offers free seminar. A dynamic speaker and nationally known educator will meet with parents, teachers and administrators on October 16 to offer recommendations on how they can support a quality mathematics program in schools.

Dr. Ruth Parker, founder and CEO of the Mathematics Education Collaborative, will facilitate the FREE event from 7-9 p.m., at the Roosevelt High School auditorium.

Dr. Parker will discuss:

- How to help your child reason with numbers;
- Why numerical reasoning is so important;
- How to recognize quality mathematics programs;
- How to better prepare children for algebra;
- What mathematics skills are essential to the workplace of today and tomorrow

Childcare and refreshments provided. Part of the Give Kids Good Schools campaign.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have a fifth grader and a seventh grader and their math curriculum is driving me crazy.

Mathematical competency consists of three elements: knowledge, skills, and concepts.

An example of knowledge is knowing that the formula for the area of a circle is pi times radius squared. You and I got this knowledge because our teachers gave it to us. They told us this is the formula, and this formula appeared in our textbooks.

An example of skills is being able to calculate the area of a circle. You and I got this skill by calculating the area of a couple hundred circles. Skills can only be improved by practice.

Examples of concepts are the idea that the area of a circle needs to be less than four times the radius squared because that would be the area of the square that the circle would fit into, the idea that the measure of area must include two lengths multiplied by each other to give a a measure of two-dimensional space, and the vague idea of what pi is about.

When we went to school we were given the knowledge, we practised the skills, and the concepts were hung out there. Some people got the concepts, some didn't. The knowledge and the skills helped a lot of us to understand the concepts. Even the people who didn't get the concepts at least had the knowledge and the skills. They might not know how the engine works, but they could drive the car.

Today's Connected Math curriculum turns it all around. Students are not provided with the formula for the area of a circle; they have to figure it out for themselves. They don't get a lot of practice on the skills, so they are never really developed. CMP focuses on the concepts, but without the knowledge or the skills as a base, the concepts appear gauzy and unreal.

I'm strong in math and enjoy it - yes, I actually enjoy it - but I doubt that I could ever work out for myself that the volume of a sphere is 4/3 times pi times the radius cubed. Yet this is what our children are expected to do. Not just the math geniuses, but all of them.

It appears to me that CMP was developed by people who are much more comfortable with words than numbers in conspiracy with some very high-minded mathematicians. They believe that it is more important for children to know why the area of a circle is what it is than to be able to calculate it. I strongly disagree. Their ability to calculate it is primary and their sense of why is strictly secondary if relevant at all.

Unfortunately, CMP doesn't convey the concepts particularly well either. As a result, our children are left without any of the three elements of mathematical competency. They don't know the formula, they can't do the calculation, and they don't really get any of the high-minded concepts.

The only students who are coming out of CMP with any kind of mathematical competency are those who are getting outside instruction. I have to work with my daughter every night on her math because the lessons don't make any sense to her and the homework borders on the absurd.

CMP is known to be particularly weak in algebra, yet Carla Santorno says that every student should be ready for algebra by the eighth grade. When I asked her, at the Community Conversation at Mercer, why, if that is the only math goal in the Strategic Framework, we have adopted a curriculum that is known to be weak in this area. She gave a pretty feeble answer that although CMP never actually teaches algebra, it teaches the various elements of algebra in different sections.

Hey, if you want kids to learn algebra, then I suggest you teach them algebra and not hope that they will piece it together from disparate parts.

Anonymous said...

My oldest son has gone off to college and my other son has started high school. I feel relieved that they are out from under the thumb of CMP. It was just not working. My husband would sit down and go over the math with them to make sure it was getting covered (I'm glad it wasn't me). But how many families have someone to help their kids especially in the middle and high school levels? We are going to have a generation of kids who are hurt by what is being taught now. The gap between US students and other countries' students is only going to grow.

Anonymous said...

School and college exams are become harder and harder every year, and level of teaching math in a public schools is very low, so most of the student choose to simply copy it from sites like brainwritings or buy is from writting service. To bad that pupils don't have their tutuors.