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Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Comment

I don't do this often but because I saw this huge number of hits with a fairly large number of comments on one post, I wanted to put this out there.

This week's Tuesday Open Thread has been one of the most read and commented posts we have had in a long time.  The number of hits is so hit as to preclude it being the same 20 people coming back, again and again.

The post is mostly a math discussion about readiness, equity, resources and implementation for an idea at one middle school to drop the entire 8th grade into algebra.

There was a comment or two that were not worthy (and one got deleted for that reason) but everyone seems to be trying to flesh out what this means to drop an entire grade of students into an advanced math class (and mind you, without much notice to either students or parents). 

I appreciate the idea of "having faith" in the teachers, the principal and, most of all, the kids, to embrace this idea and get it right.  But again, like many things happening in education, I think - and I believe most teachers would agree - it's all in the preparation. 

And if you don't prepare, don't be surprised at less than stellar outcomes (and frankly, more than a few mad parents). 

If you don't prepare, then at least be prepared with supports for students who may need them.  Don't scramble when you find a larger number than you thought you'd have who are struggling through a class.

That's my hope for this bold idea.  

But most of all, thank you, readers.  Because when we have discussions like this, we share concerns, ideas, research and input.  We are a community.

This stand in repudiation to those who say this blog is just full of "haters" and complainers. 

Not true.

43 comments:

Valley Girl said...

Is math being bumped up a year in Seattle? That seems to be the way the school district is going. Throwing the e-word into the school's email about the change seems the really confusing part. Is it the class size issue or what? Is it equal access to honors?
The support elective is not elective. It just fills up the place of an elective.
I wonder what equitable means.
What I hope it means is kids who haven't been pushed to perform in the past, will in the future and kids who who were will come to understand that expectations often drive performance. In other words, they aren't smarter, they just have either more involved parents, better opportunities and exposure, better nutrition, extracurricular activities, access to books, less TV or video game babysitting, wealthier parents, two parents, or whatever. Basically advantages that other kids, if they had the exact same advantages, would also have put them in honors classes.
That's the subtext of equity in this instance. In the parlance of the 60's and 70's, nature vs. nurture. It's not really nature that lets a kid do one year over grade level, anybody who knows the curriculum knows it is not too demanding. It's a little bit of home tutoring or just a parent who enjoys talking math or a sibling who will help explain things or even just a demanding teacher who tells her students they can and will step up.
As for kids who really have the math smarts, they have and no doubt will continue to be moved up. McClure is going to have 8th graders in Algebra 2 in 2014-15.
I am glad Mr. Johnson is out in front on this. I don't know him but he is very well thought of as an instructor and his race and gender are noteworthy. McClure is extremely lucky to have him there and I think he has made a careful decision, with the former principal Ms. Pritchett, and will oversee the transition this year to Algebra 1 and make it work for the students.

Melissa Westbrook said...

VG, you seemed to have missed the point of my post.

It was not meant as an opening to put other people (and their children) down. It was meant as a pat on the back to those who want to have a discussion.

I would be fine with all students taking the same upper level class with two caveats. One, it would have been nice for the school to let parents know soon and maybe even gasp! weigh in. Two, if students are clearly not ready/haven't had the supports others have, there should be a system - in place - to help them along.

I'm glad to hear from someone who knows what a gifted child does and doesn't look like and how they all came from the same type of home. (I'm assuming by your authoritative tone that you do have a background in gifted education.)

I'm also wondering if there are no gifted (ie "smarter") student, then you'd agree there are no gifted kids in music or sports? People like Yo-Yo Ma just had music in the home and that explains it.

I can't access Mr. Johnson now but when school starts, I'll try to find out exactly how this is expected to work.

Anonymous said...

That's an interesting theory you have there. Do we all have exactly the same athletic and musical ability too?

I asked Mr. Johnson some questions about the new policy and he informed me tthat while there were sixth graders in algebra this year, He does not believe in putting sixth graders in high school classes and will not do it going forward unless unusual circumstances warrant. He does not believe that qualifying MAP scores are unusual circumstances.

The question he didn't answer was whether he'd had to get permission to ignore the district math placement policy.

Lynn

Anonymous said...

It's a bold idea. Why can't we be equally bold and ditch CMP (and EDM) too? I happily support teachers in their contract talk, but I want them to march with signs and be just as vocal in demanding better core curricula too.

-mavparent

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Valley Girl said...

Here is a link to a study about gifted education that shows giving all kids gifted level cirriculum delivers performance at gifted levels after several years. So while there are of course children with unusual abilities based solely on genetics or unexplained physical anomalies, there are many, many kids in gifted programs solely because of a nourishing environment at home.

http://today.duke.edu/2011/03/darity.html

Anonymous said...

The pilot study you cited describes changing the teaching technique for K-2 students in Title 1 schools - teachers were trained by "national and state-level experts on how to develop students' thinking and skills such as controlling impulsivity, posing questions and taking responsible risks." After staff development, teachers redesigned the curricula. An increased percentage of students were later identified as gifted, by their district criteria, as compared to a control group (15-20% vs 10% of the control group).

It would be great if all teachers were trained in gifted ed (including those teaching gifted ed classrooms!), yet that is not a requirement in this state, nor has it been a priority for SPS. For the most part, SPS relies on accelerating the same grade level curriculum, but that is not the same as "gifted curriculum."

Isn't what's being proposed for McClure simply delivering the same district algebra curriculum - acceleration vs curriculum designed for gifted students?

@Valley Girl suggested...there are many, many kids in gifted programs solely because of a nourishing environment at home. I don't doubt that a nourishing environment helps - nature and nurture - but the study can't separate the two. The study results do indicate there are many students with potential that are being underserved.

To your earlier comment about the curriculum not being too demanding - it gets more demanding in high school and accelerating now will require those students to take higher level classes in order to graduate. That's the point, you may say, but it can make it much more difficult when they get to Algebra 2/Pre-Calculus/Calculus. Not many parents can help at that point. Just something to consider.

pondering

Melissa Westbrook said...

VG, you didn't answer the questions asked but that doesn't surprise me.

Anonymous said...

What's the end goal here? With universal 8th grade Algebra I, is the expectation that all will go on to then take Calculus as seniors (9-geom, 10-alg2, 11-percalc/trig)? Or will they be exempt from math for the last couple years?

Also, I believe I saw a study that found typical 8th grade Alg I classes were not as rigorous as those in 9th grade. They tended to get through less material, as there was more background material that had to be newly covered or reinforced. The end result was that even those really ready for the class ended up with a "lite" version. I'll see if I can find a copy.


HIMSmom

Anonymous said...

I have tutored in middle school math classes in SPS. What I see is a lot of kids who haven't mastered math basics like multiplication & division. They may understand the concepts but they can not do problems quickly & reliably enough to use those tools to solve other problems. Then they have so little practice with CMP in fractions & orders of operations that they also don't master those skills.

So when they have to solve an algebra problem with a dozen operations in it they spend too much attention on trying to remember what to do if the exponent is inside the parenthesis (orders of operations)& how to divide one side of the equation by a complex term (fractions), that they forget to apply the negative sign all the way through or have to stop to look at the multiplication table chart & then they miss the problem.

They need more practice so that basic skills can be used as automatic tools & not be distracting in their problem solving process.

I see teachers so frustrated because kids have not mastered skills that they should have learned in elementary school & don't master new ones before they have to move on.

Math is sequential, kids should have the chance to master skills before they are expected to use them in more complex math. I would prefer to see more kids working at their own pace for at least part of the math period, than pushed ahead on some arbitrary schedule.

Calculators don't help much when the kids have so little number sense that they can't tell when they make a mistake punching in the numbers.

Making mastery one of the goals in elementary school math could help better prepare students for 8th grade algebra.

Just pushing kids through to calculus without mastery is setting them up for remedial math after high school & that limits their opportunities for STEM studies post-high school. Better to get to Alg 2 solidly.

What is inequitable is that middle-class parents know their kids need to memorize multiplication tables & work on that at home, while many struggling families don't realize their kids are not getting the math they need to be successful.

- math tutor

Valley Girl said...

I don't think YoYo Ma would have gotten anywhere near a cello if he had been born in rural China to peasant parents as opposed to his actual life. But, yes, there are obviously people with unusual abilities, I agree.
The Duke study has one quote that is very apropos:

"We are literally changing the knowledge, skills and dispositions of teachers so they believe children can learn. It is a lot about teacher expectation and belief," said Mary N. Watson, the director of the exceptional children division of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, who helped develop the project.

Yes, Lynn, I do have a "background" in gifted Ed and teachers are part of this problem. They frequently label kids and expectations arise accordingly. When you have a Spectrum self contained classroom, the teacher can turn it up knowing that: the kids are able to do the work based on testing for AL status, the parents are involved enough to test their kids and will probably respond to teacher requests, the students themselves know they are capable of hard work, and when the kids excell the teachers can feel free to show off the results without dissing their colleagues. It's a recipe for success - for the cohorted kids.
The other classrooms have teachers who get resigned to doing remedial work, having higher numbers of disinterested parents(nobody at home is going to do those cool triangle flash cards to drill Susy on her math facts or spend the time to make reading a fun adventure), gifted but untested kids, just plain disadvantaged students, kids with real learning disabilities, in other words the dregs.
So the question isn't: are there gifted kids? Of course there, Yo-Yo is a prodigy, but he was born lucky too. What SPS needs to do is find all the Yo-Yos who weren't born lucky and for the non prodigies, learn methods to bring them to the level of the advantaged non prodigies, and I reiterate, most kids in AL are not very gifted, just lucky.

Valley Girl said...

Oh and BTW, I am not calling students "dregs", I am stating the unfortunate result that segregating by ability causes. Teachers burdened with the non Spectrum class year after year get a mindset at times which is hard to counteract, despite the best intentions of a teacher. The system is the problem,not the teacher or the student.

n said...

Forgive me for reposting here one I just posted on the Tuesday thread. Algebra is not physics but it does seem to involve a different "language" - at least it did to me when I almost failed it in ninth grade! Start teaching it earlier - much earlier.

Previously posted:

I've passed this along many times - even to Seattle math coaches - to no avail. There is nothing new under the sun and we should be teaching higher level math to our kids much earlier. We still mostly teach arithmetic.

Thirds graders in Lebanon, Oregon do high school algebra. It is a thinking math over rote and it is taught early.

http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2008/12/math_education.html

http://suite101.com/article/algebra-taught-in-first-grade-a87424

LEBANON -- Lori Haley and Mya Corbett hunch over a pile of yellow hexagons, trying to figure out how many hexagonal tables it would take to seat 25 guests.

The pair want to get the answer, but what they're really itching to do is to come up with a formula that will tell them how many people they could seat for any given number of tables.

Suddenly, the girls detect a pattern, and one shouts: "(t x 4) + 2 = s!" They try it on one table, two tables, eight tables -- it works.

They beam, flashing smiles that still feature baby teeth. Lori and Mya just started third grade.

Anonymous said...

Valley Girl,

There is no way that placing all students in heterogenous classrooms and accelerating their curriculum by two years will cause them to test in the 98th percentile in nationally normed cognitive tests.

Certainly some of the students in general education classrooms could do more difficult work than they are currently given. So could plenty of the kids in Spectrum and APP classrooms. What do you suggest we do about that? Teach each subject at the level of the most advanced student in the class? Will that make everyone smarter?

When you say you have a background in gifted education - do you mean that you took actual classes in educating gifted children? That's what I generally assume the term means. You haven't talked about that at all. You seem entirely concerned with proving that gifted kids don't exist - and that the kids we call gifted should not get anything different at school than anyone else.

Can you define gifted for us? What tests would you use and scores would you require to qualify as a gifted child?

Would you support random assignment to varsity sports teams in public schools? Random assignment to various levels of band and orchestra?

Lynn

Anonymous said...

I second what "math tutor" and "n" said. Learning multiplication tables can be tedious, but I find success doing it in short, but frequent bursts. Adding logic problems or puzzles stimulate the kids to think and often that part you can make it fun and funny.

Having worked with the same kids since they were 7 and 8 yo, what would be helpful if there was an individualized remediation plan set up so teachers, tutors can use with each student and can follow progress or regression grade to grade. I envision something like an informal IEP, but perhaps the stigma of tracking prevents this? It would help if there was a systematic way rather relying on verbal handoff or having a new teacher assessing for areas of weakness/strengths all over again each year with each student. Remediation classes are small, but these kids often need more one-on-one attention academically and some also need mentoring for social support. For some of these kids, if you provide both types of support, you get better outcome academically and behaviorally. I don't know how good the communication is between math support teachers, tutors, and grade math teachers (or homeroom teachers in ES).

For kids who don't have a lot of academic and/or social support at home, I don't rely on HW as reinforcement of materials, but set up a plan to do it all during the school day. Grades at MS are dependent on turning in HW. I know with my own fairly responsible teens, I still have to remind them about starting on HW, getting HW/project turn in, and carving out time to do it. When you don't have a nagger at home, kids (with their teen brain) fall off on the wayside.

mp

Valley Girl said...

The Duke research illustrates the importance of two things:
Teacher expectations and student self-perception. That is the gist of the Algebra 1 for 8th graders scheme, no more no less. Teachers are no different than non- teachers, they get caught in stereotypes and labeling despite their best intentions and knowledge to the contrary. That' s what I am referring to, not the definition of gifted.
Nevertheless, it is a big problem in identifying low socioeconomic kids because the tests don't catch them. So if tests can't find the gifted poor, then we need a way to make them show up on these tests and the Duke study shows how it can be done. As I said a few times, there kids with different levels of natural ability as well as some exceedingly different. Same in sports. Any professional athlete is a freak of nature, an anomoly.
So is a kid who tests at say 150 IQ. But these Spectrum kids and most APP kids are nowhere near 150 IQ. How do I know that, because statistically it is impossible. 150 is about 0.1 per cent of the population, substantially more than pro athletes BTW. That is one in a thousand, meaning statistically we have 50 such students in the entire district, and, yes, those kids would benefit from a cohorted environment.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"The other classrooms have teachers who get resigned to doing remedial work, having higher numbers of disinterested parents(nobody at home is going to do those cool triangle flash cards to drill Susy on her math facts or spend the time to make reading a fun adventure), gifted but untested kids, just plain disadvantaged students, kids with real learning disabilities, in other words the dregs."

Breathtaking. And, yes, you called those students " the dregs", no backpedalling or "the system" stuff.

First of all, there are bright kids in every single classroom. How do I know this? Because if you look at the number of kids tested versus in the AL system, there are a lot more who test in than enter into the system.

Second, testing isn't the only sign of a bright child, so naturally general ed classrooms have those kids.

No, I don't think you really know about gifted programs. That "real learning disabilities" phrase is the tip-off. The APP students DO indeed qualify for services under that category. You can complain/dislike that all you want, but it's the law.

And luck is what makes the difference if a student succeeds or not? Not in my book.

Anonymous said...

Identification wise there are different levels of giftedness. The APP program identifies those that perform in the 98th percentile (top 2%), or an IQ of around 130. By that definition, at least 1000 SPS students should be identified as gifted. The Mensa society is open to those that score in the top 2%. The top 1% would be an IQ of 135. The top 0.1%, or 99.9th percentile, would be an IQ closer to 150. If that's the definition you are using for "gifted," then yes, they are statistically one in a thousand. Kind of a high bar for services. Those students would be ill served even in the APP program.

-not "gifted"

Anonymous said...

Getting to @Valley Girl’s comment about better identifying gifted students, the 2007 review of the APP program (by Callahan, Brighton, and Davis, University of Virginia) had this to say:

The efforts to increase diversity in the program cannot be based on changes in the identification system that are test-based only. The district should invest in the creation of a “talent-development” program that will address grades K-2 in low income schools. The program, which might be modeled on one such as that offered in Virginia Beach, VA, should be oriented toward presentation of high level, challenging curriculum that will develop the content knowledge, skill, and attitudes that characterize gifted learners.

This is similar to the Duke study - the K-2 environment was enriched, which led to more students being identified for gifted programming.

-not "gifted"

Melissa Westbrook said...

And once again, a discussion about one thing turns into a heated discussion about Advanced Learning. Very tiresome.

It's sad because if any of you read the post, it was about how we can have discussions. So much for that.

n said...

That is so smart, "not-gifted." We need to spend more money and reduce class size significantly in those highly at-risk schools and we'll find gifted kids.

It's all about how you spend the money and configure class size. Add in lots and lots of preschool-headstart opportunities.

My experience tells me kids can do almost anything K-5 We ask way too little of them but we also don't offer engaging curriculum to tease out the magnificently gifted brains they bring us.

Ted Nutting said...

I teach math at Ballard. I agree with most of the comments about mandating algebra in 8th grade, especially those of Charlie Mas and "Mathy Mom."

Ballard puts all students in Algebra 1 or higher. This makes no sense to me, and doing it in 8th grade is even worse.

I taught Algebra 1 during the 2011-2012 school year. Some of my students didn't know their addition tables. Many didn't know their times tables, and many couldn't handle signed numbers. Few could add fractions, and very, very few could divide a multi-digit number by a single digit number. In short, almost all were weak in arithmetic. I thought that students should be able to do simple arithmetic, so my solution was to concentrate on problems that used small numbers and to insist that students do those without a calculator. I hardly used the Discovering textbook at all; it typically used larger numbers that just invited students to take out their calculators as the first step in doing the math.

Generally, the ability of my students to comprehend algebra parallelled their ability to do arithmetic. Quite a few dropped the course, either transferring to the class that included a support class, dropping math entirely to take Algebra 1 the next year, or occasionally shifting to a class with another teacher. Some stayed in the course and did not pass it. Over 90% of the students who remained in the class passed the Algebra 1 EOC test (but let's remember that the EOC is pretty weak and does not even test much of the material contained in the Algebra 1 state standards).

Several comments in this thread have encouraged our schools to emphasize PREPARING students for 8th grade algebra starting in kindergarten and to avoid placing students in Algebra 1 before they can do the work. Of course they are right. I'm convinced that almost everyone has the intelligence to be ready for algebra by 8th grade, but they have to be ready. Our schools are not doing a good job of making them ready.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Some research on school districts and state with 8th grade algebra curriculum. It's sobering.

1. Discuss the California case:
http://www.edsource.org/today/2012/another-study-questions-states-push-for-8th-grade-algebra/19289#.UhFxcMu9KK1

2. Discuss NC school districts:

http://www.hks.harvard.edu/pepg/PDF/Papers/Vigdor%20Paper.pdf

3. WAPO Jay Matthews thoughtful revaluation in light of Brookings Intitute report and the barrge of responses from DC area math teachers.

http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2008-09-22/news/36780439_1_eighth-grade-algebra-algebra-test-tom-loveless

4.How to do it right and meet students needs where they are:
http://www.districtadministration.com/article/8th-grade-algebra-finding-formula-success

5. Finally, read a study done on our very own Everett School District. Read the breadth and depth the district invested to lay the groundwork to get there.

http://www-media.carnegielearning.com.s3.amazonaws.com/articles/whitepaper/011d6303-24df-459d-be49-8218859a154b?Signature=aXXusXkELULSM2kupzohosQt%2Bkw%3D&Expires=1692235615&AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJX33RODX7TPUDBNQ

mp

n said...

repost because I forgot to sign!

Math people don't understand those of us who are algebra-deficient. I did fine in geometry but algebra introduced another language as far as I was concerned. The only way I passed ninth grade algebra was because I passed a standardized test including algebra, trig and calculus and my score was one of the highest in the school. My teacher said he could not fail me with that kind of score. That was Mr. Tuscher at QA High.

I am very logical. I knew my arithmetic (and still do) backwards and forwards.

I did not understand the language of algebra. I just didn't get it. And I still have to plug in numbers to figure it out.

I remember seeing a math documentary where a prof admitted to having to turn algebra into a concrete model in order to really understand it. I've looked and looked for that documentary - I thought it was a PBS series called By the Numbers but didn't find it there when I purchased to series. Numbers are concrete. Symbols (letters) seem to me to be abstract.

Anyway, this particular professor became the go-to guy in the department for particularly difficult complex math.

Algebra is different than arithmetic. You may think that simply understanding operations will solve the problem but it won't. We need to start earlier and use the languages of math interchangeably. Kids who start algebra in primary classrooms may finally understand why knowing your times tables and the functions of parentheses and the order of operations is important. Right now they have no reason to really want to learn those things. They don't see them as useful.

Give a kid a reason to learn something and most of the time, that kid will learn it.

I believe in Discovery Math just as I believe in traditional math. A good math program should include all of it including algebra, geometry and probably even some calculus and trig. Since I'm no mathematician (but am one who truly embraces its importance) I don't know what would be involved in bringing down those other areas of math. But I know there is a good curriculum from NCTM that Lebanon is using and it is working for those kids.

n said...

Wow! The article I posted was updated in March of this year and it links to another article (WAPO 2008)which should really ruffle a few feathers:

Is Upper Level Math Necessary?

Students are told that they must work hard to achieve success in math in high school because math will be needed in the real world. Is this really true?

http://suite101.com/article/is-upper-level-math-necessary-a77241

Anonymous said...

n,

I didn't mean to give the impression that I think understanding operations means that algebra is inevitably accessible.

What I was trying to say is that if a child does not have automaticity with arithmetic & has to give attention to remembering or looking up operations, then they don't have the working memory left over to think about the abstract problem. If you can do the arithmetic automatically then you have more attention to give to the problem, less chance of making small errors & more likelihood of seeing the patterns for a solution. To me it seems like trying to play a sonata on an instrument when you don't remember the fingerings automatically.

I agree that mathematical thinking is important to teach all along with puzzles & games & creative discovery opportunites. Arithmetic is a basic building block for more advanced math, not the only one, but the one I most often see as an issue for the middle school students that I tutor.

I do think that learning math skills can be fun with a creative teacher & spending only a few minutes a day on it. But I also have routinely forced my own kids to practice things that were not fun including chores, spelling lists, notetaking for history tests, writing thank you notes, physical therapy exercises & handwriting.

-math tutor

Charlie Mas said...

Lynn wrote

"You [Valley Girl] seem entirely concerned with proving that gifted kids don't exist - and that the kids we call gifted should not get anything different at school than anyone else.

I didn't read Valley Girl's comments that way. I read them to say that the kids that we DON'T call gifted should not get anything different at school than anyone else. Valley Girl, as I read her comments, was not suggesting that we give the non-gifted curriculum to the students we now identify as gifted, but that we give the gifted curriculum (with appropriate supports) to the students we now identify as non-gifted.

The stumbling block, of course, is the appropriate supports. The McClure effort will work exactly as well as the Math Support class - and no better. Kids cannot pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they have no boots.

Can we all share our focus on providing the necessary supports to all of the students who need them?

Anonymous said...

Here's the thing about "remediation lovers" and the "boo hoo hoo, kids aren't prepared with enough arithmetic": Math isn't arithmetic. Yes, you absolutely can be great at "math" and suck at arithmetic. Most real mathematicians aren't especially great at arithmetic. You could, theoretically, be great at Algebra 1, and do all the arithmetic on the calculator. The problem with requiring "mastery of previous skills" is that very often, people never acquire that mastery, incorrectly perceived as necessary. Then what? Are they to be stuck in General Math for 4 years? A previous generation of Ballard HS graduates encountered exactly that. The whole notion of sequential instruction is really mostly imposed. Sounds like Ted Nutting was happy to get rid of a great many of his students so the remaining easy students could all pass the EOC. Congratulations. That's exactly the attitude we don't need. That said, of course we would like students to master all the materials of all previous years. Of course it's beneficial to be arithmetically fluent. But, when kids get to high school, or middle school, you have to teach the students you have, not the ones you wish you had.

And finally, the whole idea: "we don't need so much math" has a lot of merit. How much math do people really need to know? Right now, math is sort of a weed-out class in both high school and college. A Rite of Passage. It is more of a long-standing cultural tradition, than a practice that is based around necessary skills. Not surprisingly, pass rates appear to be culturally pre-determined as well. Even in high tech professions, very little new math is ever required. (I say this as a high tech mathy professional) Math is an excellent way to teach logical thinking, perseverance, written expression of complex ideas, etc and it is useful. But, there are many other topics that teach those skills too. I agree that we should get beyond the religiosity of mathematical instruction, especially since we have imposed this religious viewpoint which now has become a stumbling block for lots of people who otherwise would be very successful students.

-Another Mathy Enthusiast

Linh-Co said...

Please don't badmouth Ted Nutting. His students have the highest scores and highest passing rates for the AP Calculus exam in Seattle School District and maybe even in the state. Here's an editorial from Seattle Times featuring Ted.

http://blogs.seattletimes.com/opinionnw/2013/06/05/the-no-1-math-teacher/

And I don't know where you get your information about "Most real mathematicians aren't especially great at arithmetic." It just isn't correct. Please read the NMAP (National Mathematics Advisory Panel) executive summary. This panel was composed of the brightest U.S. mathematicians and math educators.

From p.26 of the NMAP, "Conceptual understanding of mathematical operations, fluent execution of procedures, and fast access to number combination together support effective and efficient problem solving...U.S. students' poor knowledge of the core arithmetical concepts impedes the learning of algebra..."

Anonymous said...

Another mathy enthusiast, do you even know Mr. Nutting? Our kids do and the assumption you made about him tells me you know very little about him and couldn't be more wrong.

You think it's fine students shouldn't have to master basic math like fraction, decimals, percentage, or number concepts? I suggest you may want to reconsider as you need to understand all those concepts to be able to use a tool like a calculator to figure out the answer correctly. That is what Mr. Nutting is saying.

Does your "hi tech mathy professional" advice for dismissing such learning means it's also acceptable for students to go through K-12 education and come out reading and writing at the 4th or 5th grade level too?

reader

Anonymous said...

I get this information because I know a lot of people who actually are mathematicians. Right, math educators, including college ones, actually have a vested interest in wanting the perfect student. Complaining about the quality of the student has become part of the culture, followed closely by complaining about the quality of the teacher. You can't do one without also doing the other. I'm not "bad mouthing Ted Nutting", I'm commenting on his post. Getting the highest scores on the AP calculus exam is something laudable, but it is not everything. Reaching all students is also important.... and giving up on them, or having them sign up for something else, so that you can get high test scores in your class just isn't a practice I respect.

How many adults, in real life, would be able to pass any of these exams? EOCs? I bet way more than half of our citizens, including highly successful ones would no longer be able to pass math EOCs. I'm pretty darn sure that very few non-math teachers would be able to pass them 10 years after high school. And AP calculus... how many of us have had to do "integration by parts" or use a Taylor series lately, or ever, as an adult with a real job, even if your "real job" is highly technical?

Math Enthusiast

Anonymous said...

How many writers diagram a sentence day to day? Still i think we should teach the parts of speech. The point is understanding the ideas you work with every day, not proving it out. I use statistics in my everyday professional life, and it is clear to me when I talk to the general public what a harm lack of deep understanding of those concepts do.

It is possible to do some clever one offs or introduction to concepts in algebra without big numbers, so you can skate by without much arithmetic. I have done this with my young children, and it is very cute, and they have a good time, but I would not say they can actually do algebra. To get any practice, or to work with the exponents that allow you to apply algebra to most scientific uses, arithmetic needs to be second nature, not because it is the same thing, but for the same reason that it is difficult to write a critical essay if you have to pause at every word to figure out how to spell or conjugate it. You may say algebra is another language, but I say algebra is an area of study spoken in arithmetic.

I've also tutored middle school math and have had the same experience as above- woeful lack of preparation, especially with operations tables and fractions. I have done Singapore at home with my own kids, and it does introduce algebraic thinking very early - second grade or so- along with much more drill practice. it's not that hard to get the arithmetic in, if you focus on it for a little while. But it is torture if you spend several years kind of but not really learning it.

-sleeper

Anonymous said...

How many writers diagram a sentence day to day? Still i think we should teach the parts of speech

Guess what? They don't teach parts of speech at all. Absolutely nobody does any diagramming. No grammar. Nothing. They aren't even part of LA standards. Why not? Because nobody had any use for it. QED.

Cute stuff isn't what I'm talking about. Leave the calculations to the calculator if you must. It really isn't that big of a deal. It's what we all do. Sure. It's great if you can do calculations, understand them deeply, and have great number sense. But if you can't, or so far haven't been able to, then let's not let it stand in the way of everything else you might learn. There's still plenty to learn if you can't do fractions.

ME

Anonymous said...

yes "they" do. My older children have both had units on them-several- in elementary, and the older has learned about sentence parts, just like I learned them for diagramming. They also teach about suffix and prefix meanings, though people don't go around spouting prefix origin on a daily basis.

There is still plenty to learn besides fractions, but without the ability to know what it means to divide by something, what happens when x just has to sit on top or bottom of a fraction, and what you can do about it, no, you can't really understand algebra. It's not really number sense- being able to recognize patterns with familiarity, work with the numbers and fractions as they get bigger or smaller. I use this stuff every day at work, not in a techy field, though definitely higher math competency than what you are advocating for has increased my income, ability, and marketability enormously. I would hate to see that cut off for SPS students.

-sleeper

Ted Nutting said...

Interesting comments. I look at arithmetic as a subsection of algebra, with algebra being the science of number (while geometry is the science of space). The same rules apply in arithmetic as in algebra, and arithmetic is almost always easier to learn first. But once arithmetic is learned, algebra comes pretty easily. Examples:

You can't add algebraic fractions if you don't know how to add fractions. Studying arithmetic shows you how to do that. If you can do the arithmetic, the algebra isn't very hard.

Operations with signed numbers: I've seen students use a calculator to do 2 – (−2). If you don't understand signed numbers, how can you do x – (−x)? Arithmetic leads to algebra, which in one sense is a generalized arithmetic.

I just don't see students who are good at algebra but can't do arithmetic. Perhaps they exist, but there aren't very many. As a rule, the ones who don't understand arithmetic don't understand the algebra concepts either and can't do it.

Anonymous said...

Since I'm not a "hi tech mathy professional" and can't seem to find a job description for it, I bow to your greater expertise on what you need to become one. However, not all of us want to be a "hi tech mathy professional". More importantly, we don't have whatever you have that makes you so sure you don't need to learn all the things the rest of the world believes education is all about.

My kids have learned fractions and algebra, grammar and parts of speech to keep their career and learning options open. For them, it's not a religious experience nor a rite of passage. They see getting a driver's license more of a rite of passage.

And there's the rub, whether you want to be a vet, pharmacy tech, teacher, merchant mariner, small business owner, game designer, landscaper, or even a hi tech mathy professional, learning these concepts/skills and getting a HS diploma means a life of opportunities
beyond HS. That's still what the real world demands and that's what this is all about.

reader

Charlie Mas said...

The suggestion that a strong base knowledge of grade school arithmetic - math facts, basic functions, fractions, proportions, percentages, area of 2D geometric figures, etc. - is unnecessary for access to algebra may be theoretically true, but in practical terms it is false.

The solution to factoring x^2 + 11x + 28 is ridiculously simple for those who know their math facts and much more difficult for those who don't.

Isolating a variable is difficult for those who aren't facile with the operations and how they work.

In any case, I find it hard to imagine someone arguing against teaching these skills.

Charlie Mas said...

Oh, and I use algebra and basic math all the time. I don't find much daily use for math beyond geometry, but I don't make daily use of chemistry or physics either.

I do, however, make daily use of personal finance, childcare, and nutrition. When the District says that they are going to prepare students for career, college and life, I want to know where the classes are that prepare them for life?

M.J. McDermott said...

I tutor in 9th grade Algebra 1 classes at Ingraham High School. I think it's ridiculous that the lowest math class available in high school is Algebra 1. Some parents actually put their kids in Running Start so that they can take "lower" math than Algebra at North Seattle Community College.

The idea of making Algebra 1 mandatory for 8th graders will be a huge challenge for a school district where many students cannot multiply, divide or even add and subtract without a calculator, cannot manipulate fractions with confidence, and have an aversion to working through a problem because they will have endured almost a decade of "feel good" math where they were never drilled in skills that would make them really ready for Algebra 1. Pity the teachers who have to teach Algebra 1 to unprepared 8th graders. Pity the parents who have to endure the pushback from their adolescents and then see the report card.

A better idea would be for the Seattle School District to adopt good math curricula that teaches excellent math skills and truly prepares students for Algebra, whatever grade the students actually get there.

By the way, it would be a good idea to make sure that all of the TEACHERS and ADMINISTRATORS in the Seattle School District can do Algebra.

Finally, politicians and School District officials who want to pat themselves on the back and declare that all of their 8th graders are in Algebra 1: Math is not a race.

Anonymous said...


In any case, I find it hard to imagine someone arguing against teaching these skills.


Yes. I find Algebra 1 useful as an adult. But not much else, even as a high tech professional. Higher math was fun and interesting for me, but doesn't get a lot of use. Too bad we have to use it as such a weed-out for other things.

I'm not arguing against teaching basic skills. But I am arguing against using their mastery to prevent somebody from moving forward. By the time kids reach 9th grade, they've had 10 years of basic skills - often many with remediation attempts. Why do we think more "Basic Math" is going to do the trick? We can blame many people for whatever failed, but the kid is still the kid. And that is who we need to educate. Let's move them forward and not get stuck on deficits. Reader, I agree with efforts to promote students and not put up arbitrary roadblocks. At one point, everyone thought diagramming sentences was a skill universally necessary. Turns out they were wrong, and it was stupid to throw that up as a roadblock for further education.

Ted Nutting, I'm not a math educator. I can believe you that students who are proficient in arithmetic, aren't proficient with Algebra. But then it is the opportunity to teach those arithmetic rules as an abstraction. It would be one thing if remediation actually worked, that doesn't seem to be the case.

Math Enthusiast

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