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What about MIDDLE school math texts?

Original post made by jordan parent, Downtown North, on Mar 24, 2009

There's been a lot of discussion about the elementary school text adoption, with people hating on Everyday Math. What about middle school? My kid has one big, hardcover, regular kind of textbook. They don't use that one too much, but that's the one I like better. In addition to that one, he brings home softcover, thin, books, that are each about a different topic. Each topic lasts about a month, so that's how long he has these thin books for. These thin books do not lay out how to do the problems, they set it up for the kids to figure it out themselves, and my kid has a real problem with it. I find it hard myself to figure them out to help my kid. Is this the middle school equivalent to Everyday Math for the elementary schools set? Why isn't anyone talking about middle school?

Comments (22)

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Posted by math parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 25, 2009 at 5:38 am

Haven't heard a lot about the process, per se. I think they are not as far along in the process and of course the Committee's composition is different.

For a comparison of what they are doing at JLS, my daughter had Investigations, worksheets and a hardcover book (in sixth grade), and also was piloting another text with accompanying workbook. Her teacher also gave them different, very fun and mind-stretching work in another book when they had mastered the materials. I can't say I love Investigations, but it just seems like something we live through and at least it is't the text they rely on primarily to teach the concepts. When she doesn't understand a concept we refer to a different textbook (Saxon, the favorite of most homeschoolers nationwide) to reinforce it at home.


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Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 25, 2009 at 11:25 am

"These thin books do not lay out how to do the problems, they set it up for the kids to figure it out themselves"

Welcome to the real world of applied math. Out here we're given tough problems. Nobody "lays out" how to do them; our job as engineers is to figure that out and then do it. That's how the Golden Gate Bridge and the 747 and other engineering feats came to be.

These books seem like excellent training for the students. I wish I'd had them in middle school, instead of the plodding dumb-rote track the teachers, parents, and school boards of the time mistook for math teachnig. To be fair, I have to recognize they had no idea of math beyond the plodding dumb-rote track that they had gone through. They knew nothing of real math. I wish they had.

In college I learned how satisfying and, yes, fun, solving problems using one's trained creativity can be. Unfortunately, I initially approached the experience with the hard resistive shell I had developed to cope with with the plodding dumb-rote track I was exposed to until that time, and that cost me. Congratulations to your children for learning how to think so early in their lives.


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Posted by math parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 25, 2009 at 2:50 pm

But do they all need to have the problem solving abilities of engineering PhDs when they are in 6th and 7th grade? I haven't seen these thin books, but am just saying maybe those really higher-level applications are more appropriate after they have finished laying the foundations, which are solidified in 6th grade and built upon with pre-algebra and algebra in middle school.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

"But do they all need to have the problem solving abilities of engineering PhDs when they are in 6th and 7th grade?"
No, but can they make it as adults lacking even 6th grade math skills?
Imagine a banking system where feelings were more important than numerical correctness - wait, that is what we had.


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Posted by math parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 25, 2009 at 6:43 pm

Agreed, Walter, which is why we want our kids educated in something other than "Everyday Math" -- so that when they get to higher level math, they will be able to handle it and not flip out when asked to convert 7/8 into a percentage or some such assignment. But that is the elementary school math issue. Here we are talking about giving them the solid foundation, year by year (assuming they already had it in K-5), that will allow them to fly mathematically as they progress though high school. Not sure why one would expect a middle schooler to be able to do graduate school math . . . until at least high school ;0)


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Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 26, 2009 at 12:03 am

Converting 7/8 into a percentage is incredibly simple if one understands the mathematics: First, a fraction is the concept of dividing the top quantity by the bottom one. (The key phrase is concept of dividing; the act of numerical division is intellectually trivial.) Second, that percentages are merely decimal numbers multiplied by 100 which, if one understands the basis of the marvelous Arabic number system, is trivially accomplished by moving the decimal 2 digits to the right. That's the math.

Knowing it, the professional practicioner flips on a calculator, enters 7, presses the divide key, enters 8, presses the = key. Presto, 0.875 appears. Mentally relocating the decimal point 2 digits instantly yields the percentage: 87.5. The math consists of knowing what keys to press and, especially, why. The silicon chips do the dumb stuff that math illiterates mistake for math.

I shudder to recall the drudgery, fear, and loathing my middle school teachers pressed on us disguised as "math," while never coming close to teaching the universal underlying principles that constitute the actul mathematics, yet which enable one to solve the real math problems with confidence and ease.


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Posted by Perspective
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 26, 2009 at 6:31 am


An Engineer: Sorry, don't buy it. Unless you are a Social Engineer, you would know beyond all shadow of a doubt that getting to even the Algebra/Geometry level, let alone the Calculus level, of 9th grade requires the ability to do the "plodding" stuff, without a calculator, that basic math requires...no calculators to do the math for you until you have it down cold. And, unless you are over 60, you used calculators for the simple math in middle school.

Nice cut and paste of the language basis of converting into percentages though! Good try to push through EDM on emotion not results.


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Posted by Another Math Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 26, 2009 at 9:05 am

For math parent, a member of the JLS Middle School community, posted on Mar 25, 2009 at 5:38 am:

What SAXON book/s do you use for 6th grade? Thanks a lot for your help.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 26, 2009 at 9:18 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Perhaps textbooks are a dying tool. My $150 notebook computer combined with interactive lessons and drills might be the better approach. The proper program would determine which approach worked better with each individual, and present additional material in the manner most suitable for that individual. I still have a couple of books of logs laying around.


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Posted by math parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 26, 2009 at 10:23 am

We use the new Course One and Course 2 books -- used to be Math 7/6 and 8/7 I think. To explain Algebra, Harold Jacobs (who brought us the wonderful "Mathematics: A Human Endeavor") has a fabulous Algebra 1 book that we love because it teaches the concepts, teaches the theory, and has the kids think for themselves about the underlying basis for the principles so that they can replicate results instead of memorizing formulae. It accomplishes what Everyday Math and Investigations purport to, but actually succeeds in solidifying concepts where, imo, the others tend to confuse.

Walter, certainly computers are a beautiful thing, and the online supplementation resources (eg the ones used with Glencoe, which is one of the middle school texts being piloted) are invaluable. But there is also something satisfying about sitting down and reading a book and calculating by hand instead of on screen. Old fashioned, maybe, but it is a different experience. It is gratifying to see tangibly how much progress you have made through a book of material, in a differnt way that getting an onscreen message about your "level." And long hours of computer time are not so great for the eyes either. I would be sad to give up entirely on textbooks.


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Posted by math parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 26, 2009 at 10:26 am

Oops! Sorry, didn't really answer your question. The Math Course 1 book correlates well with the sixth grade curriculum. For more advanced work, you can move to Course 2. As a former mathphobe, I have loved going though Saxon with my kids and, in the process, filling in gaps in my elementary school skills that had prevented me from continuing in math past Algebra II/trig.


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Posted by Another Math Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 26, 2009 at 10:42 am

Thank you. This is helpful.


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Posted by concerned parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2009 at 11:08 am

Middle school textbook by Holt publishing company has already been chosen. It is not an EDM type of textbook. Middle school committee chose two finalists and solicited a variety of input from parents. A smooth and open process with a reasonable outcome designed to cover the needs of LD kids and those gifted in math preparing all types of learners and ability levels for high school.


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Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 26, 2009 at 12:24 pm

"you would know beyond all shadow of a doubt that getting to even the Algebra/Geometry level, let alone the Calculus level, of 9th grade requires the ability to do the "plodding" stuff"

Algebra requires only the rudimentary computational skills that could/should have been taught by the end of second grade. Arithmetic drills beyond that are a waste of time; humans will never be a match for a five buck calculator. Unfortunately, too few of those driving from the back seat have the math background to realize that.

Emotional? Nice deflection try, but unfortunately true. Being turned off on math and science by the mindless arithmetic drill that uninformed and misinformed parents, etc. mistake for math skill is an emotional response, and it's depriving us of too many technically-trained people we need.

One last comment: I observed the '50s Sputnik math education panic as an elementary school pupil, and I've watched each rehash of it with horrified fascination. It seems every parent generation believes its children are being miseducated. They insist their kids be taught the same way they were, which their parents in turn considered gross miseducation because it wasn't how THEY were taught, and so on back. On every cycle we were warned how the US would lose its future technology leadership if it didn't revert to yesterday's methods. But the US has remained the world technology leader because, against all efforts of their parents and self-anointed "experts", US kids learned how to think outside the box instead of how to be grossly substandard pocket calculators.


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Posted by math parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 26, 2009 at 1:01 pm

Concerned parent --

Great news! Didn't know that. Some reviews suggest it is a really great program. The good thing about that process and outcome (aside from the sanity and reasonableness of the decision) is that they highlight the insanity of the Elementary Math Committee's process and outcome. Just in case anyone had any doubts about how completely insane the whole Elementary Math situation was.


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Posted by math parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 26, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Another Math Parent --

Just attaching a study that seems to rank Saxon really highly in terms of improving student performance in middle cshool.
Web Link

Always good to have a resource if you need it, though the Holt book sounds reasonable too.


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Posted by Ze'ev Wurman
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 26, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Engineer,

"Algebra requires only the rudimentary computational skills that could/should have been taught by the end of second grade."

I understand from this that you expect children by the end of second grade to be fluent with the four arithmetic operations with positive and negative integers and fractions, percents, and ratios. Plus, a few concepts of similar triangles, as well as the understanding of the Cartesian coordinate system, would be helpful for understanding and using algebra. Good for you!

"Arithmetic drills beyond that are a waste of time; humans will never be a match for a five buck calculator."

Strange that as an engineer you seem unfamiliar with the fact that school calculators can also handle symbolic algebra, matrices and trigonometry for more than a decade already. Truly, there is also no need for student to learn any of them. Surely "humans will never be a match for a five buck calculator" (well, perhaps 75 bucks, but the prices are dropping.)

Your throwing around "math illiterates", or "uninformed and misinformed parents" begs to respond in kind, but I'll refrain.

Ze'ev (also an engineer, but not hiding behind it to impress others)


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Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 27, 2009 at 9:38 am

To begin learning algebra one only needs an elementary ability to add, subtract, and multiply integers. Everything else in your first paragraph is best learned in the algebra context.

I agree calculators are marvelous things. And their marketers like to load them with flashy features of questionable real value. However, I've never encountered a symbolic manipulation package, calculator- or computer-based, that can remotely compete with with the insight of a properly educated human being.

That segues to my favorite quotation, which is on the flyleaf of Hammings' book Numerical Methods for Scientists and Engineers: "The purpose of computing is insight not numbers."


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Posted by Ze'ev Wurman
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 27, 2009 at 1:07 pm

"The purpose of computing is insight not numbers."

Ah, insight. That marvelous quality that we all would like to have but have little understanding how to get. Even Hamming didn't assume that insight can be achieved WITHOUT computing with numbers. He simply stated the obvious, that computing not the PURPOSE. I don't think anyone on this list treats fluency with computing as the goal--we all understand it to be a stepping stone. Except that you (but not Hamming!) argue that this stepping stone is unnecessary. Let's see:

How many scientists have you met that are not fluent in what is included in today's typical K-5 math standards? You can use California's Standards for an example: Web Link

How many engineers have you met that are not fluent in what is included in today's typical K-5 math standards?

And how many of them gained this fluency AFTER becoming an engineer or a scientist? Or, even, after mastering algebra?

This is not about the possibility of existence of such, although I have never met even one. This is about a probability of having a significant fraction of students to become such.

Critical thinking skills and their transferability have been researched for a long time. To the best of our understanding, they cannot grow in vacuum but must have both deep and broad bed of content knowledge and skills. See, for example, here: Web Link , here: Web Link and here: Web Link . May look boring and mundane to you, but not to the overwhelming majority of students that don't know them yet.

As Euclid said long ago, there is no royal road to geometry.


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Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 27, 2009 at 3:11 pm

I've made my point. Good luck with yours.


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Posted by Ze'ev Wurman
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 27, 2009 at 3:51 pm

You didn't make any point. You threw a rock into a pond hoping for a ripple. When it failed to materialize, you walk away. Enjoy the walk.


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Posted by Perpective
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2009 at 6:21 am

Thank you Ze'ev. Your points are valid and well researched. The bottom line is that math is not like a language; one can not become fluent in it through immersion in the end results at a very young age.

And that is the fundamental difference between teaching math, and learning a language.


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