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# Survey: Most students get outside help in math

Original post made on Jun 19, 2009

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, June 19, 2009, 9:47 AM

Comments (58)

a resident of Addison School

on Jun 19, 2009 at 1:54 pm

My daughter and two of her friends from Addison have been in the Stanford-based Foundations4Education afterschool math program for a year (and now are in a two-week session of summer school). The kids love the program and the parents love knowing their kids are more likely to be prepared for the realities of the rapidly-developing technological environment that surrounds them. My daughter's kindergarten teacher recognized her mathematical interests and abilities (and noted same in her permanent record), but her first grade experiences have been nothing short of boredom.

We've been told that there's no harm in having a good grounding in "the basics". But I know from personal experience a child unable to express themselves in whatever fashion that child finds most satisfying (writing, art, mathematics, acting, physical activity, etc.) will find other, possibly less-palatable ways of expressing him- or herself. Just this morning, while passing a car with an 'honors student' bumper sticker, I remembered a Europen friend telling me that what we consider 'honors students', Europeans consider a 'regular' student. We do our children--and our nation--a disservice by lowering our standards to fit everyone. Instead, we should be raising the bar--and raising our children to fly over it!

a resident of Palo Verde School

on Jun 19, 2009 at 2:55 pm

The F4Ed program is not affiliated with or sponsored by Stanford University. It is also expensive. Fees are $900 - $940 per year for a class that meets once a week.

The Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) is affiliated with Stanford. Your child does not need to be gifted to participate in the Open Enrollment Program, nor does your child have to fulfill any of the ordinary admission requirements to utilize the program.

Through Stanford's EPGY Open Enrollment Program any elementary student in the Palo Alto Unified School District can sign up for the EPGY K-7 Mathematics Course. The course is conducted online and is self-paced.

One of the parents at Palo Verde Elementary was responsible for getting the first twenty families to sign up last summer and serves as the School Support Associate for our district.

The cost for the EPGY Open Enrollment Program is a bargain at $135/year. (It ordinarily costs $495/quarter.)

You can sign up online and your child can begin using the program on the same day. You'll receive an email with links to information for parents as well as the contact information for the School Support Associate.

Here's a link to the enrollment page: Web Link

You can see demos of some of the lectures and exercises here: Web Link

I signed up my children recently and they are both already progressing rapidly through the program. I only wish that I had signed them both up last summer when the Palo Verde parent coordinator was looking for parents to be part of the initial twenty families.

a resident of Midtown

on Jun 19, 2009 at 3:02 pm

Before you sign up for EPGY, take a good look at their user interface. The cost is lower and so is the quality. The user interface is very primitive..you need the skills to carefully position the mouse at one precise point before clicking it - otherwise you need to be patient enough and not get frustrated. This was the story last summer - hopefully they have paid more attention to the usability of this program by now.

a resident of Palo Verde School

on Jun 19, 2009 at 3:18 pm

For the convenience of being able to do this program online at the time of our choosing, and for a cost differential of $800/year, I'm willing to sit with my first grader for his twenty minute session to help him overcome his impatience with mouse clicking.

My fifth grader has not complained about the interface.

If you are looking for a video-game-like interface, then I agree that EPGY is not for you.

If you are looking for a comprehensive math curriculum and the peace of mind that your child will master a topic before moving on, then EPGY seems to fit the bill.

a resident of Midtown

on Jun 19, 2009 at 11:37 pm

The Mercury-News goes more in depth on this story:

Web Link

Former school board member Mandy Lowell, who has been critical of the district's adoption of Everyday Math, said boredom with math has been a "perennial problem" here. Palo Alto students are the sons and daughters of engineers and scientists who enjoy math, and have passed their love for the subject on to their children, she said, but the program focuses more on "supermarket math." "They have a low-expectation math program in a community where there are high expectations for math," Lowell said.

a resident of Midtown

on Jun 20, 2009 at 2:32 am

We have all read about the studies which show how the USA lags behind other developed nations in math. So I understand and applaud parents efforts to strengthen their child's math education with these after-school programs. However, I fear that this trend of supplementing math privately may have a detrimental effect on public schools, and future funding for math curriculum. From the state's point of view, the schools will look like they are performing above level in math since supplemented students will score high on STAR tests. However, in reality, the schools may be failing in their math curriculum. A lot of families move to Palo Alto so their children can get a quality public education. These people may have a rude awakening when they find out that the success of Palo Alto students is really based on a semi-private, after-school education.

a resident of Fairmeadow

on Jun 20, 2009 at 6:55 am

I am a parent of a child about to enter Kindergarten here, and would like to learn more about the different math supplemental programs available in this area. I encourage parents to share which programs their children are involved with, and what they think of them.

For example, I had no idea that the EPGY Open Enrollment Program was so inexpensive. How well does its video-delivery format work over the long haul? My only hesitation with that format is that I tend to think of Math as a language of ideas, and therefore best learned both in individual problem solving and in dialogue with others. Is that an issue with EPGY?

Thanks,

Phil

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jun 20, 2009 at 7:16 am

Well I guess that answers that. Message to Barb Mitchell: It ain't the teachers who are the secret sauce here ensuring high scores, though they are mostly good people who try hard. Your unwillingness to listen to the parents, a majority of whom already supplement their children's math educations to ensure mastery, was completely insulting and wilfully blind. Take a survey in 2 years and see what percentage of parents are supplementing with EDM in place. Shame on all of you who voted this elite, overpriced program into place, notwithstanding that staff had as usual failed to answer important questions but arrogantly demanded blind trust. No more donations for you.

a resident of Midtown

on Jun 20, 2009 at 8:45 am

I applaud the District in trying to tease out what and who is doing what with our kids to get the high school math results we see.

I hope that part of the formal survey in the Spring of 2010 will include parents in middle school who did not do outside math work with their kids, and realize by the middle of 6th grade to 7th grade that their child is not adequately prepared for continuing on in the "higher track" maths.

A big question I have for the High School parents, not out of envy or trouble causing, but just "to know"..how many of the kids in the AP maths/physics went to private schools or had formal supplemental math assist outside of PAUSD in k-8?

I think that would be very valuable info and might account for SOME of why there seems to be a tremendous socio-economic-racial gap between the AP math track kids and the non-AP track kids. Not saying the district can eradicate the "gap" strictly through programming, but I have to wonder how much of the gap has to do with the k-5 math programming we have in the District that parents "not in the know' don't supplement.

My bias, I guess, since I supplemented like mad, and since the Score place we went to had kids there up to 4x/week doing supplemental work throughout elementary school.

a resident of Midtown

on Jun 20, 2009 at 8:50 am

And, strictly anecdotally, I know a kid who had basically absent parents who did nothing at all, and he is doing great, and on the "high track" now in middle school. So, obviously, programming isn't the whole loaf of bread.

But, again anecdotally, my high school kid's AP math classes as a Junior were virtually all with kids who went to private k-5 or k-8 schools. And they are now all moving onward to top schools ( not that I put too much credence in the Ivy/Stanford/Berkeley thing, because obviously, this being America, anybody can do pretty well with a degree and hard work,...but it DOES give them a leg up for their futures to get accepted to these schools, where only 7% of applicants are accepted, and there is an average of 4.2 GPA and 5 APs under the belt of incoming Freshmen)

a resident of Midtown

on Jun 20, 2009 at 10:35 am

Online Tutorials Help Elementary School Teachers Make Sense Of ScienceWeb Link

“If online tutorials focus on explaining the underlying scientific concepts behind the phenomena rather than on the rote memorization of facts, that can help teachers form a more meaningful conceptual understanding of what they’re going to teach,” he said. “A teacher who has a firm scientific knowledge base can then help students understand the fundamental scientific ideas and concepts behind what they’re learning better.”

a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

on Jun 20, 2009 at 11:18 am

I have a young relative who was in the early EPGY program--when it was restricted to the top half of one percent by testing--and he thrived in that version of the program in a mediocre school district.

I noticed, though, that the bulk of outside-school instruction wasn't expensive tutoring programs, but at-home supplementing. Even I fell into that camp because I've picked up the occasional workbook at the drugstore and I'll explain concepts. But, by that token, I supplement everything because we use the library.

But I don't know that that falls into the same category as SCORE 4/x a week.

Y.T., I don't think you can argue that the schools are secretly failing our kids--after all, 43 percent aren't doing any supplementing, but the percentage of kids performing well on the STAR tests is way above that.

There is a bit of self-selection bias in the survey--some schools overreported (score-focused Duveneck) and others underreported--Barron Park with its socioeconomic issues. Ohlone, oddly enough, I'd expect to have a somewhat high level of supplementation (but not SCORE or Kumon) just because the no-homework policy gives a certain amount of parental freedom. The suggested twenty minutes of EPGY wouldn't be on top of homework. (I don't actually know anyone who uses EPGY, but I know the program's at the school.)

a resident of Evergreen Park

on Jun 20, 2009 at 11:40 am

...and we wonder why it is we are unable to close the achievement gap?

a resident of Downtown North

on Jun 20, 2009 at 12:09 pm

One problem I've observed is that many elementary school teachers cannot handle basic concepts and some are even intimidated by arithmetic. It isn't until middle school that kids start getting instructors who actually seem to understand what they're teaching.

That said, I don't understand the desire to push kids through math as fast as possible. Most people don't need much math beyond calculus (and by the time a student gets to calculus, it's pretty clear whether or not a math-related career is in her/his future). Is it really that important for the kid to learn calculus at age 14? Wouldn't age 16 or even <gasp> 18 be just fine?

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jun 20, 2009 at 1:28 pm

I agree with Number Cruncher. What is the rush to get to BC calculus? My son is very smart at math, does very well on the tests, and I have NEVER supplemented the Palo Alto schools. No wonder kids are stressed out. I will probably encourage him to be in the 2nd level of math in high school to avoid all the total gunners.

It stresses me out thinking that I should be supplementing my kids to keep up with an artifically inflated level. Instead, I would rather have my kids exploring the world around them,learning physics, biology, and other sciences from this exploration, and learning to love reading by books that interest them, instead of flash cards.

Too bad that life seems to be gone in Palo Alto.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jun 20, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Er...you need calculus to study physics, unless of course you meant "physical science".

a resident of Jordan Middle School

on Jun 20, 2009 at 3:07 pm

Again, anecdotally, unless your child is naturally really good at math (and self-motivated in Math too), if they don't receive outside help, they WILL be behind in middle and high school. Just about every HS student I know has a math tutor of some kind, whether it is a talented parent, peer tutor or some kind of paid help.

Re too bad - What do most people need calculus for besides studying higher level math? Physics at our HS only requires passing algebra and being enrolled in geometry.

a resident of Midtown

on Jun 20, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Ohlone Parent: I know at present that is the case. My concerns are more for the future. If more and more families get on board with paying for supplementary education, then the public system will be tempted to cut back their programs and save money. It seems that we all should be demanding the quality of these supplemental programs in our public curriculum, rather than all rush to pay for private programs. I just hope that this survey will prompt the schools to take a closer look at the success of these programs and use that information to improve the public school math curriculum.

a resident of Community Center

on Jun 20, 2009 at 3:56 pm

the questions on the survey could have been clearer as to how much supplementation was to reinforce the basics.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jun 20, 2009 at 4:46 pm

If your child wants a career in science or engineering, then he must study physics. To learn physics he'll need to understand calculus. If "Physics at our HS only requires passing algebra and being enrolled in geometry", then "physics" at our HS is not really physics, but "pre-physics" or "physical science".

"It stresses me out thinking that I should be supplementing my kids to keep up with an artifically inflated level."

You don't need to keep up with an "artificially inflated" level of mathematics. You need to keep up with the rest of the world which studies mathematics at a more accelerated pace than we do.

a resident of Barron Park

on Jun 20, 2009 at 5:14 pm

"To learn physics he'll need to understand calculus."

Well, that's completely false. Have you studied physics? You seem unfamiliar with the curriculum.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jun 20, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Re Too Bad,

My husband and I BOTH went to top engineering schools. My husband was one of the top 5 in his class at Stanford. He only did AB Calc. in high school. I didn't take BC Calc until Senior year of high school. Neither of our parents pushed us or gave us outside help.

You can survive in a top engineering school without passing BC by 16 years old. Yes, it is an artifically inflated level and not necessary. No wonder kids are so stressed out.

a resident of Jordan Middle School

on Jun 20, 2009 at 5:36 pm

How the outside tutoring affects our math programs:

"If more and more families get on board with paying for supplementary education, then the public system will be tempted to cut back their programs and save money." This is a valid concern and is already happening - not with our programs, but with individual teachers.

Based on the numbers from elementary school - assume 60% of your students come to class already knowing the material (because they have studied outside of school) then as a teacher, you feel much less of a need to really teach. The other 40% of the students then fall into a few categories - those who are good at Math and understand the concepts with a simple explanation (or teach themselves from the book) and those who math is a challenge for. For those who math is a challenge for, they either spend a lot of time catching up, feeling stupid and constantly behind, or they fail. Many of our HS and MS math teachers explain a concept once and assume all the kids get it. When asked, they explain it again, in the same way (instead of explaining a concept multiple ways).

a resident of Fairmeadow

on Jun 20, 2009 at 6:35 pm

For this discussion, it seems to me that in addition to having a well made survey without selection bias and vague questions, it would be nice to know the rate of outside math support in other school districts.

I know people like to assume differently, but we could be average in terms of supplementation rate.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jun 20, 2009 at 6:57 pm

Palo Alto Mom is exactly correct. We must make sure that there is good teaching of math and outside tutoring should NOT be a necessity.

However, all this outside tutoring, other than for students who REALLY need it, may make it MORE difficult to teach. The kids already know what they are supposed to know, so they are bored. Other kids may be WAY too competitive because they think they are so smart (just because someone taught it to them a bit earlier than everyone else).

Let's let the teachers actually teach math, not just give extra problems to kids that already know it!

a resident of Fairmeadow

on Jun 20, 2009 at 8:43 pm

Well, what should an elementary teacher do if most of their class has already been presented with the material they are there to teach?

Should that teacher focus on those who have not seen the material before? Parents of the others will no doubt complain that their kids are bored and need outside math programs to compensate for the intransigence of the teachers, who are teaching their kids what they already know.

a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

on Jun 20, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Engineering Mom,

I think you and palo alto mom are on to something here. I think we're really looking at a situation where teachers aren't leading the subject for a lot of kids--the kids are, quite literally, not on the same page. What I tell my kid isn't going to be what another kid gets at Kumon. Different attitude, different orientation. I think you get children who seem tremendously accelerated in regards to one facet of math and then unexceptional at another aspect.

As for those concerns about how well we do compared to other areas of the world--keep in mind when we talk about the mediocre performance of American high school students in math we're not talking about Palo Alto, which scores way above the median. There is no burning need to push down the curriculum. It's really much more if Family A is doing it Family B better do it to stay competitive within Palo Alto--and competing for a few spots at a small number of universities.

a resident of Gunn High School

on Jun 20, 2009 at 10:04 pm

"A big question I have for the High School parents, not out of envy or trouble causing, but just "to know"..how many of the kids in the AP maths/physics went to private schools or had formal supplemental math assist outside of PAUSD in k-8?"

To Perspective's question: I have a student at Gunn who went to Briones and Terman and never had any outside help in math (and parents who supported him but did not tutor him). He has taken AP Physics and got an A as well as aced his final. The secret here is that he really enjoyed his teacher and really loves the subject.

My personal opinion: Kids can not be great at every subject without outside help but they can be great at what they are passionate about all on their own. It is fun to see what drives your student rather than steering them all along the way.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jun 20, 2009 at 11:03 pm

To Horse's A.,

No, I never studied physics. So, please forgive my ignorance of the difference between algebra-based physics and calculus-based physics.

I had parents who were too ignorant, too naive or too unconcerned (pick one) to encourage me in mathematics. I never received help with my regular math homework, let alone math curriculum supplementation at home. There was neither paid tutoring nor tutoring by relatives.

I didn't receive remedial assistance from my school district either. They simply assessed kids and had them take algebra whenever they could pass the algebra readiness test. Despite reasonable intelligence, I had no particular facility for math (props to Engineering Mom and husband), and I had no one pushing me to apply myself. Consequently, I only managed to complete Algebra 2 in high school, severely limiting my options for study at the university level.

With regard to my own children's mathematical education, I am not leaving things to chance. Despite this school district’s reputation, I supplement. It’s clear that I’m not alone.

The percentage of PAUSD students who take the STAR test for Algebra 1 in the 8th grade is roughly equivalent to the percentage of elementary students receiving math supplementation. I don’t think that this is a coincidence.

I’m not saying that this is fair for students with parents like mine. But this is the way it is.

Hopefully, the math surveys will awaken the district to the fact that parents want a more rigorous K-7 math curriculum, leading to Algebra 1 in the 8th grade for as many students as possible, not just the children of parents who supplement.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jun 20, 2009 at 11:28 pm

Had we gotten this survey a few years back, we would have checked no in the "do you supplement" box.

What did we get for holding off? Half way through elementary school our son really disliked math. He couldn't understand why his teachers kept teaching the same things when he understood them the first time. We waited for teachers to offer him something extra, but they did not. When we eventually asked them politely for more, it helped, but not enough.

So, finally, we supplemented. Despite the assumption posted above, our son was saved not stressed by the supplementation. He now talks about math animatedly instead of with disdain.

Did he learn concepts ahead of the teacher teaching them? Yes, but it wouldn't have mattered because whatever new was taught he learned quickly and so spent most of his time biding time in math.

Do we think his teachers should have ignored him when it was clear he knew what they were teaching? There were so many other fast learners like him that it would be hard to imagine that it would be OK for them all to be bored/ignored during math period.

By the end of our son's elementary school years, the principal heard the same tale from lots of parents it seems. The principal allowed in a self-paced online math program and offered a special math class - its fast pace and deep concepts made it a favorite of advanced math students. Had these programs been in place when our son started elementary school, we wouldn't have needed to supplement.

a resident of College Terrace

on Jun 21, 2009 at 12:10 am

Not sure how many of the sweating parents here, either stressed out due to the pressure to supplement math, or do supplement for various reasons, have actually been to the math classes at PAUSD.

Over the years helping in math classes within the school district, I basically decided to give up on the school math education. I have come to the conclusion that the test scores of the district, as someone said, come from the scientist/engineer parents more than from the school.

With full respect to the teachers of their dedication and hard work, I felt that the kids come into the classrooms bright and passionate about the math games I was helping with. When one works with a class of 20 kids on a regular basis, it is apparent who are gifted and who are struggling.

I have seen those that are geniuses, and those that truly hate math at a very young age. One could tell that the little minds are spinning fast with those bright ones. There is also always the bell curve---there are only a few of each from both extremes.Kids are built to learn new things, and once they get it, they are all intrigued and fascinated by what they can do.

However I did not feel that the curriculum encourages such highly engaging participation from kids. If I were a teacher aiming at passing the STAR test for my students, all what I do is daily drills one month before the actual test. For the rest of the school year, why bother...

Out of all my years of experience with the district, there was only one young teacher who was able to provide really constructive suggestions on how to help kids with inquisitive minds on making math fun. Everyone else kept telling the parents that their kids are doing great, and are well prepared for the next grade level. Over and over again, I wonder whether I should take their words for granted or trust my own feelings that the math curriculum is indeed shaky.

If the district and some of the parents blindly and arrogantly decide that we are the elite district, and that it must be in the water that we do great in test scores, a responsible parent can not afford to miss out on their own children's education. It is not to inflate grade level or to stress the kids out, but merely to keep up.

a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

on Jun 21, 2009 at 12:36 am

Opinion,

I've also worked in the classroom doing math and I honestly see a fair amount of flux. I'll get a kid who can understand various algebra concepts, but blow problems that involve three-dimensional thinking. I'll see a kid who seems to be stumbling and uncertain work through to the correct solution over and over, but not grasp that the math isn't that hard.

It is very easy to confuse maturity (older child who has a grasp on learning strategies v. younger child who doesn't focus well) with giftedness. I've seen gifted *and* struggling more than once.

Which wouldn't be that big a deal except that the kids form a sense of self--and whether that self is good or bad at math. Which then colors one's attitude toward it, which in turn affects performance . . the outside supplementation creates a complex social dynamic.

What I find telling about this debate is that it's all about math. My own expertise is in other areas--and it's not like the schools are doing a brilliant job teaching other subjects or finding ways to accelerate the curriculum to meet the needs of those advanced in language arts. We get plagiarism in the high schools, but we don't get the same feeling that the kids need to keep up with the Joneses (or the Hsus or the Guptas) when it comes to essay writing.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jun 21, 2009 at 8:18 am

"...it's not like the schools are doing a brilliant job teaching other subjects or finding ways to accelerate the curriculum to meet the needs of those advanced in language arts. We get plagiarism in the high schools, but we don't get the same feeling that the kids need to keep up with the Joneses (or the Hsus or the Guptas) when it comes to essay writing."

I think that the difference is that there is less consensus about how to approach instruction in other areas. Should students be diagramming sentences ad nauseum or doing journal quick writes? People disagree.

According to the district survey, parents reported that the curriculum in subjects other than math is appropriately challenging for 70-75% of students. However, we don't know how much tutoring is going on for those subjects, because the district limited the survey to questions about math supplementation. It is possible that language arts and other subject areas are being supplemented at the same rate as math. I personally have observed tutors working with high school students on history or English essays at the main library on more than one occasion.

Math is linear. Children must first master basic arithmetic, then fractions, ratios, percents, etc. before moving on. I think parents can recognize more easily when math education is lacking. They may feel at a loss at when or if supplementation is necessary in other subject areas.

a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

on Jun 21, 2009 at 6:37 pm

"Palo Alto students are the sons and daughters of engineers and scientists who enjoy math, and have passed their love for the subject on to their children"

?!

-So?

-Maybe so in some cases

In others, this is just pure parental manipulation

Please let your child find his or her own talents without domineering their lives and futures into only engineering and science.

Every profession, including Art, is worthwhile.

a resident of University South

on Jun 21, 2009 at 9:36 pm

Thank you, anonymous.

"Palo Alto students are the sons and daughters of engineers and scientists..." Some are.

Fortunately for us, Palo Alto students are also the sons and daughters of writers, psychologists, teachers, social workers, artists, professors in the arts and letters and humanities, lawyers, etc. Thankfully many of those parents have passed on their love of literature, history, art, music, world affairs, social justice, and on and on.

Palo Alto has been such a rich mix of interests for a long time. Let's not allow our interests for our children to become so narrow. What a loss it would be for them and for our community, and, perhaps most importantly, for our national culture and legacy.

a resident of Community Center

on Jun 21, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Ohlone Par

"It is very easy to confuse maturity (older child who has a grasp on learning strategies v. younger child who doesn't focus well) with giftedness. I've seen gifted *and* struggling more than once."

good you bring up the issue of giftedness

imagine an old kid that is tutored,

60% tutor, probably 60% start school older, it's not a wonder so many are"bored' in school

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jun 22, 2009 at 4:11 pm

I just happened upon this article. It sounds interesting to me that this district in Conneticut has chosen to rely heavily on online math lessons at the secondary level.

It seems that many Palo Alto families are utilizing online learning (as well as tutors) to supplement the math curriculum. So should the school district consider providing more online learning opportunities in the classroom itself?

This would certainly allow for more differentiation, as children could work at their own pace. Teachers could still provide a standard lecture, but perhaps the practice/homework could be done through an online learning environment at school.

Web Link

a resident of Barron Park

on Jun 22, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Palo Alto parents are paying outlandish prices for homes, outlandish property taxes commensurate with those home prices, all for the great privilege of being in the Palo Alto school district ... which pats itself on the back in a number of egregious ways exemplified at the recent graduation ceremony of Gunn H.S. where self-congratulation dripped like honey from the lips of every speaker, and lo, we were all transported into the halo of wonderfulness that is Gunn.

Does it strike anyone as ridiculous, that parents in PA also are expected to shell out $100s or $1000s per year in tutoring, just so their kids can keep up? What about the kids whose parents can't afford that? Oops, right, everyone in PA is rich.

I believe that the engineers and scientists who put humans on the moon, for the most part, didn't take calculus until they were college. I learned calculus instantly at age 20, because I was ready for it. If someone had tried to spoonfeed it to me at age 16, I probably would've regurgitated.

Question for the gung-ho Palo Alto parents among us. What's the big rush?

a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

on Jun 22, 2009 at 8:01 pm

BarronPark,

I tend to think it's a combination of fear (my kid needs to stay competitive to get into the top schools) and bragging rights.

That Gunn speech sounds a little ironic . . .

Mom,

I honestly never ever hear people fuss about writing the way they do about math here. No one ever worries in the forums about how our kids fall down on composition on a global scale. The fuss about math is ongoing.

I think the technical bent around here means that a large chunk of parents care about and understand math in a way that they don't care about lit. skills.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jun 22, 2009 at 8:11 pm

OP

I agree with you about writing skills. Apart from the fact that my kids' handwriting is appalling, their grammar and spelling is bad also. Take the computers away from a high schooler and get them to write an essay or explain a concept without the aid of spellcheck and grammar checks and they can't do it. Even with the aid of a computer, their abilities to explain themselves with good vocabulary can be suspect.

Their peers in other English speaking countries, and yes even in countries where they are learning English as a second language, do not allow them to use computers for their final drafts on essays and written work apart from research type papers, means that they have to be able to write legibly, grammatically and non-repetitively on their own abilities. Perhaps we should also be taking a step backwards on their written work also.

a resident of Green Acres

on Jun 22, 2009 at 11:49 pm

I know I'm going to get jumped on about this but...

Basic calculus is actually not very difficult. I think it's too bad that we think of calculus and algebra as so difficult, because we deprive kids of what is really an easier and more full understanding of science by how long we delay a basic understanding of these math concepts.

Very little kids get the idea of algebra -- we USE symbolic math to teach them numeric math. (One apple plus three apples equals four apples....) Once we teach them numeric math, we act like symbolic math is something for babies, and teach them numeric math exclusively until they get to algebra when they can no longer think in terms of symbolic math anymore!

If we just kept the concept of a variable in the early math instruction -- rather than abandoning it -- and introduced the concept of a differential with very basic calculus (which is no more difficult than simple algebra), then math would be a whole lot easier later on and physics and chemistry would make a whole lot more sense to kids throughout. No more memorizing formulas in geometry and physics, many are simple to derive with much more basic knowledge and simple calculus.

Unfortunately, many of our elementary teachers, having been schooled with the idea that calculus and algebra are advanced, probably couldn't be convinced of such a view. Many probably haven't taken calculus. This is not about stressing the kids out or pushing them, it's about making things simpler and giving them a more full understanding. You can only understand that if you've gone through the system and understand those concepts well enough to see the problems with how they are introduced to kids. Even if the textbooks changed, it would be difficult to get teachers to understand such a radically different (more holistic) way of looking at math and science.

Me, personally, I felt robbed when I finally learned these more "advanced" math concepts. I wondered why we hadn't been introduced to them much earlier. Certainly, getting into the subjects can be more or less advanced depending on the grade level, but waiting to introduce the concepts until later is really a shame that I think sets the kids up for unnecessary difficulties. Math is a "language" that kids benefit from understanding intuitively earlier.

a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

on Jun 23, 2009 at 12:48 am

Oh boy anne,

It's not that I disagree with you--but introducing conceptual math to elementary school kids was part of the "new math".

Which makes me wonder if the issue with the "new math" wasn't so much that kids couldn't understand it, but teachers couldn't teach it.

Resident,

It's shocking how badly many people write, including many teachers. It's a difficult skill to teach well because it requires a great deal of reading and practice. Even then, it can't really be reduced to simple formulae--though there are rules that must be obeyed.

It also takes time and concentration.

There's a huge problem with plagiarism in the schools--and, as is apparent by the number of students who need to take remedial English at the UCs, it's far too easy to get through high school (and earn top grades) without knowing how to write.

What brings the whole charade to a grinding halt apparently is the requirement of successive drafts in college courses--it's hard to lift multiple drafts off the Internet.

a resident of Evergreen Park

on Jun 23, 2009 at 8:33 am

[Post removed due to promoting a website]

a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

on Jun 23, 2009 at 10:35 am

I'd be very interested to get the name of the online math program the PA principal recommended for the student who was bored by classroom math. Can you give the site name? Thanks!

a resident of Fairmeadow

on Jun 23, 2009 at 10:11 pm

Disclaimer: I suspect I was raised on the discredited "New Math".

A couple of stories and thoughts:

When I was in High School, the fast track Geometry class had an "advanced" text book, and the slower track had a less advanced book. After a few weeks the school took all of the text books from the fast track kids and switched them with the slower track kids. The explanation that I remember was that the fast track textbook was written more simply and clearly, and that since the fast track kids had more math aptitude they would be able to handle a more poorly written book.

When I was in College a student accidentally registered for the first Abstract Algebra offered by the Math departnment, instead of remedial Algebra. After a couple of weeks of instruction the instructor/department realized that the student didn't have any of the prerequisites for the course, and got him moved to the remedial Algebra course.

After a week or so there, he complained about the switch, saying that remedial Algebra was too hard,-- not like Abstract Algebra.

I just recently started reading A Mathematician's Lament, at Web Link. I don't know if it directly applies to the discussion here, or if I agree with all of it, but perhaps you'll enjoy it, too.

a resident of Green Acres

on Jun 24, 2009 at 2:53 pm

OhlonePar,

Having been a victim of New Math myself, I'm not sure I understand what you mean. There was none of what I am talking about in New Math.

When I say "symbolic math" I mean math with operators, functions, and variables, equations in symbolic form, as opposed to "numeric math" with just numbers.

When you get kids to count, multiply and divide using apples and bananas, they are essentially using variables. We get them to use "variables" in order to teach them about math with just numbers, then we abandon variables until we teach them algebra, and in so doing, they lose a huge conceptual advantage.

That has nothing to do with New Math (or as I remember it, Non-Math) and all that useless set theory. (I saw far better set theory on Sesame Street, by the way. ) I wasn't introduced to the concept of a variable until I was in middle school and I was taking math several grades beyond my level. I wasn't introduced to the concept of a differential until I was in college. (I had calculus in high school, but so poorly taught it doesn't count.) In spite of how superior our schools here in PA are to the ones I attended, I still don't see the kids getting these concepts when they are most open.

Knowing that you can use something in place of numbers is a big advantage -- that's how we teach kids numbers in the first place! If you think about it, there's really nothing else about basic algebra that is different or more advanced than the math the kids learn from day one, why do we abandon variables so early on? Abandoning the concept of variables early on and reintroducing it later is confusing and sets kids up for thinking algebra is difficult.

Knowing you can use something that describes how things change or that isn't constant is an even bigger advantage. You don't have to teach kids a lot of calculus to give them a sense of the power of the concept of a differential and integration, and give them a far more simple and holistic view of math and physics all through middle and high school.

Again, basic algebra and calculus are not difficult and giving kids a more holistic math "language" when they are younger would be a huge advantage throughout their educations. (And, I think, make math and science simpler throughout.)

a resident of Midtown

on Jun 24, 2009 at 8:01 pm

I completely agree with Palo Alto Mom and Y.T. I'm shocked at the role that math tutors play in student achievement and how much outside tutoring affects what goes on in the classroom. It's generally been our experience that math teachers don't feel the responsibility to make sure those who don't catch on easily "get it." They seem to assume that the student will get outside help. It's very much a factor in the achievement gap that almost never gets discussed. Our family is not well off, but I've felt that I had no choice but to work extra hours to pay for regular math tutoring, and at the high school level it's quite expensive.

Many parents seem to feel okay about this, maybe because they're aware that not all can pay for the additonal tutoring and they feel it gives their children an advantage. (It obviously does.) These are public schools though, so we should be demanding that all students get the high-quality instruction they need to excel.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jun 24, 2009 at 11:27 pm

My understanding is that kids that are obviously (stereotypically??) needy and REALLY try and are nice to the teachers get all sorts of extra help in high school (and, from my experience, in elementary school). The teachers really want to help these kids. I am not sure about kids that look middle class and can't really afford any extras. I have to believe that a kid that really wants help will get it, it is the kids that are a bit more difficult that may not (unfortunately, that probably will by my kid!).

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jun 25, 2009 at 6:49 am

Phil, thanks for that great article. I laughed, I cried, two thumbs up.

That is how I feel about the lost art of writing.

We are teaching our kids (sort of) the mechanics and none of the joy of the beautifully constructed sentence, the perfect word or phrase. I happen to speak a few languages and for me, there was an incomparable joy in reading poetry in the original, or knowing that a language hd exactly the perfectly nuanced word for a particular situation.

But back to math -- I was raised on the drill and kill method, with a brief foray into new math which only confused me more. I have only come to understand the joy of math play with my own kids.

Again, thanks for the great link. I sent it to several friends.

a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

on Jun 25, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Phil,

Great link. Though it brought back some serious nightmares about geometry--and that summary of the curriculum at the end, all too dead on. I wish the writer had been around at my high school.

I'm e-mailing that one around.

As for comments on the new math. I'm one of those kids who had the new math and, uh, really, really liked it. It's the only part of math I remember being really exciting--it was so nice and conceptual. The new math I remember wasn't just Ven diagrams, sets and subsets (but, I loved those too.), but also bases, exponents, primes and factoring--around third and fourth grade. It was really lovely stuff--challenging, but the conceptual part was really engaging. So much so that that's sort of supplementing I do--stuff that I think makes math interesting and fun. I'm all for fun in learning because I think you're motivated to learn what you enjoy.

But, anyway, Anne, you're interested in developing conceptual thinking about math and that was also the intent of the new math. One of the things that seems to go back and forth in math debates is skills (math facts) v. conceptual, with a focus on the latter being viewed as clumsy and resulting in a grasp of neither math facts nor concepts.

a resident of Jordan Middle School

on Jun 25, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Another mom - your experience has been different then our families and friends. We have all found that the kids who "get" math get all the attention. Those who are needy and really try get help in Middle School - but only if they meet with the teacher OUTSIDE of class. In High School if you are needy, most of the teachers will tell you to get a peer tutor. A few are willing to help outside of class.

My issue is that if a student attends class regularly, does all their homework and participates in class, they should be able to pass the class WITHOUT outside help. ALL teachers should teach the material well enough for the student to receive at least a C without any outside assistance. That is not happening.

a resident of Crescent Park

on Jun 25, 2009 at 8:31 pm

I wanted to comment on palo alto mom's remark that "ALL teachers should teach the material well enough for the student to receive at least a C without any outside assistance." Most of the kids who have tutors are in the honors math lane (in middle school). Some of those kids need the outside help to stay in that lane. You can't blame the teacher for expecting kids in the honors lane to be able to keep up with the class.

a resident of Jordan Middle School

on Jun 26, 2009 at 8:40 am

Let me change it to "if you are in the correct Math lane, ALL teachers should teach the material well enough for the student to receive at least a C without any outside assistance." I'm not talking about needing the occasional assistance with a topic or concept, I'm referring to the kids who need weekly or more frequent math tutoring just to learn what should be taught in class. If you were a fly on the wall in many MS and HS school math classes, you would find that the teacher explains the concept once and thats it.

Kids who have been pushed up a lane, which is increasingly frowned on at Jordan, should expect to need some outside help and to spend a lot more time one homework then if they are in the correct math lane. Not all kids in the harder math lane will need help.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jun 26, 2009 at 9:07 am

Two of the biggest problems with the way math is taught are the loose sheets of paper and the fact that incorrect work is not redone and handed in again for regrading.

I have lost count of the number of loose sheets that get lost in backpacks, the bedroom floor and anywhere else. These sheets are often useful resources for later referral but they are not available when a child wants to refer back sometime later. It would be much better if all work were in some type of notebook rather than binders so that the work could be used as examples when the concept is revisited.

Also graded assignment sheets are sent back home but the student rarely looks to see what mistakes were made and corrected them. If the teacher checked to see that the students were correcting mistakes and learning from their mistakes then (s)he would have a much better idea of how a student and the whole class were grasping the concepts.

a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

on Jun 26, 2009 at 4:10 pm

I think another parent and palo alto mom are getting to the heart of the issue, which is push to put kids in the top lane of math at any costs. I don't know how many parents push their kids that way, but it's enough of them that it skews the whole multilane system.

Oddly enough, one result of this is that kids who like and are good at math will drop down from the top lane because of the pressure within the lane. The whole situation becomes one that ends up discouraging kids because of the burn-out factor. I don't think you see this with other subjects to the same degree.

a resident of Midtown

on Jun 27, 2009 at 11:51 pm

One positive about the high school math teachers my daughter has had though is that they use InClass and update it frequently. That's very helpful to students and their parents. One negative is that they use department tests for each subject (in order to standardize expectations, presumably). The result is that students often say that there are problems on tests and quizzes that are not like problems they've gone over in class. Obviously, teachers emphasize different things, even in math, and have different ways of instructing, so a test that was written by another teacher 3 years ago may not match the current teacher's instruction or what he/she emphasized in class.

From what I've seen, the math teachers generally do not work very hard with those who struggle with math. Some are not very patient and make students who need extra help feel dumb. Paly does offer a math tutorial after school staffed by a teacher, but when my daughter has gone, she has found it hard to get much help. (It could be that she's not as assertive as she needs to be.) Peer tutors are available also, but the 2 times we tried this, it wasn't very helpful. I'm resigned to the idea of paying a teacher from another school to teach my daughter what she needs to learn although I don't think this should be necessary.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jun 29, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Students need to take some of the responsibility. Hiring someone to spoon feed it to them is a bit of a cop-out.

"If the teacher checked to see that the students were correcting mistakes and learning from their mistakes then (s)he would have a much better idea of how a student and the whole class were grasping the concepts."

The STUDENT should be checking over his/her mistakes, NOT the teacher. Let's stop blaming teachers for our kids' laziness or for out kids being bored, when they are bored b/c a tutor already taught them the material. Where I fail is not teaching my child to review his own work and take responsibility for his own education.

a resident of Jordan Middle School

on Jun 29, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Mom -

Expecting a teacher to instruct during class hours is not spoon feeding a student. Many math teachers spend only 5-10 minutes instructing per class period. They also (and unfortunately I am not exaggerating ) call students stupid when they ask for help and tell them to ask their peers instead.

Students should be able to check their mistakes and they can on homework. Since HS math tests and quizzes are not handed back, there is no way to check your mistakes on a quiz or test.

I am not blaming teachers for kids being bored, I am blaming them for not teaching and for being unapproachable and insulting when students ask for help.

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