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Elementary math task force gets the go-ahead

Original post made on Mar 9, 2011

Selection will begin later this month for a parent-teacher task force to explore "exemplary practices" in elementary school mathematics. The Palo Alto school board approved formation of the task force, to be charged with finding ideas to challenge children who perform above grade level in math.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, March 8, 2011, 10:46 PM

Comments (31)

Posted by a parent, a resident of Juana Briones School
on Mar 9, 2011 at 12:24 am

I feel really discouraged reading this, because I feel like our elementary teachers did have exemplary practices, and my elementary student was denied the benefit of them when we started EDM in this district. The teachers had years of experience and materials they were told to put aside.

I applaud the motivation, but I'd feel a lot better about this task force if I didn't feel like I have to teach my elementary child math at home now. (Advanced then and advanced now, but the amount of math from school is less and less.)

The specific problem I have with EDM is that there's not enough math there. The worksheets and tests are extremely language heavy. There's nothing wrong with language, but you read a problem, spend a certain amount of time figuring out what is being asked, maybe clarifying unclear instructions, and then almost no time doing one or two calculations, then move on to more language. It's 95% language and 5% calculation.

Math is a language, the language of science. It's perfectly okay to use English to study a foreign language, its grammar and structure, history, and so forth. But at some point, if you want to become fluent in a new language, you have to use the language, speak it, practice it. In two years of EDM, virtually all of the speaking has come at home and under the table from the teachers upset that there is no math practice in EDM, and it hasn't made up for what was lost by going with EDM.

A lot of parents, particularly of boys, complain that their kids used to feel good at math and be good at math, and that language-heavy EDM has so little math, their kids are losing interest and feeling bad about their abilities. Kids are made to spend lesson after lesson looking at basic calculation methods this way and that (which is confusing many of them) -- methods that essentially amount to aracana with little use in the future -- instead of just letting them use the standard algorithm that they may already understand and move on. I"m all for different tools to help kids understand, but they should be in teacher training enrichment, not required of every kid instead of letting them practice MATH and build on what they've learned.

Exploring exemplary practices? How about just teaching them math again? Letting our exemplary teachers get back to what they used to do before EDM?


Posted by DBA, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 9, 2011 at 8:14 am

If they are exploring "exemplary practices," why would they rule out exploring acceleration?

More nonsense.


Posted by JP, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 9, 2011 at 8:29 am

This is just sad. If they had traditional math in the schools there would be no need for a task force. It just doesn't make sense to me. It seems that there is no real way to quantify who is excelling because if EDM loses the interest of children who really like math how do you know that they would "be" or "not be" a student who can potentially excel. The key word is who has the "potential" to excel. The math program itself plays a big role in who will shine in math. It doesn't always show first in the students abilities alone.


Posted by Charlie, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 9, 2011 at 8:39 am

THe official name shall be EDM Task Force instead..


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2011 at 9:15 am

This Youtube video explains the concept of Everyday Math and I for one do not understand it. If this is what is being taught in the classrooms, I seriously worry about these kids ability in the future.

Web Link

I hope this is watched by the Task Force and Every Board Member


Posted by Ann, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 9, 2011 at 9:45 am

"Resident", thanks for sharing the video.

About the flexible groups, I find it extremely sad that our kids will be divided. The big pressure will start in elementary school. There is already a lot of bullying, teasing and discrimination in our elementary schools. A program that will divide kids even more, will not be beneficial.

To keep kids in higher lanes, many times parents have to find private teachers/tutors for their kids. I thought I that only had to worry about this much later. But now with this new program, I will have to do immediately so my kid does not feel like he does not belong to the "smart" group. I know many parents will do the same, and it will "prove" that the system works... but in fact, the system is just putting more pressure on parents and kids. SAD, SAD, SAD!!!




Posted by Ann, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 9, 2011 at 9:45 am

"Resident", thanks for sharing the video.

About the flexible groups, I find it extremely sad that our kids will be divided. The big pressure will start in elementary school. There is already a lot of bullying, teasing and discrimination in our elementary schools. A program that will divide kids even more, will not be beneficial.

To keep kids in higher lanes, many times parents have to find private teachers/tutors for their kids. I thought I that only had to worry about this much later. But now with this new program, I will have to do immediately so my kid does not feel like he does not belong to the "smart" group. I know many parents will do the same, and it will "prove" that the system works... but in fact, the system is just putting more pressure on parents and kids. SAD, SAD, SAD!!!




Posted by Math-Is-More-Than-Numbers, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2011 at 9:55 am

> It's 95% language and 5% calculation.

It may come as a shock to some, but this is the way math presents itself in the real world. Actually, it's even a little more obscurely presented, because all too often problems are embedded in verbal questions, commentary, or poorly-stated observations. Trying to figure out "what the problem is" turns out to be non-procedural (which may be off-putting to those who believe that math is about "procedures"), but it's what mathematicians, and analysts (who use mathematics), must face when they start on a new problem/project.

Believe it or not--word problems are much harder than "setup" problems. Being about to do calculation is important, but if you don't know what to calculate--you're nowhere.


Posted by Math-Is-More-Than-Numbers, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2011 at 9:56 am

Being about to do calculation -> Being able to do calculations


Posted by Actually, EDM looks good, a resident of Stanford
on Mar 9, 2011 at 10:04 am

I'm convinced!

After watching this video, it is clear that this woman hasn't thought about what she is saying. She communicates as part of her profession, yet she is reading a script.

The process of multiplying 26 * 31 that she explains is the way a good mathematical thinker who understands numbers, structure and arithmetic operations would do the problem in their head. It strengthens understanding of all three of these, and doing the problem that way improves their mathematical understanding.

Use of the "standard algorithm" that she describes does review specific sums of single digit numbers and products of single digit numbers, and the algorithm itself, but that's all. No strengthening of the relationships between numbers and operations, no touching on interesting and memorable characteristics of numbers, no review or strengthening of the feel of how large numbers can be thought of in terms of small numbers.

We used to successfully bid for government funds by saying we were doing algorithm development rather than computer programming. There's a reason for that. We need people who can develop algorithms, not execute algorithms by rote. This woman is saying, "my god, the kids aren't even learning the algorithms we did!" and complaining that instead they're being taught from an early age that it's OK to make their own algorithms based on understanding of what they are doing.

By teaching kids early to make, or at least choose, their own algorithms, we are teaching them also that they need to understand enough to be able to make their own algorithms. It's a clear standard of understanding that will benefit them throughout their entire education. That standard is missing in the "memorize and practice like * the standard algorithm" approach.

EDM might be a lousy text or curriculum, but the approach sounds great to me. Which would a kid with a mathematical mind prefer to do, figure out how to multiply two numbers in their head, or follow a memorized process on paper?



Posted by 21 Dads, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 9, 2011 at 10:23 am

Kids can learn math for free with the self-paced, fun math lectures at:
Web Link

The site's founder and Bill Gates talk more about it in this TED video:
Web Link

Los Altos 5th graders are already piloting this program.
Let's pilot it, as well, in our schools.
I'm going to introduce this to my 1st grader.
The game mechanics will make it fun for him.


Posted by Math-Is-More-Than-Numbers, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2011 at 10:36 am

> The process of multiplying 26 * 31 that she explains is the
> way a good mathematical thinker who understands numbers, structure
> and arithmetic operations would do the problem in their head.

Well .. maybe. Certainly knowing that 26 * 31 means: "add 26 to itself 31 times" is the important thing to understand here. But it's doubtful than most people (mathematical or not) are going to be able to do that calculation in his/her head. Historically, we constructed "multiplication tables" (well up to 10x10, anyway), we memorized them, and then used our mental images of these tables to do the necessary calculation:

31*26 = ((30 * 26) + 26) = (26 x 10 x 3 + 26)

This is a lot easier to do in your head than actually adding 26 to itself 31 times in your head.

If you follow the videos carefully, and read the EDM documentation carefully, you find that there is a bit of "memory work" in the "standard algorithms" which teachers, or students, or both, sometimes have trouble with. EDM forces more of the "interior calculations" onto paper, making the result a little more obvious to those who might be "mathematically challenged". Trying to do large calculations (particularly divisions) by EDM is a nightmare, however.


Posted by Former teacher, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 9, 2011 at 10:44 am

DO YOU MEAN MATH OR ARITHMETIC? THEY ARE DIFFERENT, AS EXPLAINED SO
WELL BY " THE MATH GUY" AT STANFORD WHO IS A REGULAR WITH SCOTT SIMON ON NPR. HOW ABOUT ASKING HIM TO JOIN THE GROUP?


Posted by Math-Is-More-Than-Numbers, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2011 at 11:07 am

> DO YOU MEAN MATH OR ARITHMETIC?

Hmm .. let's appeal to the dictionary to answer this question--

(www.dictionary.com)

a·rith·me·tic   
[n. uh-rith-muh-tik; adj. ar-ith-met-ik] Show IPA
–noun

1. the method or process of computation with figures: the most elementary branch of mathematics.

2.Also called higher arithmetic, theoretical arithmetic. the theory of numbers; the study of the divisibility of whole numbers, the remainders after division, etc.
----
math·e·mat·ics   
[math-uh-mat-iks]
–noun

1.( used with a singular verb ) the systematic treatment of magnitude, relationships between figures and forms, and relations between quantities expressed symbolically.

2. ( used with a singular or plural verb ) mathematical procedures, operations, or properties.
---

> THEY ARE DIFFERENT

Please review definition #1 for "Arithmetic", as there is a clear linkage between mathematics, and arithmetic.


Posted by Discouraged, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 9, 2011 at 11:14 am

SAD!! More tax money wasted!!
Parents, put your money in tutors and private enrichment centers!
Don't waste your resources!
Don't jeopardize your children's education!

Web Link


Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 9, 2011 at 1:17 pm

This is such a huge waste of time. Everyone knows what the problem with PAUSD elementary school math is...Everyday Math and the failure to differentiate for children who are way ahead. A child who has long mastered multiplication or division is forced to learn more methods to solve what they already know how to do, and they are bored out of their minds while their slower classmates are just confused.
Here is the instant solution that does not need a year of meetings: dump everyday math, and add online classroom access to EPGY self-paced math acceleration.


Posted by midtown resident, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 9, 2011 at 6:09 pm

I'm watching the word play in this discussion and wondering when it will get down to basics. Fact: the old school board didn't know what they were doing as far as math was concerned. They fell for the "latest rage."
All children ARE NOT EQUAL! Let's face it.
We're living in Palo Alto,an intellectually select community. Why should we hold our kids back to some State or Federal "norm?"
Why should we pay school taxes and then also need to send our advanced kids to private schools or more challenging tutors.
How about having the School Board pay less attention to the fictional liberal concepts of "equality" and focus on educating OUR Palo Alto kids!


Posted by Star Teachout, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 9, 2011 at 8:05 pm

It is difficult for parents to step back and see how their passion over a topic plays out in their children's lives. The stress that our kids feel begins in the early grades, and can escalate quickly as they advance, and so can our parental worries about how they will compare/compete in the world. We have a 7th grader and I can see how easily he could become excessivley stressed by our desire for "more challenging" work.

How we show our love to our kids is so much more important. We need to have more faith in our small human beings to tolerate and grow, despite less than ideal conditions.

Individually, we have to ask ourselves: Do the kids want more challenging math, or is it the parents who want it for them? Both can be valid positions. There are lots of online games and resources that can supplement an advanced child.

We have kids with a huge range of abilities who need instruction, even in Palo Alto schools. Our son, who happens to be good at math, wants more of a balance in his classroom, and not just academics. Aren't most kids this way?

Our middle child had the 2nd grade EDM curricula and I thought it was pretty good--clear explanations, short practices, and then off to play! His current teacher does his own math program, and our son doesn't really want to do MORE math, even if it is more challenging/interesting. (My husband and I are both engineers, and I have a teaching background - we like math!). Perhaps at the older grades EDM is inferior. Isn't life like that? It can't suit everyone perfectly.


Posted by carlito waysman, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 9, 2011 at 11:00 pm

It is like a scene of the three stooges, trying to reinvent the wheel, just laughable and sad at the same time.
Meanwhile globally the US is being left in the dust, while other countries excel in math the US gets to hold one of the last places in the list and believe me Palo Alto schools are not world class quality. I guess we will have to keep importing brain power from overseas, unless the US schools stop trying to reinvent how to teach math. Probably there is some big ego that gets in the way and refuses to adopt true and tried methods that other countries have used to excel in math.


Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 10, 2011 at 10:44 am

As a parent in this district, I have to warn parents who may read this that in general, math is not taught in the schools here. Tests are administered in order to prove how great our teachers are, but those who succeed on the tests have learned the math elsewhere, from their parents or expensive tutors. If you expect your child to learn math at school, you will be disappointed. You will be told it is because your child is 'not up to the curriculum' and the faculty will steer him or her into the lower math lanes, where the absence of teaching will continue. If your child appears to be of European heritage, he or she will be gently steered toward the lower lanes as well. If you approach the staff to discuss this, they will be very patronizing. Please make sure your child has outside help with math. Don't let your child accept the blame for the absolute failure of the math teachers. They are constantly rewarded by the high standardized test scores, which are the direct result of all this outside support.


Posted by EqualityForAll, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 10, 2011 at 11:05 am

@Ann:

You said:
==============
"About the flexible groups, I find it extremely sad that our kids will be divided. The big pressure will start in elementary school. There is already a lot of bullying, teasing and discrimination in our elementary schools. A program that will divide kids even more, will not be beneficial.

==========

Amen to that. Why must we divide the kids? Everyone should be doing the same thing, or certain kids will be teased. Not just for math, but for reading as well. The state's expected reading level for 2nd grade is picture books plus some very simple chapter books. Why in the world are kids reading Harry Potter in 2nd grade? That's a book for 5th graders, and how do you think it makes those feel who are reading at "only" grade level?

And what's with soccer parents who put their kids in CYSA? How do think it makes those kids feel who are playing "only" in AYSO?




Posted by a parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2011 at 5:11 pm

@Math-is-more-than-numbers
You wrote:
"Believe it or not--word problems are much harder than "setup" problems. Being about to do calculation is important, but if you don't know what to calculate--you're nowhere."

You are making assumptions about what EDM provides that are grossly incorrect and overly generous to the program. That's not what I was describing.

First of all, you acknowledge that being able to do calculation is important. I'm talking about how they are teaching the kids to do calculation. They use a lot of words, then ask for very little calculation. And the way it's set up, you spend 95% of the time on words rather than understanding by doing.

As far as word problems -- that's not even in the picture with EDM. The kids aren't even getting the fundamental building blocks they need to do word problems. Any word/situational problems of the type you are describing are coming from the teacher and at home, not from EDM.

EDM worksheets are confusing and language heavy in the way they are teaching basic math, math concepts, math vocabulary, and principles. There's no practice, of numeric calculation or word problems.

Please don't pass off poor writing and poor pedagogy as a failing of the kids!

And please don't get off the basic issue that it is, as you agree, important for the kids to learn math. Math is, as we also both agree, far more than numeric calculation. Math is a language, the language of science. Discoveries of, an understanding of, and scientific problem solving, can come out of simply doing advanced mathematics. They're never going to be fluent in this language if they don't learn their ABC's and get practice speaking it.

I tried to keep an open mind with this program, but I've witnessed two years of almost no math progress, a lot of confusing arcana for the kids, a lot of busy work for teachers who had to jettison years of honed materials and experience, two years the kids will never get back at an important age.


Posted by Math-Is-More-Than-Numbers, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2011 at 7:26 pm

For starters, let me go on record by saying: "I am opposed to EDM". When it was under review by the Board, I wrote a lot about the underlying problems. I used whatever materials I could, which included the EDM web-site, youtube videos, and other people's research. Unfortunately, the PAUSD did not post a .pdf version of the book they intended to use on their web-site. As I remember, there might have been a Youtube video that showed some of the book, but there has never been a copy for the whole PAUSD community to review, on the District's web-site.

> They use a lot of words, then ask for very little calculation.

It makes sense that they would use a lot of words. But exactly how many calculations is "very little calculation"? Can you be specific?

Oh, we haven't gotten into talking about the use of calculators by kids at this age. Before we can really decide about "calculations", we need to have a long talk about "calculators".

> EDM worksheets are confusing

This statement is confusing. To be more specific, could you tell us to whom the worksheets are confusing?

> It's important for the kids to learn math.

Yes, but in steps. During Grades 1-3, it's best that they learn arithmetic. Sometime after Grade 4, it's time to ease into "math".

> Math is a language,

This is a bit of hyperbole. You might want to see the definition provided above for Mathematics. Math is ultimately more about symbol manipulation under various kinds of restraints, and logic, than it is about being a "language" (which implies: syntax/grammar and vocabulary). There is a fair component of "art" in Mathematics, to be sure. But seeing that "art", takes a fair amount of practice .. and then, it's elusive.

> but I've witnessed two years of almost no math progress, a lot
> of confusing arcana for the kids, a lot of busy work for teachers
> who had to jettison years of honed materials and experience,

This was predictable, and one of the core reasons I opposed the shift from TM ("Traditional Math") to EDM. Before acceptance by the Board, those opposed asked many times: "what kind of evaluation will be performed to determine the value of this program". There wasn't much of an answer to that question at the time, and doesn't seem to be one now.

BTW--for all of the parents who have read/contributed to this thread, there doesn't seem to be very many cogent, one-paragraph, descriptions of what any of you think "the problem is". We've heard that your kids aren't "challenged", but there are not concrete examples of what you think you mean. Any chance you folks can actually think about this, and next time this topic comes up for discussion, try to post 1-2 paragraph descriptions that provide details about your concerns?


Posted by Sarah, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 10, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Observer,

You must have had some bad experiences. True, now that we have Everyday Math, outside teaching is necessary unless the teacher supplements with traditional math. But the middle schools had a rational math adoption committee and they chose the Holt text, which is the same publisher we had for traditional math when we grew up and it's excellent.


Posted by EcoMama, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 10, 2011 at 8:59 pm

I just figured out that this place must have been the inspiration for Lake Wobegon, where "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."

In my reality, here's the truth about EDM and this new "task force" -- it's yet another pathetic attempt by the school district to brand our kids as more special, more advanced, more smart, more different ... We'll be on the map! EDM, which was supposed to serve ALL levels of students, isn't enough for OUR kids! We had to do more! and more! and more!

And we wonder why student stress is an issue.

The fact is that my kids' teachers are meeting the needs of students in their classrooms well enough. What about my child, who excels at social studies? Or my other, who excels at science? Neither is being challenged enough in those areas. Yours too? Let's get a focus group! (What, no focus group for kids who excel in humanities? Seriously???)

Our whole district is out of control. This focus group isn't an answer, it's a bone thrown to "math parents" who need to feel they have some "say." More than half of parents and the same amount of teachers feel this math curriculum sucks. We can duct tape it all we want to, but that doesn't change the fact that NOTHING will ever be good enough here in Lake Wobegon.


Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 10, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Dear Sarah, That was a dismissive non response to my post.

Dear Math is More: Here's an example of the non teaching I referred to: At homework time in our home, the student is doing math homework. I need help, he says. Okay, what did the teacher tell you about (fill in the blank with any random process involved in the homework)? Nothing. What do you do in class? We had a quiz and did some worksheets. Does the teacher ever teach the material? No. Every night for years, math homework included either the student figuring it out for himself from the book, or a parent teaching the material and then the student doing the work. Never once in numerous years in the PAUSD, across many different teachers, was the answer that yes, the teacher went over this. Not once. I've heard this same thing from many parents and many different students. Everyone says the same thing. In order to succeed in math in this district, a student must learn the material outside the classroom. BTW, my children have done well in the upper math lanes, we simply made sure they were taught the material at home. They're plenty smart enough. Yes Sarah, it is a very unpleasant experience to see the standardized tests confirm the success of all this non teaching. Parents have to make sure the learning happens for their students. I'm here to tell you that your child might be struggling in math, not because he or she is not up to the curriculum, but because the teachers are not. Perhaps when you work at home with your child, you will discover he or she is indeed just not capable of the work. Fine. Not everybody can or should do well in math. But when they attend a math class, the teacher should be teaching the material. This is true no matter what textbook, worksheet, or form of testing. Teachers who do not teach math are the problem.


Posted by Math-Is-More-Than-Numbers, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2011 at 12:22 pm

To Observer: Your post deserves a fairly long response, Here are a couple of key points to ponder--

> What do you do in class? We had a quiz and did some worksheets.
> Does the teacher ever teach the material? No

So .. what did the teacher do during the class period? Frankly, it's difficult to believe that math teachers in the PAUSD don't teach math. So, did you meet with any of these teachers? Did you ask them what there were doing?

(Consider the possibility of having classes recorded, and your being able to access these recordings over the Internet, and replay them to revisit the classroom presentations for another "go" at the material, or to see if it was presently properly, from your point-of-view? The technology exists for schools to provide parents "full access" to the classrooms.)

> Teachers who do not teach math are the problem.

Well, this is a succinct statement of what you think the problem is.
Unfortunately, there is no way to verify the claim.

This opens up a whole line of discussion, though, as to what the role of teachers might be. Given a well-constructed text book, and some on-line tutorial/self-evaluation tools, it could be argued that the role of teachers becomes secondary.

> Every night for years, math homework included either
> the student figuring it out for himself

It would not be hard to find many educators who believe that students who (effectively) self-educate themselves end up being better "students", and better "educated", than those who sit in class and limit their education to what they carry away from the teacher-prepared lessons.

As long as the texts are well-crafted and render quantifiable results, what is your objection to students being their own teachers?


Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2011 at 1:01 pm

teach·er noun \ˈtē-chər\
Definition of TEACHER
1: one that teaches; especially : one whose occupation is to instruct


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 13, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Math-Is-More-Than-Numbers - if you believe that students who self-teach are better educated, than why do we need teachers? Lets put the kids in a class with a minimum wage baby-sitter and give them a good text book. Think of all the money we'd save!

Seriously, teachers are paid to instruct. Many math (and some science) teachers seem to feel otherwise. Kids certainly can learn on their own too, that is why we have homework, but it is a teacher's job to instruct, not babysit.


Posted by discouraged, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 14, 2011 at 6:09 am

A good informative video with Bill Gates:

Web Link

Yes, there are a great deal of problems/issues with our public school system. While we are working to hold teachers accountable and better our curriculum, our kids are suffering today!!! What is your priority? I would help my kids now- today.


Posted by parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 15, 2011 at 10:44 am

This task force is leaving out the kids who most need supplementation to EDM, the lower performers. So parents of lower performers, remember that you will need to get some form of tutoring. When PIE asks for donations you can tell them that your extra money is going for fundamental education which the district is not providing.

Who is paying for this Task Force? District funds, PIE?


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