Community discussion on "Everyday Math" curriculum
Original post made
on Mar 17, 2009
The elementary-school math textbook "Everyday Mathematics" emerged Monday afternoon as the overwhelming recommendation of a committee composed mainly of teachers -- despite objections from some parents. The school board will discuss the recommendation April 14 and possibly decide April 28.
Read the full story here Web Link
posted Tuesday, March 17, 2009, 12:14 AM
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Posted by take a deep breath and several steps back
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 20, 2009 at 12:43 pm
New to this thread, which is an old, old issue. It will never go away. There will always be a new textbook, or a new teaching method. IMO, they are not critically important, and certainly not worth all the controversy here. They are tools, not the end product.
IMO, in the end what matters most to teaching and learning in general, and of math in particular, are 1) the learning/curiosity environment at home (not 'math tutoring' specifically, but more general), and 2) the particular relationship between an individual student and his/her teacher.
It is not the relationship between student and textbook which is most important. It is virtually impossible to correlate any **measurable** outcome to the choice of text.
Not everyone learns the same way. And not every family wants their kids taught in the same way. Our response in Palo Alto has been Ohlone on one end, Hoover on the other, and the 'mainstream' in between. We deliver the options each parent feels is right for their kids. And if a parent is not satisfied, then move to a lower-cost community, and spend the mortgage savings on private school.
One 'rotten' kid in a 5th grade class of 15 can ruin an entire year for everyone, if the teacher is not up to the task of management. One excellent teacher, with the right group of kids, can manage a class as large as 30 or 40, with truly excellent results.
In Palo Alto, our children benefited greatly from Gary Tsuruda at Jordan (now retired), and Arne Lim at Paly. Ironically, I don't think Gary and Arne saw eye-to-eye on pedagogy. But they were both excellent, excellent teachers, inspirational and effective.
As far as textbooks go, I can however attest that a new or newer text is important: less for the content, than for the experience of the content. That is: our daughter's experience at Paly freshman year, with a textbook which was so scribbled and torn as to be virtually illegible, frustrated the learning process tremendously.
Somewhat anecdotally, California students suffer in math in the transition between middle and high school. This has been true for well over thirty years. That is: students exit middle school up to 1.5 years behind students in similar demographic districts (e.g. Westchester County, NY, or Barrington, IL). Yet, by the end of high school, California students have caught up to their peers in other parts of the country. How does this happen? Through extremely high-stress, 'fire-hose' learning during freshman and sophomore years in high school, especially in the upper two lanes.
Also anecdotally, I find the following to be an interesting yardstick of math progress. Take calculus. Let's assume that the age at which calculus is learned, over historical time, is a measure of social evolution. Newton and Leibniz developed the calculus as mature adults during the late 1600s. John Adams attempted to teach John Quincy Adams the calculus, when John Quincy was 17 (talk about home schooling), in 1784. I took what was essentially AB Calculus as a HS senior in 1972; few HS students in the US in 1972 were afforded the opportunity to learn math higher than this level. Today, in the better public school districts across the country, many dozens of students learn BC Calculus, a fair number by the end of junior year; and at least some HS students in these districts (maybe 5-10 each year in Palo Alto) are taking 1st and 2nd year advanced college math (multi-variable calculus, and transform theory) by the time they graduate from HS.
My point is this: if calculus is a bellwether, then the evolution of its instruction appears to show that math at a higher and higher level is being taught at an earlier and earlier age.
Another anecdote: FWIW, one of our children took SCORE for a year; other than that, we did no tutoring in particular; and, we were asked only occasionally for help with math homework.
Another anecdote: Our children were bored almost to tears in late elementary school, through at least some of middle school, by the slow pace of math instruction, and by in particular the repetition of algebra, year after year. IMO, this is why California students fall behind their US peers during this phase of their education.
My credentials and related anecdotal experiences:
Elementary and high school education in suburban Chicago, including AB Calculus as a HS senior. Bachelor's and master's in physics at an Ivy League school, with attendant advanced math; PhD in electrical engineering at Stanford, with attendant advanced math; professor at an Ivy League engineering school, teaching ODEs, and engineering based on ODEs, to college students (some of whom were frankly not prepared well). My wife has a PhD from Stanford in education, where she studied calculus and advanced statistics. Our children took math through either AB or BC Calculus at Paly, and went on to Ivy League colleges.
In brief summary, then: I and my family have been incredibly privileged, no denying, in part because of math ability and access to excellent math and science teachers (I don't remember my textbooks, but I remember my teachers). Both my wife and I have immigrant backgrounds in either our parent's or grandparent's generation, which (as always, anecdotally) may have something to do with the focus on education and learning in our family.
Yet, I believe strongly that math education in Palo Alto is by-and-large outstanding for all students, not just the 'best' or most advanced students. There are areas for improvement: there always are. But the controversies about textbooks and pedagogy, and 'RRR'/Singapore/Hoover vs 'touchy-feely'/Ohlone approaches, are false controversies, and distract from focus on the real problems, and on solving them.
These false controversies also breed us-them, fault-blame, and other destructive forms of social discourse, which serve none of us -- parents, students, teachers, community -- well.
Please keep in mind, there is no single 'right' answer to the question, how do we best prepare our students in mathematics? There are, instead, many right answers.
If you want to have a useful and thoughtful discussion, talk about measures of outcomes (and I don't mean simply IQ scores, or SAT scores), which are useful and why, and what other measures might be considered.
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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 20, 2009 at 4:05 pm
"Likely YES"--don't you know? The least I can expect out of discussion of math are some numbers. So, what's the answer?
But, anyway, I doubt it. Here's an interesting little chart showing international math rankings in the 1990s.
Couple of things, the Asian countries aren't even in the 12th grade rankings--which are topped by some northern European countries. I'm guessing that education splits up earlier and that kids are either on a university track or out of school by then. So, in other words, we teach longer.
Another thing--the U.S. numbers slip downward in the later grades. In fourth grade, we're at no. 8, tied with Ireland and Australia and ahead of Canada. If the rankings haven't shifted much then I very much doubt that Palo Alto kids, who rank near the top of U.S. scores are scoring below the average Singapore kid.
Basically, where we're slipping up is from middle school on. HOWEVER, we also keep more kids in the educational system than do many countries. It's not an even comparison. We're trying to do something else here.
One more thing--this little chart shows that type of instruction, size of class and even the amount of homework don't seem to be key differences. The study's a bit old, so more recent info would be good.
But this isn't nearly the cut-and-dried issue people think it is.
Take a deep breath,
Loved your post--thank you and thank you for sharing your background. What you say goes with my own experience in math and science--the teacher matters.
My gut instinct reading here is that there's a certain fear-of-math going on--which is odd in Silicon Valley--that unless all the ducks are in a row the kids won't learn math. You seem a lot more relaxed about it, given your background, it makes sense.
How do private schools do it? Really easily--they don't accept students with learning issues. Public schools have a mandate to educate all children within their district. Private schools get to pick and choose.
And, guess what, costs less money if you don't have to provide specialized instruction for kids with learning or behavior issues.
However, it also means that trying to directly compare private and public doesn't add up.
And, yes, this is a hyper-competitive school district. We're in the middle of Silicon Valley, next to Stanford, and in California, good school districts are far and few between, so people pay a lot to live here. So lots of Type-A parents, lots of parents who have sacrificed a lot to have their kids go to school here and, in general, they're smart enough and detail-oriented enough (it's the engineer mentality) to have an opinion on *everything*.
As for differentiated instruction--it's basically the only way to work with highly gifted kids. The differences in ability can be vast. And, no, it's not just tutoring. I have a friend who studied math at a highly ranked university--starting at age 12. No tutoring. I know a young programmer who was one of the early EPGY kids--and doing calculus in ninth grade. No tutoring. These types are rare, but they're around and we do get a higher than average number of them in the district thanks to the people here.
With these kids, the question isn't getting them to understand stuff, but to keep them from tuning out school. It's funny, no one thinks much of the issue with reading. Some first-grade kids can't read and others read Harry Potter. That's a six-grade difference--and you probably have that range in every single first-grade classroom in Palo Alto.
Why not the same thing in math? And why penalize the kids at either end by not providing something on their level--not to the point of running the teacher ragged, but by recognizing that kids learn at different speeds? I also, by the way, believe in doing supplementation at home because, hey, it's my kid and I'm a parent. It would never occur to me to assume that a school was going to provide everything for my child.