Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, January 26, 2011, 12:29 AM

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# Palo Alto may convene math 'working group'

Original post made on Jan 26, 2011

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, January 26, 2011, 12:29 AM

Comments (36)

a resident of Charleston Gardens

on Jan 26, 2011 at 7:10 am

Do we really want to separate our kids into ability groups at such a young age?

Kids need to be kids - they need to have fun and have lots of free time to enjoy themselves. If we adopt this proposal the next thing this interest group will promote is letter grades for elementary school kids and perhaps even a mandatory curve. I don't think we should add stress to these kids' lives.

Additionally, there is no need to further push our kids at this age because there is a limit to the math level that is offered in our high schools - the highest AP level that a student can take is BC Calculus; thus, it is practically useless to push our kids so much when they are young because they will simply reach the limit high school can offer them at a younger age.

a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

on Jan 26, 2011 at 8:58 am

Joey - with the big school across the street, PAUSD students can take more than just BC Calculus. There are also very talented middle school kids who are taking high school math.

Laning - if it is flexible - makes a lot of sense. There are many kids who could use an additional challenge, and many who could get "caught up" with a little more attention and without the other students making them feel stupid.

I would also love our math curriculum to be more real-world based, checking accounts, spread sheets, budgets, etc. so that by the time the kids graduate, they can not only take college math classes, but also function in the real world.

a resident of College Terrace

on Jan 26, 2011 at 9:01 am

Sure, Everyday Math will put all students at a more level playing field and bring up the students that are struggling to lessen the achievement gap, but what about the individuals who have the potential to really excel at Math? Don't we want a little bit of inequality here? Ability differences are good in that those who have the potential to really excel at math may become our future scientists and mathematicians. We really need to challenge our top performers and Everyday Math will not give them the skills for higher more advanced math.

a resident of Crescent Park

on Jan 26, 2011 at 10:25 am

Yesterday I visited Covington School in Los Altos where they are piloting the Khan Academy's fresh-out-of-the-oven technology for teaching math. I was blown away to see 5th graders plowing through math curriculum in an individualized way. Khan has developed some incredible software that transforms the way the kids learn, and the way teachers approache the classroom. Apparently there are a number of 5th graders who have begun doing calculus(!). Web Link and Web Link

a resident of Crescent Park

on Jan 26, 2011 at 10:28 am

One more thing - if you want to see what the Los Altos School District and the students themselves have to say about Khan Academy's technology for teaching math - just see their blog. It's amazing - click here --> Web Link

a resident of College Terrace

on Jan 26, 2011 at 10:55 am

Palo Alto is so dysfunctional. So many over-achievers who worry constantly that their little geniuses won't be served by the school district. Heck, those are the only kids the district DOES serve. My average child (who just completed 3 quarters of calculus at UC Davis, as kids are intended to do, not in high school which is pushed down their throats in PAUSD) never learned how to do long division. Seriously. She attended Nixon school where it wasn't considered cool or innovative to simply drill and practice until kids get the concept. Americans elevate math to something esoteric and magical, with a corresponding neurotic fear that drill and practice are somehow damaging to the wonderfulness of it all. As a result most kids never get it, and meanwhile other nations pound the basics into their kids until math is as natural as walking, and they're killing us now in competition for jobs.

a resident of Community Center

on Jan 26, 2011 at 11:10 am

I feel like the school board is missing the boat here. If 40% of parents are saying their kids aren't challenged enough in math, MAYBE IT'S THE CURRICULUM. Parents were happier with the "old" curriculum. Everyday Math fails overachievers, confuses the mushy middle, and helps only the struggling. Scrap it and bring in something that works better for that 40% and is less cumbersome for the normal kids, too. (We have a "normal" kid but still supplement at home to undo Everyday Math's damage, including using Khan's videos, which are fabulous.)

Train the teachers all you want, PAUSD, it's not going to solve the real problem here, which is the failure of the curriculum to meet the needs of a wide range of kids -- unless teachers are being trained to supplement, which they're all doing anyway. So why, oh why, are we paying for Everyday Math materials, the most expensive of any curriculum out there, when it is. not. enough/working. ?! I just don't get it.

a resident of Green Acres

on Jan 26, 2011 at 11:48 am

Was going to ask the question: "what's the problem here?" But someone may have answered that question: "the real problem here, which is the failure of the curriculum to meet the needs of a wide range of kids".

But does the PAUSD officially admit this? It certainly seems that there is a lack of clarity on this issue--originating at the top of the power structure of the District.

a resident of Mountain View

on Jan 26, 2011 at 11:49 am

Before convening a "working group" to discuss kids that are not being challenged enough, focus on the rest of the students that are in the regular math track. I had the pleasure of having 3 out of my 4 Gunn HS math teachers fired the year after I took their classes. 3/4. That's a fraction! A real leg up.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jan 26, 2011 at 11:58 am

One thing to look at may be some of the "hidden" math programs at our schools. Is there an increase in students (or places) in the math intervention summer school programs and what are the criteria for students to be recommended for this program? We have had one student who was recommended and attended for several years and although skills improved the overall grade performance did not.

JLS has also started a math workshop class which is instead of an elective for those kids not able to keep up in the regular classrooms. Once again, a student has to be recommended for this class. This means that some JLS students are having two periods of math with two different teachers.

Presumably the teaching methods in these summer and workshop classes are different from what is going on in the regular classrooms. These may be the only reason some kids are actually learning anything to sufficiently help them in math in our school classrooms.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jan 26, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Not too long ago a group of parents who wanted their children taught in Mandarin, not English, as the default language in the class room were able to get the School Board's attention by claiming that they were going to open a charter school so that they could teach their children as they saw fit.

Maybe it's time for the parents who want their children properly instructed in math and science to do the same thing, and make it clear to the School Board that they will start up a charter school if the District doesn't do a better job than it is now (where math is concerned).

a resident of Old Palo Alto

on Jan 26, 2011 at 2:20 pm

It is so ironic that the PAUSD sees a working group as the solution to understanding what is wrong with EveryDay Math just two years after they ignored parent and community opinion against this curriculum.

I would take satisfaction in saying "I told you so" about the math curriculum, but our children are the victims here.

a resident of Hoover School

on Jan 26, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Ecomama, Everyday Math was supposed to help the lower end students but there are articles from inner cities which state it has failed to do that too.

Everyday Math is so off-base that the parents need to be taught how to teach their children "new" ways to calculate (because traditional is too difficult). So we've got engineers, mathematicians, physicians, who cannot even help their children with these methods of multiplying. And do they need to know these methods when they reach middle school? Not at all, they need to know the traditional method.

The program also spirals so there are multiple examples on a page (money, time, addition) instead of teaching those areas solidly until all children understand it. They are basically asking children to learn 3 -4 areas at the same time. And then they always throw a zinger question in there for all the parents who think their children are geniuses. A question that only serves to make the other children feel stupid because they cannot answer the question.

As far as teaching to the little geniuses, these children are gifted (or so the parents think - most average kids here are gifted). It is upon the parents to find more challenging work for their children, not rely on the school. Just as lower end students need additional outside help, upper end students should fine the help on their own too. This is a public school system and should teach to the middle.

a resident of Palo Verde

on Jan 26, 2011 at 6:47 pm

For an example of how EDM and TERC Investigations (New math) teach two-digit multiplication, check out MJ McDermott's video on YouTube where she walks through the new math versions vs. the way we all learned by carrying. For those who are new to the debate, it is eye-opening!

Web Link

More reading material on math standards and education from another "working group" can be found on the "Where's the Math?" website.

Web Link

Many of us recently moved here from other highly educated areas only to face the EDM controversy we thought we left behind. It is almost creepy the way EDM has been pushed again and again onto communities all over the country that did not want it.

a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

on Jan 27, 2011 at 6:40 am

Unbelieveable,

"...over-achievers are the only kids the district DOES serve." Not sure what you mean by over-achievers, the the kids who excel at math sure aren't being served. They sit in classes for years waiting for something challenging to come along. When they get to middle school, there is a new drill: bear the load and prove to us you are good enough to make the high lane next year by doing hours extra work on stuff you already know.

At Jordan, they told my sixth-grader, yeah, we can see you know all this stuff and the seventh grade stuff, too, so you can skip up to algebra next year if you do all the sixth grade homework, all the seventh grade homework (by yourself cause we're not helping), go to math club, do all the einstein problems, do the extra credit and optional problems, get the right percentage on the tests including some kind of final, do the same with the seventh grade test that we're not going to prepare you for, and probably some other stuff I've forgotten. That's their idea of teaching: load the kid up with makework on topics she already knows, and hey, if there are any questions, sort it out yourself, kid.

And then the head of the math department had the gall to lecture sixth-grade parents about not burning their kids out by forcing them to do extra work. No wonder the district has issues with the mental health of students.

Whether your kid is struggling or excelling, you are going to have to sort out the problems, because district teachers have no idea how to differentiate math instruction. Just count on doing the work yourself or giving up. Unless you like the third option: load the kid up.

a resident of Fairmeadow

on Jan 27, 2011 at 9:02 am

This thread is focused on the math, but I would like to add that it's not just the math that's weak. The middle school program overall is easy and doesn't prepare students for high school. Science, English, Social Studies -- compare this (PAUSD) to what students are leaning in the more challenging private schools. I'm not for overdoing it either, but the middle school program needs an overhaul.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jan 27, 2011 at 10:49 am

> The middle school program overall is easy and doesn't prepare

> students for high school

This is an interesting observation. The STAR tests (English and Math in particular) show a dip in the 7th and 8th grades, having shown an increase yearly from the 2nd grade (the first year taken). This phenomenon is seen in most middle schools (nationally), so teachers must be doing something to deal with it. This may mean focusing on those students who need help, at the expense of those who don't. Sadly, on people from the PAUSD can provide their side of the story .. and they don't seem to post much in these discussions.

One gets the feeling that the Palo Alto schools are not as good as they are touted to be by real estate agents.

a resident of Midtown

on Jan 27, 2011 at 11:32 am

Our kids were in the very top math lane at Jordan in 6th/7th grade until we realized that the all the extra homework they were doing in the advance self study class wasn't even being graded by the teacher supervising the course! What was the point of all this ungraded busy work? The advance course was supposed to be "self taught" and I guess self graded or graded by parents! What a complete waste of time and effort!

Now we are dealing with high school math lanes and discovering that many teachers are still not grading their student's homework & tests! They use student volunteers to grade and it is not always done correctly. We have had frustrating issues of homework being lost by the student graders, then found and graded a grade lower because it was "late" due to being misplaced by the student grader. Unless the kids or parents challenge the teachers on "lost or misplaced" homework the kid may get a lower grade in the class due to incompetence. This lost homework issue is very stressful for both the kids and parents and may not even be noticed until it is late in the semester to correct any problems. Then it turns into the student's word vs the teacher and their volunteer assistants. This has happened more than once with more than one child in our family and with friends' children! We have also heard that Paly uses student volunteer graders with English homework. Does this sound reasonable????

If you ask around among high school parents with kids in the top 2-3 math lanes most hire outside math tutors to thoroughly teach concepts that are crammed in and barely skimmed on during class. For the kids who seem to excel in these top lanes, it is already review for many of them from their tutors. Many of the kids also take private math courses during the summer to better prepare for the tougher lanes. The teachers think they are doing well because the kids in their classes score good grades on tests, what the teachers don't want to admit is how many of their top students in the class parents hire outside tutors to thoroughly explain the concepts. The district needs to face up to this fact! It is not fair to the students who are ok math students and don't have financial access to these professional tutors.

a resident of Evergreen Park

on Jan 27, 2011 at 12:08 pm

"Sadly, on people from the PAUSD can provide their side of the story .. and they don't seem to post much in these discussions."

You don't suppose those teachers could be spending their time teaching class, planning lessons, and grading homework and tests, do you?

a resident of Crescent Park

on Jan 27, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Look at all the pressure you place on your poor children. Shame on you!

Do you not remember what it's like to be in elementary and middle school?

Our kids will be successful no matter what - they have a Palo Alto education.

There is no need to overburden them with extra math work. Let them have some fun in Boy Scouts, sports teams, dance classes, or playtime with friends. There they will develop the interpersonal skills that will truly help them succeed in life.

a resident of Menlo Park

on Jan 27, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Pa Mom,

If lost or misplaced homework is consistently a problem, sadly it may be time for the students to request a receipt when they turn their homework in so they can prove it was in on time? I've not heard of this happening, but I suppose it would solve the problem, although the teacher would probably complain about the paperwork.

a resident of Barron Park

on Jan 27, 2011 at 2:13 pm

*John94306 is a registered user.*

Let's make sure that our PAUSD kids aren't bored in any class.

We should inspire them to pursue higher levels in any subject.

No one is proposing that we add more homework or stress in their lives.

Just give them opportunity to continuously learn without "educational ceilings".

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jan 27, 2011 at 2:31 pm

> You don't suppose those teachers could be spending their time

> teaching class, planning lessons, and grading homework and tests,

> do you?

Teachers work about 186 days a year (out of 365 possible days), and generally are on their work-sites little more than six hours a day. (Anyone who happens to be near a PAUSD parking lot during the thirty minutes after classes are out could get whiplash just watching the cars hit the local streets.)

There are about 17 school principals, and maybe somewhat larger number of Assistant Principals, all of whom should be considered as "credible sources" for information about the details of the inner workings of the PAUSD. It's hard to believe that any of these people are grading tests, and preparing for classes.

There are maybe a dozen "Coordinators" and "Administrators" assigned to the PAUSD Headquarters, not to mention those people who are the heads of each of the Administrative subdivisions of the PAUSD. None of these people have teaching responsibilities, and all should be considered as "credible sources" of information also.

There is the Superintendent, and the School Board. None of these people are involved with teaching. And there are some number of teachers who are assigned to "teaching support" (or some such), who also are not directly involved with teaching assignments.

(If the poster above who is reporting on "lost homework" is to be believed, some teachers are not reviewing the homework assigned.)

Given the those assigned to teaching have about one third of the year off (if not more), then it's hard to believe that none of them could "fill in the blanks" from time-to-time because they are "too busy preparing for class".

a resident of Adobe-Meadow

on Jan 27, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Joe,

Are you a teacher? I thought not.

a resident of another community

on Jan 27, 2011 at 5:28 pm

I don't think Joe is a teacher. If he was, he would know that teachers leave after the students leave but we go home to call parents, grade papers, and work on lesson plans. A teacher's job is never done. Joe, try being a teacher for a week and you'll know we work our butts off for the 186 days!

a resident of Community Center

on Jan 27, 2011 at 9:00 pm

PA Mom, Steve

I confirm what PA Mom says about lost homework. It's happened to my son at Paly, in the high lane. His semester grade in math is lower because some of his homework was lost by the older student grading the homework for the teacher. By the time our son figured out what was going on it was too late to fix it. Now, he makes sure he gets his homework back ASAP every time.

It is also true that there are students who have already taken the class outside of school.

In the end, though, I know our son truly can do the math, even if his grade his lower, probably better than the kids who are doing the same topics for the second time. We tell him he'll have an edge in college, and it's true.

a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

on Jan 27, 2011 at 10:15 pm

I wonder how many of the issues with the middle schools aren't so much the result of inadequate teaching, but just the sheer overcrowding.

Apparently, it's only getting worse and the district's quietly freaking out, since they seem to be the only people who couldn't see the handwriting on the wall.

a resident of Barron Park

on Jan 27, 2011 at 10:33 pm

EDM was absolutely not chosen with the underachievers in mind. Nothing in Palo Alto is done with underachievers or regular students in mind. They are almost always an afterthought in our curriculum. The district got lots of warnings from lots of different stakeholders that EDM is inadequate for those students. TERC was a failure for underachieving students and those of us whose children went through it spoke up.

Our high school textbooks in some departments are chosen for the AP students and the students in the regular lane classes must use them - which means they really have no textbook.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jan 28, 2011 at 8:48 am

This topic is full of controversy, it will be hard to find the right people.

they should include a mix of parents from middle and high school, and not all of them Math obsessed

I've heard about the "race to nowhere" movie, and the anxiety about Math in this town makes me wonder if there isn't a similar thing going on.

get real people, it's Math. like puberty, everyone gets through it, not everyone will be a genius at it, most will get by to have fine careers, and some may have enough to balance their family budget.

a resident of Palo Alto High School

on Jan 28, 2011 at 3:11 pm

@race to where?

Gaining the skills to balance a checkbook is not the point of focus.

--Respectfully, I am guessing you have not yet had a child go through high school (of if s/he did, it was many yrs ago). Conditions are currently very competitive for top university slots, and so Math is a major priority in most PA parents' minds. (Thos who ignore this may regret it later.)

Many parents plan their students' entire lives in advance. (I am not saying I support this, I am just stating the facts.)

It is pretty correct that a high level of accomplishment in Math is admired/necessary for Ivy League/many other private/some public university admissions. Some parents have taken the process of accomplishing this way over the top, with those having more money at a distinct advantage, including many years of supplementary outside education/advancement, summer education, paid tutoring in order to gain top grades, SAT testing, AP testing, preferably finishing BC Calc by junior yr.

a resident of Palo Alto High School

on Jan 28, 2011 at 10:20 pm

@race to where: I am NOT math-obsessed. In fact, I cannot help my kids past 6th grade math. You obviously have not studied the program.

One of the major downfalls of the program is that it does not allow for repetitive, rote memorization. No, those children might not be able to balance their budgets without a calculator. Or calculate if they have the correct change without looking at the answer on the cash register. "Everyday Math" is a misnomer.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jan 28, 2011 at 11:44 pm

former paly parent,

ok, so the other way to look at it is that not everyone will go to an ivy league school, most will go to fine schools, and some may not go to college - that is reality.

is the expectation is that everyone will go to an ivy league school?

all the Math tweaking will not result in higher acceptance rates

a resident of Charleston Meadows

on Jan 30, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Elementary school math may not be challenging to maybe even a majority of the students in elementary, but we cannot generalize it for everyone. Not everyone I knew was great at math and not everyone I know to this day are good at math. If we were to teach more advanced math, then others would feel insufficient and demotivated. That being said, I find the topic of putting students into lanes intriguing.

However, I honestly do not feel like this is a major problem. People that are motivated in mathematics will find ways themselves to learn math. In middle school I joined MathCounts and learned many many new things from 6th grade to 7th grade. There are also online forums that people of all ages attend to learn more about math. Our club adviser was great, and I agree a mentor is needed, but challenging motivated students does not require one.

@btdt about skipping grades

I do not recall that much work. All I had to do was take the Algebra I test and boom, done. Maybe this was because it was a while back, but in high school I knew a people that took the Trig test or geometry test and skipped.

a resident of Palo Alto High School

on Jan 30, 2011 at 4:29 pm

@race to where

Pls understand the difference between what I support vs. what this community supports. I am just discussing reality. It's hard not to be cynical when one understands what some parents do - borderline unethical practics with a big payoff.

I have a situation where I have a lot of contacts/current knowledge about a lot of young college students/schools. I know many upstanding persons from all over, so I do not make blanket statements, still...

Make no mistake, there is a lot of pressure HERE to apply to Ivy League/similar schools - USNWR rankings (semi-discredited as they may be) seem to count for a LOT around here. Students have to exist with their peers, and status is largely related to college acceptances. What this means is a lot of planning.

While this is really not an optimum way of viewing the world, that's the way it is here. Among high achievers, there are always a raft of competitors and some students put down other students who are considering 2nd tier schools. I fully support that EACH institution must have merit, otherwise it wouldn't exist! But status is highly considered here. They may feel they don't want to discuss each college where they have been accepted, for example. I know one of my kids was ashamed to admit acceptance to my student's safety, as my student knew others would put my student down, so my student didn't give serious consideration to the school, to some extent based on PALY student "opinions!" This is not unusual. As a person who is perhaps more widely traveled than the average PALY student, I KNOW more about some other areas of the country, but only certain areas are considered "prestigious." Clearly, it would benefit one if one can avoid/disregard the opinions of one's peers/fellow students, but be aware this may be difficult logistically to do.

As if...PALY students are in a position to conclusively "rate" a university...umm yes, many do believe they are in a position to do this. There are some fortunate with legacy situations, and some work hard for recruited sports fullrides.

Again, I don't support this, it is for the monied set, but are you aware some kids are putting out 22 apps (none lower than approx. top 20 universities, though UC is included as a safety)

I am not endorsing that, I feel there is WAY too much parent involvement around here. I remark about this as a public service in that there is some secrecy at times and parents/students who are new/not as much in the loop to the college "situation" should be AWARE of the level of commitment of many other parents/students IN CASE they should also turn out to be interested...it IS competitive, so don't be in a position where it's too late. Often, MATH is a priority.

Minor differences in apps CAN make a difference, that's why so many parents are so worked up about it. If a student has an interest in science, be aware there are "certain activities" that should be done during HS summers so they will be competitive.

Competitions are highly in mind right now. Winning instead of creativity or work.

Some parents utilize methods I have long criticized as unethical (multiple yrs of aggressive paid tutoring ahead in math so student receives automatic A in challenging HS math courses while peers must learn as they go and earn their grades; another goal is to have one's kids skip courses on the basis of being gifted (note such students were typically receiving very advanced outside math instruction for YEARS so it is hardly happenstance); challenging costly summer math programs are fairly routine; prepping for the math competitions should begin yrs ahead, so be AWARE if such are of interest.

There is little room for serendipity, especially around here where people plan to the nth degree. One is likely to get run over with a bulldozer, as colleges are inundated with apps and only accept a certain # from certain schools as they want geographic diversity.

Get a lay of the landscape sooner rather than later. Just a word to the wise. Please, please DO skip the parent-contrived ultimate community service schemes. Inspire a kid to consider CS, even innovate ones, but pls do NOT manage it for them. The costly overseas travel to volunteer at an orphanage is hackneyed now.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jan 30, 2011 at 5:14 pm

former paly parent,

I agree with you about the parent involvement on overdrive to help kids get into the right, or ivy league schools and yes Math is where much of the pumping happens

making Math even more efficient to serve the "above" grade level students though will not make parents any less aggressive about pumping, it could just get uglier

there is nothing broken about the Math, it's the pumping which will only adapt

a resident of Palo Alto High School

on Jan 30, 2011 at 6:07 pm

We never had contact w/Every Day Math, but I am a bit skeptical about it. I like straightforward math instruction myself.

However, good news is I CAN endorse PALY's upper-lane math instruction (taken by a kid who did NOT get tutored -- VERY rare -- we since see some real talent in this subject) - since time has gone by, their curriculum has been "proved" to me (not a math expert, in truth, but a commonsense expert) to be very solid.

Note that parents who prep their kids into multivariable calc etc are not complaining (at least not publicly to the school board) about PALY's math curriculum being behind. That's because it isn't, really, and the motivation for all the extra year round tutoring and cram schools is merely competition and the requirement to be "#1" however artificial. Better get 800 or close on Math SAT subject test, SAT etc., too. That takes a certain amount of support.

There still is a complication with so many student having outside tutoring which games the system and/or leads to students taking a class for the grade. The parent agitation to get kids ahead by 1-2 yrs is a BIT extreme here, though I am not opposed to enrichment. I HAVE seen an awful lot of parent-required enrichment, though - a REAL advantage if one has the $$$ over those who simply do not. Oh, among the motivated parents, everyone is "certain" their kid is a genius. Parents place extreme "motivation" on kids at PALY to be tops in math. I would have suffered there since I simply have other interests.

If you have any interest in the famous math competitions, get started early like the others do with outside practice and prepping.

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