Elementary math course recommended
Publication Date: Friday Apr 26, 1996

SCHOOLS: Elementary math course recommended

Many parents unhappy with choice of program that discourages memorization

by Elizabeth Darling

The Palo Alto school board is poised to adopt a new math course of study for the third through fifth grades--one that does not include a textbook.

A dozen parents spoke to the Palo Alto school board Tuesday night, mostly expressing alarm about the impending adoption of a math program that emphasizes intuition and discourages memorization of rules and procedures.

Committee members dissented among themselves over which to choose and spent months trying to reach consensus. Twelve members voted for "Investigations," published by Dale Seymour, a former Palo Alto teacher. The curriculum uses no textbooks or workbooks, but instead has teacher guides and problem sheets for teachers to distribute. Three parents voted for another series, called "Everyday Math," by the University of Chicago.

"Consensus on these issues was often not possible," said Associate Superintendent Barbara Liddell. But "it is the teachers who must implement the material," and every single teacher on the committee liked "Investigations," after trying out several books.

The committee of teachers, parents and administrators also gave the school board a list of math standards for each grade level and recommendations for assessing students' achievement.

The school board is not expected to vote to adopt the new math curriculum or standards for weeks, but the district hopes to put it in place by fall.

Seymour's approach tries to expand a student's intuition about numbers to solve problems, and discourages teachers from making students memorize rules and procedures, also known as algorithms.

For example, rather than adding numbers vertically and moving right to left, carrying numbers over, Seymour recommends that numbers be lined up horizontally. He encourages teachers to have students look at the whole problem, find relationships among the numbers and then solve the problem. When adding 27 + 27, the student might say 20 + 20 is 40, then add 7 + 7 to get 14. The next step would be to take 40, add 10 to get 50, and then add 4 more to get the answer: 54.

The group's first choice, "Investigations in Number, Data and Space," was developed by TERC (formerly Technical Education Research Center) in Cambridge, Mass., and published by Dale Seymour. They also looked at "MathLand," published by Creative Publications of Mountain View, and used by many school districts throughout the country. It offers a more innovative approach to teaching math, also with no textbook.

"Everyday Math," developed by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project, was also reviewed, and about a dozen teachers tried out some lessons from that series. It includes a journal that serves as a workbook and textbook, and integrates basic concepts with newer approaches.

The committee narrowed its focus to "Investigations" (grades 3-5) and "MathLand" (emphasizing K-1). Seymour has not yet published materials below third grade. Houghton Mifflin's "Mathematics" was piloted but later ruled out by the committee.

"Personally I consider the most important thing adopting the standards," said Superintendent Jim Brown. "Materials, textbooks do not equal the curriculum. They are only part of it. We went through a good process."

For several years, school district parents, many of whom have allied themselves with the group HOLD (Honest Open Logical Debate), have asked the district to reject what they call "new, new math" and bring the pendulum back to teaching math "basics". They have also asked the school board numerous times to pick a math program that has a textbook. Brown and other school district officials say their aim is to provide a "basics plus" curriculum, combining new innovations with traditional math.

Members of HOLD told the school board they are concerned that "Investigations" is still not "basic" enough and will need to be supplemented with other material.

"They don't teach carrying and borrowing," said parent Jim Maples. "What could be more basic than carrying and borrowing?"

"We as parents want a modern, proven technology. We don't want to be at the forefront of the latest thing," said parent Bob Herriot, who felt that "Everyday Math" was more acceptable, because it includes a workbook and textbook.

Parent committee member Erwin Morton supported "Investigations" and "Everyday," but he called on the district to spend more time trying them both at the younger grade levels before making a choice.

"Investigations" does address basic skills, said district Math Resource Specialist Cathy Howard. "They provide rich, engaging math problems for students to wrestle with," and, she said, the group, including teachers, does recommend supplements for the material.

--Elizabeth Darling 

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