Separating parents from the story

KitchenTableMath and Text Savvy aren’t happy with the Education Department’s advice to parents on teaching children math:

Try to be aware of how your child is being taught math, and don’t teach strategies and shortcuts that conflict with the approach the teacher is using.

That means “don’t subert fuzzy math” by teaching algorithms, KTM thinks.

In Math for poets, one of Linda Moran’s readers complains that the TERC math curriculum is teaching math appreciation rather than math understanding. Traditional math terms just won’t do:

* In TERC it is joining not addition
* separating not subtraction
* bits and pieces and not fractions
* capacity and not volume
* it is what the calculator displays and not decimals.
* it is “landmarks” rather than ALL the numbers in the decimal system.
* it is turns and not angles and degrees.
* it is write a story and not write the equation.
* it is draw pictures and not show a true effective reusable strategy.

Via Instructivist.

Update: “New-age math” is failing to teach skills or concepts, writes Seattle Times columnist Bruce Ramsey, who quotes TERC-hating math teachers and professors who complain their students don’t have the math knowledge to pursue scientific careers.

The official measure of math skills is the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. The WASL is a new-age test, with many questions being as much about explanations as answers. Some are more of logic than math — making the WASL a better test for the college-bound than the high-school grad expected to know basic algebra and fractions. At the same time, Washington, D.C., consultant Michael Cohen, who has reviewed the WASL, says the actual math in it is seventh-grade level.

Consider that. To graduate from high school, our state was going to require kids to demonstrate knowledge of seventh-grade math — and because of the way we teach them, and the way we test them, half of them can’t do it.

A parent-teacher group, Where’s the Math?, is trying to get Washington to teach “real math” using California’s math standards.

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  1. Arrrgh! There should be a LAW against changing terminology just for touchy-feely purposes. What happens when these little “poets” get out in the real world where people talk about subtraction, and division, and fractions instead of “separation” and “bits and pieces” and all that.

    Really, it’s like the soft prejudice of low expectations – these kids are going to be condemned to be less-literate in math than their peers who learn “real math.” Is that what we want? To limit a kid’s opportunities in the name of making math more “friendly”?

    Also, re: the “don’t subvert how the Experts are teaching your kids” – I’m a product of the first go-round of New Math. Fortunately I had parents who were scientists who taught me the algorithm way of doing things – which is what you actually use when you want to do math efficiently. It did give some headaches when bullheaded teachers insisted I do the “new math” version of long division (which, IIRC, takes about eight extra steps the “old fashioned way” does not require). I had to stay in from recess a few times until I could prove to them that, yes, I could do long division, and yes, I could get the correct answer, and yes, I knew what divisors and remainders and all that were.

  2. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Since the drill bores teachers, it is time to replace them with teaching games. Save the meat teachers for abstracts.

  3. I take a backseat to nobody in my concern over the fuzzy math.


    It’s possible to reach a paranoid level where you see “fuzzy math” everywhere. The DOE advice, on its face, is not bad.

    Obviously if the teacher teaches a method like “adding on your fingers,” or sticks or beans or manipulatives, a parent would be right to teach an alternative strategy…the “normal” way.

    BUT a good “no-nonsense old-fashioned” math teacher might teach one form of how to find the slope of a line. A parent could teach another form. That’s fine if the kid understands the multiple ways to approach the problem. If not — and this happens frequently — the kid ends up combining half of the “teacher method” with half of the “parent or tutor method” and gets confused.

  4. This probably has something to do with the inability of the teachers to understand math. I know several elementary teachers who failed the math portion of the CBEST multiple times.

    You have to be a friggin’ moron to fail the CBEST.

  5. Ragnarok says:

    “You have to be a friggin’ moron to fail the CBEST.”

    Yep, that’s true, but they fail in droves nonetheless.

  6. For a charitable interpretation, the operative word is “conflict”. If you teach another method well, it does not “conflict”. It either “supplements” or “supplants”.

    However, if I ever saw a homework paper where (as in a recent video I saw) the paper asks for 36 / 6 to be solved two different ways, I will personally lead the villagers with the pitchforks and torches.

    Rote memorization is the proper way to deal with all trivial addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems.

    Yoda: There is no “solve 36/6”. There is only “6”.

  7. A guy who is a successful entrepreneur was telling me how he almost flunked out of 4th grade. The hot educational theory at the time was to use *colors* to represent numbers, so he had to learn “color multiplication”–as in “blue times green equals yellow.” He tried to deal with this by converting the colors back to numbers, multiplying the numbers, and converting back to colors, but was told this wasn’t allowed.

    America’s educational system is being run by people who want to turn every subject into either “arts & crafts” or “social studies.”

  8. Given the popularity of Kumon and less formal drill courses around here, there’s no doubt that many parents don’t rely on public school teaching of math, especially in the lower grades. The Chinese-American parents I know in the burbs happily and voluntarily choose to subvert the grade school teachers. When we asked about the local policy of “no homework and tests” for first graders in her area, one mother laughed and said, “Not in this house!” The Mom — a CPA, I think — tests her kids regularly on multiplication and division at the end of first and second grade.

  9. America’s educational system is being run by people who want to turn every subject into either “arts & crafts” or “social studies.”



    Our middle school is now trying to “implement” the “middle school model.” We’ve successfully staved it off for one year – a reprieve! – but after that it’s curtains.

    The middle school model, we’re told, being interdisciplinary, will allow math teachers to bring social studies into the classroom.

    For example, the math teacher could point out to students that Pythagoras was a Greek.

    (Hi, David!)

  10. That was the actual example given by the middle school principal at the school board meeting, fyi.

  11. Hi, Catherine! Where’ve you been?

    I’m guessing that for a typical middle school principal, it may be new information that Pythagoras was a Greek.

  12. Ragnarok says:

    “For example, the math teacher could point out to students that Pythagoras was a Greek.”

    And not that lowest of all human life forms, a geek who enjoyed math…