Learning to love skills-free math

On Kitchen Table Math, Barry Garelick quotes from a 2006 report on federally funded training in “standards-based” math teaching, which Garelick defines as “how to teach the crap programs that NSF’s Education and Human Resource Division funded (like Everyday Math, Investigations, IMP, CMP, Core Plus, etc).”

The report lauds “changes in teachers’ beliefs” about the need for ability grouping.

“Before IMP, I felt that there were mathematically unreachable students. I felt that students could not go on to more challenging ideas like algebra, statistics, probability, or trig without basic skills. Fortunately, with my IMP training, I have a different feeling about students. I strongly believe in access to mathematics for all. (Teacher, 6–12 mathematics)”

Garelick writes:

Before this teacher started using IMP, he/she felt that basic skills were necessary in order to proceed in mathematics. After IMP, which essentially avoids content whenever possible, he/she saw the light. Yes, wonderful things happen when you pretend that content doesn’t matter, and that higher order thinking skills occur just by giving students “authentic” problems without the bother of all those and boring drills and instruction. They are able to reach for the stars. Unfortunately they do so by standing on a two legged stool.

After many years working in science, Garelick is preparing for a second career as a math teacher.

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  1. Diana Senechal says:

    Yesterday at a PD I was shown a video of a math lesson taught using the “Power Teaching” method. At one point, late in the video, I asked, “Where’s the math?”

    There was none. The entire lesson was about group procedures. Lots, lots, lots of “turning and talking” combined with gestures, claps, and chants, all lesson long.

    And it was all based on math standards.

  2. I’m teaching remedial maths skills to 16-year-olds that have failed an algebra paper, but that is hardly surprising as they have to think hard for several minutes to recall how to multiply a whole number by ten.

    Who thought an algebra paper was appropriate for these kids? They are too old now to want to sit and learn their multiplication tables – the chance was missed when they were younger.

  3. Is there no adult supervision in the teaching of math in public schools?

  4. Alarconmath says:

    I am a high school Algebra math teacher teaching mostly low skilled students. I find it extremely challenging to teach algebraic concepts if they can barely even perform basic arithmetic. In addition, my students can barely retain the information I give them. I feel like I can teach them 1,000,000 how to do something (with different approaches), and within an hour they will forget. I agree with Glen Thomas, they may be too old now to want to (re)learn the basics. Perhaps the chance was missed…

  5. I’ve tutored high school students and I usually begin with basic mathematical operations – all the way back to addition and subtraction. Hooh boy, did they hate me, but luckily I had the parents’ confidence in each case and my tutorees (tutees?) had no choice but to go through hundreds of basic problems as I tutored them. Over time, I essentially recapped the 8 years of math their schools failed to teach them. Oh, and I had the parents hide every calculator in the house.
    Eventually the parents didn’t need to help “motivate” my tutorees – their dramatically improved grades worked just as well. Although, it did create some conflicts with their math teachers who disagreed with the traditional mathematical procedures I taught because they taught more ‘progressive’ methods.
    Teaching elementary math to adolescents isn’t a cognitive problem but instead a behavioral and motivational problem.

  6. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Could the war card game be used to each teens basic math procedures? I know it can be used to make addition, subtraction, multiplication and working with fractions automatic.

    You take a standard deck of cards, remove the face cards. Each of two players turn over 2 cards, add them, and the higher number captures the cards. You can find further details by googling war card game.

  7. They really aren’t too old to learn basic arithmetic.

    I have a special ed kid that had to be afterschooled, and after a lot of practice and Mad Minutes, he did become more fluent and it did stick.

    The problem is, there’s more to drill besides the operations. The kids probably don’t know how to factor. They probably don’t really understand fractions or percentages.

    There’s a good chance they weren’t taught well and weren’t given enough practice.

    But they can get it, and they really need it to get along in the world.

    If my borderline IQ kid can do it, then I imagine most of them can, too.

  8. Alarconmath says:

    The issue is time. When you have so much of the curriculum to get through, it’s hard to devote additional time to the basics.

    I could literally spend weeks going over the basics, but as the Regents is fast approaching, I need to make sure that I get through the required material. I have a habit of forcing my students to calculate the most basic problems as we go through the required material, in a way forcing continuous practice (even something as simple as 6*2).

  9. SuperSub says:

    Ultimately, the issue has to be resolved at the elementary level. There currently is a disconnect between what is being taught at the elementary level and what students need for background knowledge as they enter the secondary level.

    This has likely been done by some districts, but the districts really need to get the secondary and elementary teachers together to create more specific standards for each grade than what the state provides. The elementary teachers need to receive feedback how their students are able to handle secondary math with the strategies they are teaching.

  10. Brandyjane says:

    A couple of years ago we worked on our math curriculum backward from twelfth grade. We asked, “What math skills should the ideal graduate from our school possess?” When we identified those skills, our math teachers progressed backward all the way down to kindergarten to make sure that students are taught the math concepts they need at each level to produce that ideal graduate. Everyone who teaches math was in on these meetings, so we literally had first grade teachers and calculus teachers working together. It worked because the lower level teachers heard directly from the upper level teachers what foundational concepts are needed by what grade level, and the upper school teachers heard from the lower school teachers what is and is not realistic for the younger ones to master.

  11. SuperSub says:

    I know it may be too early, but has there been any noticeable effect of the new curriculum?

    Anyone else have similar experience with math or other subjects?