Confused, bothered and befuddled

Everyday Math left Barry Garelick’s daughter confused, he writes on Education News. New ideas came from nowhere and there was no textbook and no way for parents to figure out what had been taught in class.  “Spiraling” meant students half-learned concepts again and again without reaching mastery. Garelick set out to tutor his daughter and her friend, using Singapore Math. They were sixth graders but had to start at Singapore’s fourth-grade level to learn what they’d never mastered. He thought it was going well till the friend asked:

“How do you get from a number on top and number on the bottom of a line into a number that has a point on it?

… she was asking how you convert a fraction to a decimal. Now, Laura was bright and she knew what a numerator and denominator were, and what a fraction was, but apparently the EM lesson they were working on sprung this on them without warning.

Singapore Math teaches decimals in the context of fractions, he writes. Everyday Math introduced decimals without context.  

Garelick plans a second career as a math teacher.

Hong Kong fourth graders outperform  Massachusetts students in math on international tests, concludes an AIR study. The Hong Kong students, who were far more likely to display advanced skills, are expected to learn more complex number  and measurement skills. Hong Kong’s internal tests require high-level computation and deeper mathematical understanding. Tests in Massachusetts, considered the highest performing U.S. state, require much less.

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  1. Miller T. Smith says:

    I have honors chemistry students who have passed three high school level math classes who can’t do fractions, scienctfic notation, don’t kow the mutipliction tables, can’t graph on paper, can’t multiply fractions, on and on.

    These students have been ripped off.

  2. Physics Teacher says:

    I’ve had kids who can’t multiply by ten or divide by one.

    How are these students supposed to grasp the idea of momentum if vector quantities are completely beyond there grasp?

    Ah, the educationists have the magic answer: “You have to find SOME way of engaging the students. That’s what the art of teaching is”

    Get rid of educationists

  3. For those who don’t know what “Everyday Math” is, you can see a demo here:

  4. I was graciously given the older EM materials by our district when it purchased the newer version for its students. I about drove myself crazy trying to teach decimals and fractions to my second-graders because the concepts were introduced. It was only after reading the teachers’ manual carefully that I realized what “beginning, developing and secure” levels really meant.

    I still use the EM materials in my homeschool, but am using the Singapore maths as the base curriculum. I think that some of the worksheets involve a great deal of scaffolding, which isn’t necessarily bad if you’re aware that that’s what you’re doing and that the children don’t really have the concepts down just yet.

    I am comforted by the fact that a sixth-grader had to go back to the fourth grade curriculum as it took us about eight months to get through Singapore 4A AFTER completing EM Grade 4.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    DD was taught math the “right” way, but still, this summer, I’ve got plenty of review sheets to do along with vocabulary and language.

  6. Andromeda says:

    In the context of Massachusetts mathematics, it’s worth noting:

    Per the Boston Globe, the elementary teacher licensure test in MA now breaks out math as a separate subtest (which one must pass), rather than averaging in math scores with everything else; 3/4 of test-takers failed this section. Bad (if unsurprising) in the short run, but in the long run it may be a spur to better math preparation in the education curriculum, which I’m sure would be a win for everybody.

    The curious can see practice questions for the math subtest here. As a math major albeit not someone with any background in teaching math, I love these practice questions; they’re grounded in arithmetic operations and number sense, with a dash of algebra and geometry, but they’re not things that can be solved with calculators or rote application of formulae; they demand that you recognize the concepts in play, and many of them phrase the questions in terms of one concept but the answers in terms of another, so you have to have the mathematical fluency to translate.

    I’m sure this means the test will be assailed as unfair, but I’ll keep my hopes up anyway.

  7. my personal ache with EM is their advocacy of “matrix multiplication” — a passable tool for illustrating but a deadend in mastering the skill of multiplication, especially when the student tackles long division. (and is forced to set up a matrix on the side for each step of the long division)

  8. Andromeda,

    Wow. The elementary school teachers across the U.S. really are scraping the bottom of the SAT/ACT barrel, aren’t they?

    Not that elementary school Math, Science, Social Studies and English should require advanced knowledge… But to not even have the basic knowledge mastered, after going through K-12 yourself? That I don’t understand.

    P.S. – Please don’t run into the Milky Way Galaxy! I like our spiral shape! 😛

  9. Cardinal Fang says:

    How well did a student have to do to pass that math test, Andromeda?

  10. Andromeda says:

    @Sisko — yes and no; I mean, yes, the difference between average GRE scores for programs in, say, education and, say, physics is well-known, and yes, elementary teachers need to have the basic knowledge. But it’s noteworthy about these questions that they require *conceptual understanding*, not just rote application of formulae. It’s possible that the set of people who are tested would do just fine if asked to, e.g., solve a worksheet full of elementary math problems. That may be enough mathematical knowledge to escape junior high, but that isn’t enough mathematical knowledge to *teach*.

    @Fang: Good question. Don’t know. Didn’t notice a cutoff score in either of those sources, although I also didn’t look closely at the scoring section of the practice test. When I took the MTEL, I remember I needed a 70 to pass the Latin test; I don’t remember what I needed to pass the general test. (The Massachusetts Latin test is incredibly hard; the cutoff score was much more salient for me on it than on the general. 😉 I wasn’t taking the elementary tests, and I don’t know whether all tests (and subtests) use the same cutoff score.

  11. Reading this, I realize that I was so blessed in my youth. I was schooled in that era that introduced “New Math”. I came home, befuddled and anxious, to a father with a good grasp of math. He taught me the “old-fashioned” way to do the same things, and I managed to hide the fact that I was reaching the answers by – horrors! – ancient methods of math.

    I like to show kids the algorithms; once they can handle that, they are ready for the frills and flourishes. By focusing on teaching kids the processes, we help them to feel “smart” about math. At that point, they are ready to engage in the higher level thinking about math.