Lonely groundhogs: Where’s the math?

Oak Norton, a Utah blogger, predicts the Death of Math after reading a new secondary math textbook circulated by the state education department. For example, the Lonely Groundhog assignment, adapted from the Interactive Mathematics Program, sets up a game:

. . . Once winter is over (groundhogs) live in fancy houses that are decorated with the most beautiful shapes. Since groundhogs aren’t very creative, they live in houses that look just like the house of at least one other groundhog. Groundhogs that live in identical houses always play together. However, one groundhog has a house different from all the rest. Sometimes this groundhog is left all alone. If you can help find the lonely groundhog, perhaps you could introduce it to all the other groundhogs.

Each group gets 40 cards with pictures of groundhog houses, which are evenly distributed face down. One card only has no match.

Your group’s task is to discover the singleton card of the lonely groundhog. When your group thinks they have located the house of the lonely groundhog the task is ended, whether or not you are correct. Therefore, you must be sure that everyone is confident of your answer before you announce that you are done. 

The rules ban showing, trading, passing, drawing or looking at cards or putting cards in a common pile when duplicates are found. However, “you may set your cards face down in front of you once you think you have found a match.” And anything else is legal, so presumably kids are supposed to describe the shapes on their cards.

But the point isn’t to learn to identify or describe shapes. Students are asked:

What were your group’s strengths and weaknesses? How can you help your group work together better and improve your individual participation? How did you know when you were done? How confident were you in knowing you had solved the problem? Why were you so confident?

The homework asks students “to reflect upon the way you participate in groups within a math classroom and outside of a math classroom.”

1. a. Think of a time when you or someone in your group was left out of the discussion. Describe the situation. Did anyone try to include that person? If not, why not? If yes, then how?

b. What might you have done to help with the situation?

And so on and on. I came across a teacher who’d assigned Lonely Groundhog homework — and work on quadratic equations. So we’re not talking about little kids here.

Norton is afraid that under Common Core Standards, the state will force all districts to use the same, inane learning materials.

Teachers, is this game less stupid and time-wasting than I think?

About Joanne


  1. If I lived in Utah and was a taxpayer there, I’d be asking some of the brain dead idiots, what are you doing teaching this nonsense instead of real math?

    We often wonder why our kids can’t handle math or reading or writing, this is a prime example of why they can’t.


  2. having taught the 8th grade math common core standards, i’m confused where this activity fits in with them. i would say the curriculum writer wrote a bunch of crap and sold it to some school as being aligned with common core and the school bought it so the teacher is using it.

    i think the eighth grade math standards are logical, coherent and rigorous – if taught as they are written, without fluff.

  3. Well, something tells me if the school were to buy such nonsense, I wonder what they were thinking.

    Give me some singapore math anyday of the week…

  4. My district adopted this series, and I’ve been forced to teach this activity.

    The book has a strange mix of good activities with those of little mathematical benefit. Its a perfect example of a series that is more focused on the method of delivery (group work, constructivist), then the actual content.

    I tend to follow the book because I am order to, but supplement heavily with other tools whenever administrators aren’t walking through.

  5. By “circulated by the [Utah] state education department” you mean “made available as a free download, subject to an explicit disclaimer”?

    “Educators from Jordan and Granite school district developed a student textbook and support materials for teachers. They may be helpful to others, but they’re not sanctioned by USOE.”

    How do you believe that link supports Norton’s fears?

  6. lightly seasoned says:

    Collaborate is a Common Core Standard. I’m not sure what it looks like for math, but that would fit what is required in Com Arts.

  7. The book link has a password, so I wasn’t able to look at it. My comments are only for what Joanne posted and the original blog posting she wrote about.

    Some of the things described in the blog post (the “I can” statements and the writing and presentation instructions) don’t bother me. But the activity is silly. If the material is for middle or high school the teacher had better have some group facilitation skills already. I can’t imagine any of the teachers in my department even considering doing this in class. We don’t have time because we’re too busy learning math.

    Personally, I find the Common Core standards to be inoffensive. They deal with content, not delivery of the content. Yes, there are practice standards, but I have no idea how someone would think this groundhog exercise would fit the practice standards for secondary students. In fact, I just went to the common core website, and on the mathematical practice section there is not a single mention of the word “collaborate.” “Argument” and “critique” do appear, and those are skills we all need in all areas of our lives. Heck, politics would be much less inflammatory if we could all use logical arguments and critique ideas appropriately.

    I think the author of the original blog posting needs to go read the Common Core. They read a lot like the state standards we’re all abandoning, regardless of our home states. There are no groundhogs.

  8. Am I the only one who’s wondering how on earth they could have distributed 40 cards, only one of which is unpaired?