Weekly Math Updates

March 22, 2006

  • 1,000 Family Mark Broken
  • Trib Article and Radio Show Comments (MUST READ)
  • Letter to the Editor
  • Election Efforts
  • Book Review
  • A Grandma Speaks Out
  • WMD Comic - Scales

1,000 Family Mark Broken
Hi all,

Great job helping push us over 5%.  I knew we'd hit it and good things are happening because of it.  We got a writeup in the Trib and even though the article didn't represent our views really well, any news is bad news for fuzzy math.  It pushed us over the mark for 1,000 families on the Alpine portion of the petition.  Thanks to people like David Wright, we are making serious inroads to the universities and I expect in the coming days we'll see more support by groups in favor of stronger math programs and standards.  If you are members of a technical society, encourage them to take a stand on this issue in favor of stronger math.  If they can't be convinced by logic, show them the comics. :)

I have to say, I have found a whole new energy toward this fight as people share their experiences with me and especially now with the comics. It's a lot of fun to give an idea to Bob Bonham and have him work his magic on it.

Trib Article and Radio Show Comments (MUST READ COMMENTS)
As a result of the Trib article, we had a great response on the radio shows.  I tried to call in to one and couldn't get through but I heard it was discussed on Grant and Amanda, Bob Lonsberry, and NPR.  Thanks to those of you that heard and tried to call in.  I have contacted the first two stations to see if they would like to do an interview and cover this in more depth but I haven't heard back anything yet.

I had to share a couple of comments I received as a direct result of the Trib article.  This first one made me laugh out loud and I have only edited the names and places with the author's permission to protect the innocent. :)

Found you thanks to the article in the Trib today on this Investigative Math stuff. Have to hand it to you: you can raise hell like nobody!!!! Must say that I have mixed emotions on the whole thing. We just moved back to Utah from NJ. The quality of education here is poor by comparison, though saying so gets my dad all fired up (he's the superintendent in  [Utah school district]). I haven't done my homework on this issue: I did live through the inception of John Saxon's math books, though, and actually met Saxon several times. I was a convert to that program. I am an instructional designer and the director of eLearning for one of the major national accounting firms and have quite a bit of experience with education: while I favor contextual learning (ie., real world contexts for math, problems that help kids understand the world around them and increase the likelihood that they'll transfer what they learn to real world applications), and while I do think that theory is important, I also do believe in "right answers" and have an issue with patting kids on the head who clearly don't "get it" and saying "that's okay Johnny, we'll give you an "A-" because you had a pulse while you were working on that problem." There are other ways of making math fun for kids.  

-Name Removed

One other comment I have to share comes from someone with first hand experience on the tactics used by the school districts to influence their programs for generations to come. (MUST READ COMMENT ON ASD TACTICS)

.. Back in 2002, I was teaching Math for Elementary School Teachers, the required math class for all students certifying to be teachers. I had just moved into [ASD Elementary School] boundaries, and [school] was on their second or third year of the pilot program for Investigations. I began to use examples of the Investigations material (or lack thereof) with my UVSC students, telling them that the new program didn't cover the basics and that if they were going to be in charge of a child's math education, they needed to teach them correct mathematics. Well, someone from the School of Education called my dean, who called my department chair, and I was told that the school of education had received word from Alpine school district as follows: If you don't train your future teachers in constructivism, we will refuse to place them for student teaching within our district. That would be a huge blow to our Elementary Ed department, since most of our students live and work close by, and driving to Nebo District or a Salt Lake area district would be extremely inconvenient.
-State University Teacher Name Removed

If you missed the Salt Lake Tribune article I've reproduced it here since the Trib takes down articles in 14 days:


Letter to the Editor
There were a couple of issues with the Trib article and I'd like to thank those of you who wrote in to the paper to point them out.  I'll include mine here if you care to read it.

      There is a misconception in the article, "Alpine in grip of 'math wars'".  It says that the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), unlike the parents and mathematicians involved, "favors an approach that aims to build deeper understanding of math concepts."  This is the reverse of the truth.  Our prime goal in fighting fuzzy math is exactly what the NCTM portrays itself as doing, to give children a deeper understanding of mathematics.

      The *Investigations* program used in elementary schools in the Alpine district, favors methods that shun the teaching of the multiplication tables.  In later grades, long division and the division of fractions are omitted for fear of "memorization," with children instead encouraged to *discover* their own strategies to solve problems without being shown standard efficient methods of solving. This is why Saxon math tripled scores of low socio-economic schools in California when they dumped Mathland (identical to Investigations) in the 90’s.

      For three years the district adamantly stood its ground in not teaching the times tables.  As children entered junior high and still couldn't do simple math, they finally brought it back but continue to embrace other fuzzy feel-good methods of teaching.  Thousands of parents are supplementing their children's education at home over this issue and the district and math educators continue to ignore us.  It's hardly any wonder that parents are fleeing to charter and private schools or home schooling.

      Utah is all excited about being above national average for math, when internationally we're so far behind its laughable that we would even suggest we're doing an acceptable job.  Of all places on earth, Utah ought to expect more and achieve more with the attitude that the "glory of God is intelligence."  Let's see some.

Oak Norton

Election Efforts
Congratulations to those of you that got elected (or even just ran) to be a delegate in your caucus meetings.  We need to be involved and this is a great way to influence lawmakers for better standards.  I wound up being elected as a county delegate rather than a state delegate but I will still try to influence the education arena as I can from that position.

Book Review (from one of our petition signers-Math Coach)
   I just got a great book at the Orem City Library today. It is great and I haven't put it down. It is called "Math Coach" a Parent's Guide to Helping Children Succeed in Math. by Wayne A Wickelgren Ph.D. Have you read it yet?
    I picked up the book at the library to help our 16 year old son who struggles with math.  He has a 15 year old brother in the same grade (9th). They have both been through the investigations math.  The 15 year old did ok with it because he is "math minded" and could make the transfer to junior high math easier. Our 16 year old had taken pre-algebra in 7th and 8th grade and struggled in algebra his second term this year. We had him tested at Sylvan and were told that it is because he had not completely grasped the  "basics".  We decided to pull him from the math class at the school and are going back through  the "basics" and getting a tutor to help him with algebra when he is ready and prepare him for geometry next year. We may keep him out and just do math at his own pace on Electronic High School with a tutor. It is my opinion that Investigations math is really a detriment to those who struggle with math and need a firm understanding of the basics.  This book has a number of pages discussing Standards math and how it was not benefitting children and was not preparing them for junior high math. He states that California first endorsed the "Standards"  program in 1992 and by 1997 the California Board of Education had rejected almost all of its principles. "Why does Utah keep hanging on to this kind of program if it has failed elsewhere??"      
    The author makes many statements concerning the importance of learning the basics. And goes through basic math concepts in way that is very beneficial to parents "supplimenting" their childs math knowledge or helping those who need to catch up. 
    We also have a daughter who will be entering kindergarten this fall and I will be watching to see what happens in her math lessons.  And are prepared to pull her out if "Investigations" continues to be the math curriculum. We have three older children who did fine in math through school before this math program was installed.

A Grandma Speaks Out
Oak Norton I am hoping you continue your efforts to end the 'fantasy' math program in the Alpine School District. For the last 3+ years I've watched the frustration in my grandsons' home every evening (and often Saturdays) as my daughter and son-in-law sat with their 10 year old twin sons in their effort to conquer this 'fantasy' (investigations) math. The boys are now in 5th grade, and began this math program when they were in 1st grade (September, 2001). Both are getting good grades in math, but struggle greatly with multiplication and division, and even 'stacked' addition and subtraction. They are able to do the 'investigations' work, but neither boy is able to read a story problem and convert it to a conventional math formula. They are unable to figure out if they should add, subtract, multiply, or divide. For example: Boy goes to store and buys three items. One @ $20.00, one @ $14.00, and one @ $5.00. He pays with $40.00. How much change does he receive? Neither twin (A-students) had any idea how to proceed. My older grandchildren were working problems like this in second and third grade. This is the 'real' math we use every day! Our 5th grade twins are now starting division, without adequate knowledge of multiplication. For three years my daughter has voiced her concerns at the school. More than once, she was told that the real problem was with the parents--- that because they weren't willing to do math the 'new' way, and help their children with their homework, they were just making things worse! (Same answer, different wording from four different 'educators'. Two teachers voiced concerns with the program, but felt their hands were tied.) As a former pre-school teacher (17 years), I am well aware of the value of exact math, even at ages three, four, and five. And if this 'fantasy' math program is so great, why don't the promoters take responsibility and spend the extra five to ten hours weekly to teach the many, many children who are now lost in the math confusion. Or maybe the promoters could pay for each child's tutoring and workbooks that parent's are having to buy (to try to catch their kids up to where they know they should be). The time our twins spent working on math during the second, third, and fourth grades was an absolute waste. Math is our only exact science. Why not teach it as such--in the simple, direct way our children's minds can accept and enjoy. If these children have a firm foundation, there is NO end to what they can achieve. Without that foundation, there can be no beginning. We learn to walk before we can run, we learn to crawl before we walk. Let's teach kids the math basics before we try to stretch their imaginations with 'investigations'. This program is causing way too much frustration and confusion for both students and parents. Rae A. Shepherd

Weekly Comic

WMD Archive: http://www.oaknorton.com/weaponsofmathdestruction.cfm

Till next week,

Oak Norton


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