Weekly Math Updates

October 10, 2006


  • BYU Seminar with Dr. Jim Milgram
  • Your Assignment
  • Charter School Update on 2nd Grade Scores
  • Mr. John Dewey, Education Student, Part 5
  • Parent Comment
  • Site Question
  • Media Articles-My BYU Interview
  • Weekly Comic

BYU Seminar with Dr. Jim Milgram

Hi all,

Next week at BYU, you're all invited to come and hear Dr. Jim Milgram from Stanford come and speak. He's in town to address the legislature on what to do with our math standards now that NCTM has introduced Focal Points. If you come to the BYU meeting, you'll have the great opportunity to hear from an internationally respected mathematician and one that has done a tremendous amount of good in trying to raise our national math standards. Here's the details of his BYU visit:

Speaker: Dr. Jim Milgram
Time and place: Tuesday, October 17th at 4:00 PM in the Harold B. Lee Library, room 3714
Topic: "Common Ground: What mathematicians and educators can bring to the table"

Your Assignment

With the introduction of the Focal Points, Utah will be making changes to our state math standards to align them to these new NCTM standards (they were previously aligned---or misaligned---to the 1989 NCTM standards that have devastated our country for 17 years. If you're a praying person, your assignment for the next week is to pray that Utah's legislature makes the right decision as to how to modify Utah's math standards. Please pray that the presenters next week will be blessed to persuade the legislators to do what's best for our children.

Charter School Update on 2nd Grade Scores

Last week I mentioned how many charters seemed to do poorly on 2nd grade levels of the UPASS test. I got a couple emails that this was a problem due to the way Saxon's vocabulary differed from the way the state asked questions. It has apparently been addressed and should not be an issue in the future.

Mr. John Dewey, Education Student, Part 5

In the ongoing saga of an education student, part 5 mentions the Focal Points and an ending you have to read to believe. Seriously, read this article and you'll understand the indoctrination our teachers are getting in college which obliviates their ability to teach children what they really need.


Parent Comment

Last week I shared a parent comment which mentioned the American Fork Jr. High students were not using textbooks. I forwarded the email to the school board and superintendent (anonymously from the writer) and that afternoon I had a pleasant chat with the principal of the school as he had been contacted by the board to find out what was going on. I was impressed by their responsiveness and had a very pleasant chat with the principal. The "rest of the story" is that textbooks were not ordered on time, in fact, hadn't been ordered until after the school year started, but by now every student should have a math book. They are using a combination of Connected Math and a brand of Glencoe the principal told me he'd find out and get back to me on, but hasn't yet. If you have a child at AFJH and he/she does not have a textbook yet, call the principal and ask where it is.

I also had another email last week which I thought I'd share with you:


My son is in the 5th grade ALL program in the ASD, which means he gets to do the 6th grade math program this year. He has been bringing home the very thin workbook they use and has been having me help him with his math homework. I can off the top of my head think of numerous times when his math instruction at school has been inadequate to help him understand his homework, and this is a bright kid!

Lately, the homework has been covering graph concepts, such as median and mean. He was very frustrated when one question showed him a graph of when students went to bed and then asked him to tell what the "typical" student bedtime was. The problem was that no one had given him a mathematical definition of "typical". Did they want him to find the most popular bedtime? The median? The mean? The largest cluster? This is what happens with "fuzzy" math. We decided that the best definition would be to find the largest cluster of data, which gave a range of bedtimes that were popular, and that is how he answered the question. A few days later, his teacher told him that what she really wanted was the most popular bedtime.

Another question told him the median time for a rat's lifespan was 3 years, that he had a pet rat that was 4 years old, and then asked him how the shape of a graph for a rat lifespan would help him to determine how much longer his rat would live. There was no actual graph shown in the problem. We discussed how the graph could have various shapes. Probably the rat lifetimes would be clustered around 3, meaning his rat would not have a much longer lifetime. But an equal possibility, without any further data, is that rats die either in the first year or they always live 10 years. In that case, his rat would be guaranteed to have 6 more years of life. After all, the median can result from many different graph shapes. We had a very interesting discussion about this, and then he wrote up his own answer based on our discussion. His teacher's only response was that he was learning "college" math at home and that the answer should have been much simpler. This was another case of how the Alpine math program relies on vaguely worded math problems, with no instruction in school that would have helped him to figure it out. The constructivist philosophy says he should have come up with this all on his own, yet the instruction I gave in 1/2 an hour was far more helpful than what he got at school.

One last example. In this same unit, he was given a problem that told him 6 students had a mean household size of 4. He had to draw a graph that represented this data. We talked about how there could be many graphs to fit this data, but he was stumped as to how to produce an example. He was able to tell me how to calculate the mean, but no one had taught him that if you are given the mean and the number of data points, you can then calculate the sum of the data points. This is basic pre-algebra stuff -- given an equation with three quantities, if you know two of them, you can calculate the third. Rather than teach the math behind these types of questions, the constructivist philosophy in the math program just gives problems and expects the students to figure it out on their own by drawing enough pictures until they get an answer that fits the data. I don't consider trial and error to be a valid pedagogy for math instruction. So I showed my son how to calculate the sum of the data points (24 in this case), and he was then able to construct a number of graphs that have 6 data points with a total of 24 in all the households, so that the mean comes to 4. This was a great discussion, and in the end he was able to do three similar problems on his own.

My point of all these stories is that there is very little math instruction happening with the ASD math programs and their constructivist philosophy. Instead, lots of great math discussions are taking place in our home. My son has remarked numerous times that he wishes they taught him in school the stuff that we do at home!

This leaves me feeling rather frustrated -- I'm essentially home schooling my son in math, even though I am sending him to public school all day. That would have been OK if I had made this choice, but I work full time and didn't think I would need to spend so much time on math instruction each night. I have three kids and it takes some time to do this properly.

I am happy to support my kids, but we could be doing so much _more_ with them if I didn't have to teach each of them math for 1/2 hour each day. What's more, there are many parents who don't have the math background to do this kind of teaching at home, or who have 10 kids and can't spend 5 hours total on math instruction each day, or who don't have the financial means to devote this much time to their kids and homework. Many many kids will be left behind.

I echo your concerns: the Alpine school district needs serious math reform, and the state needs to adopt California math standards if we ever expect our kids to compete in math and the sciences.

[Name removed] , Ph D

Site Question

I received a question this week that I thought I'd share with you. Someone emailed and asked me:

Under the "Investigations Math Poll Results - The California Failure" webpage, you included the following quote: "Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education show that success in secondary school algebra is the single greatest predictor of success in college--not just for engineering and science majors, but for majors in all fields." Could you tell me where I could find this reference? Thank you.

I was actually quoting from an article from the LA Times where Drs. Jim Milgram and David Klein co-authored a piece a few years ago. I emailed Dr. Milgram and he pointed me to this document and specifically referenced tables 5 and 7.


Media Articles-My BYU Interview

I was recently emailed by Alicia Coffman at BYU. Here's a link to the final article as it appeared in BYU's online newspaper. It's mostly correct, but there are some errors such as we were not mentioned in the NY Times, and I did not go door-to-door for weeks. :) ASD countered at the end that they have scores above state average and that teachers were told three years ago to use whatever works best in the classroom. Funny, I thought that was last November and that some teachers only learned about it this year FROM MY WEB SITE! :)

For the entire unedited interview, click here.

In Washington state, a situation parallel to our own fight has been going on for some time. This article appeared last week in the Seattle Times.
Educators take different routes to get back to the basics in math

From the "applied math is cool" arena, this article discusses how advanced math has been used to slowly work toward a Star Trek future. Oh yeah baby. Star Trek LIVES! I just wish I could find my old Spock ears.
Scientists teleport two different objects (really, who cares about teleportation...BRING ON THE REPLICATORS!!)

Weekly Comic

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

Till next week,

Oak Norton


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