Weekly Math Updates

February 21 , 2007


  • Weekly Comic
  • Mr. Henshaw's Email
  • ASD Defines Traditional Math
  • In God We Trust Donations
  • Civil Disobedience
  • Parent Comments

Weekly Comic

Mr. Henshaw's Email

Hi All,

I guess it was time to break "tradition" and put the comic first this week. Who can't use a good laugh to help alleviate the stress and headaches we're experiencing? I wonder if the district folks would like a comic yet? :)

Thanks for all of you that have responded by sending notes to the district. I can only hope they are getting the point. Mr. Henshaw's email that Saxon was the "strong traditional program" in comparison to the other "balanced" (ie. standards-based programs) clearly indicated that it should have been one of our choices. It's not too late for the district to make the switch and offer it in place of one of the other two so if you haven't sent an email to the board, please do so at this website:


Here's the entire email if any of you wanted to see it:

Superintendent Henshaw has received your email and has asked that I
respond for him. The committee was established to not define a
balanced math vs. traditional math approach but, rather, to create a
balanced math approach that incorporates elements from Standards
Based practices and traditional practices that would allow a teacher
to give a student whatever it is that he or she needs at the moment.
The math committee looked at a broad list of texts - from the very
Standards Based to the very traditional. The materials that the
district examined included three basic groups. The Standards Based
group included the new version of Investigations, Everyday
Mathematics, and a new product called Math Expressions by Houghton
Mifflin. There was a group of texts that included the kinds of texts
that the vast majority of schools in the U.S. use - they included
Scott Foresman/Addison Wesley, Macmillan/McGraw Hill, Harcourt Brace,
and Houghton Mifflin. These are the kinds of texts mostly used by
ASD before Investigations and those used by most districts in Utah
today. Finally, in the strong traditional camp was Saxon.
committee recommended two in the middle group - Scott Foresman/
Addison Wesley and Macmillan/McGraw Hill. You can go the following
websites to see more about the two texts.


These books will be available for your local school community to
examine. Your principal will have information on when and where you
can look at these books.

Thank you for taking the time to write.

Colleen Bennett (Vern's secretary)

ASD Defines Traditional Math

From the district committee handbook of those selecting math programs we read this:

What beliefs characterize a traditional approach to math teaching?

  • Mathematics is a set of rules to be learned rather than a body of interrelated concepts.
  • Teaching mathematics is tantamount to telling students how to follow procedures rather than supporting students as they make sense of mathematics for themselves.
  • Learning mathematics is a process of practicing and memorizing rahter than a process of reasoning and sense-making.
  • In other words...Don't ask me why.

This definition makes one wonder who taught NASA math and how someone was able to get those engineers to memorize all the formulas and procedures necessary to put men on the moon. Then it becomes a chicken and egg problem as you have to believe the person teaching them already knew how to do it because it was just rote memorization. The only logical explanation is that a space alien came down and helped us get to the moon because he'd already done it himself. I guess that was just the start of our problems.........

In God We Trust Donations

If you have been one of the donors to this project, including the kind soul who sent me $50 anonymously in the mail with a nice letter who's kind words were passed on to someone in the district you mentioned, thank you very much. We have almost reached our goal of $1500 and only need about $150 more to order posters for every classroom in the district including the charter schools. Please consider making a contribution today so we can get these posters ordered.


Civil Disobedience

I referred to this talk in one of the emails I sent out and I just wanted to document it on my website to be able to locate easier in the future.

The article I just linked to has to be one of the all time great speeches ever made.  It's a speech by Charlton Heston (a great American patriot) to the Harvard Law School in 1999.  It's one of those speeches that you read and say, "YEAH, ME TOO!  I'M GOING TO STAND UP NO MATTER WHAT IT COSTS ME."  Maybe this speech motivated me to do what I'm doing.  I don't know.  There's only one other article I've ever read that has had such an impact on me and I've posted it here on my website.  At the end of Charlton's speech, there's a particular sentence that I feel we as a group are at the crossroads of.  The line is:
  "When someone you elected is seduced by political power and betrays you . . . petition them, oust them, banish them."

Parent Comments

A few of you have sent me your comments that you sent to the school board. Some have made me laugh and others have expressed in painful ways how close to home this math war has affected your family. Here's just a sample of the many I've read.

Dear ____,

   I was thrilled when I heard that the district was finally going to have to abandon the Investigations program.  This was the worst mistake you guys have ever made.  So many parents were outraged about this program right from the beginning, but you didn't listen to us. For some reason you guys just keep thinking that there are only a handful of unhappy parents.  People flocked to charter schools by the hundreds because of it. The new charter schools are full before they are even built, and the waiting lists to get into the current charter schools are so long that the possibility of being accepted into them is almost impossible.

    This never would have happened if you had kept the traditional math program. I personally took a petition against Investigations around my neighborhood and probably had 95 percent of the people I approached sign it.  It is the majority of people who are frustrated about this style of teaching, NOT the minority!!!!  Don't make the same mistake the next time you are choosing a math program.

    I have a son who graduated last year, who was able to take AP BC Calculus as a Junior.  He passed the AP exam with a 5.  He is now attending BYU on a full tuition scholarship. My 10th grader is doing fine.  She only had to mess with investigations for a short time, and it was after she had memorized all her times tables. I also have a 7th, and a 2nd grader.  I know that there is no way that they will ever be able to take the math classes that their older brother took simply because they have not been given a solid math background. Of course they are also straight A students, but that doesn't mean that they know all they should.  They have not been taught the basics. They are capable of so much more. 

     My youngest 2 children, are products of investigations, and they don't have the math skills I had when I was their age 30 years ago.  That is pretty sad, as the rest of the world is progressing so much faster.  You have left our children at a strong disadvantage with the investigations program, and I resent this, as my younger children are just as bright as my son! And now you are considering other weak math programs?  Unbelievable!

    Recently, my second grader had a math homework worksheet. There were 2 problems:

Yesterday at the park, I counted 39 pigeons.  When a big dog walked by, 17 of them flew away.  How many were still there?

    Now try to picture her answer as I describe it:  First of all, thankfully, she mistakenly drew 39 seagulls instead of pigeons on the left side of her paper. (Much less complicated -save drawing pigeons for art class!).  She crossed a line threw 17 of those seagulls, and then put a minus sign, and then redrew those same 17 seagulls in the middle of the page.  Next she drew an equals symbol, and then on the right side of the paper, she drew the remaining 22 birds.  That all took half of the page.  FOR 1 PROBLEM!

    The second problem was ridiculous: Different day, same park, same 39 pigeons, again a big dog. This time the dog scared away 1 less pigeon than before.   OOOOH, TRICKY!  This changes everything!!!! Let's start drawing birds again!!!!!!

    WHY?????  Now try to picture the homework assignment of the little 2nd grade girl who will grow up and take the scholarship that should have been my daughters. Her assignment starts with one or two story problems: possibly same park, same birds, but lets say there were 34 birds. Same dog scares away 16.(slightly harder)  The little girl reads the story problem, stacks the numbers on top of each other and solves. She doesn't draw birds! She has been taught how to borrow.  She then goes on to finish the rest of her assignment which also  includes 2 to 3 dozen different math problems that reinforce the concept.  She turns in the assignment, gets an A. This happens on a daily basis.  Skip ahead a few years and picture this girl who is now a bright teenager.  She is a Junior in high school and she is sitting in her AP BC Calculus Class.  She is preparing to take her final AP Exam. 

    Now lets jump forward again, and sit in the office of the university where there are 2 applications being considered for the same scholarship: 2 beautiful, smart, talented girls. Both excellent students, both amazing GPA's.  Both have given outstanding community service, and have particpated in extra curricular school activities. Both have incredible recommendations from prior teachers. Both had the same potential, but one got a 5 on the AP BC Calculas Exam, and one got an A on her algebra 2 final.      Tough Choice!

    Please listen to the parents and adopt a math program that is not watered down. We need strong traditional math programs in our schools. These kids need to have a strong math foundation to be capable of taking those higher math classes later on. Our children need a math program that will help them be competitive for the college scholarships that most families need right now. Lets give our kids an advantage in this competitive world.  They are capable of so much more than they are getting out of the current math programs at Alpine School District.

     Please, Please, Please do not make another critical mistake like investigations. Lets throw away the math options that include watered down programs. Can't you give our children the best opportunity to be competitive in the outside world?  Lets get back to traditional math.  That is what the parents want.  This nonsense has gone on long enough.  Please do the right thing. You owe it to your students.


Name Removed

>Dear School Board,
>I am writing to tell you that my hopes of a better Alpine school 
> district have been completely dashed.  I thought that the events of 
> the past year were enough to get you to listen.  Parents are NOT 
> happy with the current math and were hoping for some positive 
> changes.  Instead you are choosing to go in exactly the same 
> direction.  I will admit that you probably don't hear from as many 
> parents as you should because I think most people are complacent 
> and don't think it's "that bad".  My son went to school in the 
> Provo school district before coming to Alpine, he did very well in 
> math.  He connected with it.  He could also tell me all of his 
> addition and subtraction math facts by the end of the first grade.  
> For some reason, most of you see this as a negative thing, I am not 
> sure I understand why.  I was excited to see he was grasping math 
> and it's concepts.  Then we came to Alpine and were introduced to 
> Investigations.  This was the most frustrating two years with my 
> son's home!
>  work experience.  He didn't "get it" as his teachers kept assuring 
> me that he would, and we would spend hours at home trying to figure 
> out what it was that was wanted from the homework.  I would ask if 
> he learned it at school, and he said he didn't.  I was frustrated, 
> he was frustrated, and he was feeling like a failure.  This last 
> year I put him in a charter school that teaches Saxon math.  He has 
> made lightyears of progress this year.  He has 3 times as many 
> problems each night, but does them in half the time, because he 
> "gets it".  He gets 100% on all of his tests, and he knows how to 
> do multiplication and division, which he never would have learned&n bsp;
> with investigations.  Our charter school has had many challenges 
> this year, and I was considering going back to our local elementary 
> because I thought the math curriculum would be changing.  It would 
> definitely be more convenient, and I like most of the teachers 
> there very much, but I cannot go back to a math program that wil!
>  l put my son behind again.  PLEASE, PLEASE listen to the parents
>  in your district.  Show us that you care about what we know is best for 
> our children, and choose a math program like Saxon.  I know it will 
> greatly benefit the students in our area.    Thank you for taking 
> the time to read this email.
> Sincerely,
Name Removed

I seriously question your research of traditional math. The ASD's definition is terribly biased. It simplified traditional math to mere memorization and recitation, proving that you have not researched excellent curricula like Saxon Math.

My children go to Challenger where Saxon math is used. It is a phenomenal program. I have never seen math explained so well. It teaches the students how to think as well as to memorize important sums so that they will not spend the rest of their lives relying on a calculator.

I graduated with an education degree and taught at Jordan High School in Sandy for 4 years. My family owns a private school in California in the heart of the Silicon Valley which I attended from K-12th grade. Parents who send their children to my family's school include and have always included some of the Silicon Valley's most famous and creative minds including the very top execs from HP, Adobe Systems, Sysco, Amdahl, Sun Microsystems the list goes on and on. This school was founded on traditional education. It has thrived for 40 years. Through all the educational philosphy vicissitudes, they have refused to vere from traditional practices and they continue to turn students away in droves. They do succeed, because of foundations in traditional education!

What a horrible contrast it was to teach in a Utah public school! The progressive education theories that they tried to indoctrinate in me in college (like the Whole Language movement) do not work as effective educational models, especially not for masses of students. Good, traditional, classical education helps all students from poor to wealthy, no matter what their culture or background. Great educators like Jaime Escalante have proven this again and again even in our nation's slums.

Knowing what I know about education and having taught in Utah public schools, I will not let my children set foot in a Utah public school until better curriculum is offered.

Please do better research. The children of Utah need a better education. I realize that changing one's mind can be very difficult, esp. when under such close scrutiny, but this is about the children. Please look deeper.

Everyone knows that our educational system is failing. I do not know one parent that is pleased with the Alpine School District. For it to change course, we need people like you to research and learn with an open mind and willingness to listen to experience; learn from mistakes; research voraciously; and heed parental and community outrage. To dismiss traditional math as you have, proves that you have not done accurate research of excellent programs based on traditional philosophies. Please search further and be willing to change.


Name Removed

Till next week,

Oak Norton

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