Weekly Math Updates
March 14, 2007
Math Program Selection
Well, I went to my elementary school and looked at the 4 math programs being offered at Highland which are Scott Foresman, Macmillan/McGraw, Saxon, and Houghton Mifflin math.
I know some of you have already taken a look at the district picks and one of you commented that you liked Macmillan better than Scott Foresman and I have to agree. As an example, grade 1, S.F. contained 15-20 different segments between units where 6 full color pages had a small story with absolutely no point to them. One was a story about a Robin looking for a slug. No correlation to math. Macmillan contained similar sections in the book but on each page was a math question. It was to me a waste of space and money to make a full color page and ask one question regarding the picture.
I think my greatest fear is that parents are going to walk into the schools and say, "Ooooh, this one looks pretty, my kids will like it." Teach math in math and reading in English.
An issue I had with Macmillan was on some other full color pages that asked students to circle the tallest bottle or shortest shovel and it was difficult to gauge the correct answer. Particularly the shovel page was bad because they were laying at different angles on the beach and it was unclear if the student was to guess or measure them and some were similar sized and laying at a bit of an angle made some look the same height as some that weren't at an angle. They were poorly designed pages.
If I had to choose between the two district picks it would probably be Macmillan, but that's just my opinion at the moment.
Adding Houghton Mifflin and Saxon into the mix, I had high expectations for both since they're approved in California. With Houghton Mifflin, I was disappointed to see what visually was very similar to the two district picks. They all seem to be an assault on the eyeballs with so many colorful pages and stand out graphics that focusing on the page content was almost secondary to me. In that respect, Saxon is plain old vanilla ice cream without any toppings. It's just straight forward math and after reviewing the others, that was honestly welcome.
Another thing I noticed (and I looked very thoroughly at the H.M. 5th grade book) was there's a lot of estimation. Not that that's a bad thing because it was typically followed up by solid problems to solve, so for example you'd be asked to estimate answers for several problems like 63 x 276 and come up with 60x300, and then be asked to multiply a few problems like 47 x 382. It was a tad annoying to see so much estimation throughout the book, but again, that's not that big a negative since there were solid problems right after it and being able to estimate quickly is a useful skill in knowing if you're close to the right answer.
Another observation I had was that in the 3 programs aside from Saxon, there wasn't a strong methodological review process to practice stuff you had learned months earlier. It *looked to me* like they were organized to learn a concept and move on to the next concept. For example, you do multiplication and division problems up through page 170 of the 5th grade H.M. book and you next hit a 2 digit multiplication problem on page 333, and on page 351 you get more 2 digit division problems. Then on to other topics and little review. It seemed like large gaps to me where Saxon has more incremental review...but this is just my own observation. There could be other handouts designed specifically to review those concepts periodically to encourage memory retention but I didn't thoroughly look through the smaller workbooks to find out.
While I was in the room looking at the books, a teacher I didn't know (but there's a decent chance she knew who I was) walked in and then out and pointing to the Saxon materials said to me in a slightly snide voice "you might as well just buy workbooks from Walmart. It'd be cheaper."
I thought that was a pretty silly comment and at the same time thought Walmart workbooks would have been an excellent improvement over Investigations' lack of practice problems. However, as I got looking at Saxon more (since I hadn't really examined it closely before), I noticed how the teacher guides were broken up into 140 or so lessons for each grade. There's no question what to teach on a given day because it's exactly outlined for you. In speaking with the principal, there's a couple of teachers at our school who have said they won't teach Saxon if it's picked and I asked why, but he didn't really have a good answer as to what their reasons were. We both agreed that Saxon is the most teacher friendly program available and that it doesn't remove the "teaching" from the teacher. You can cover the lesson material without reading the script, you've just got the benefit of the script which has been proven to work. There are plenty of teachers who will just teach whatever is put in front of them and to me this is a plus to ensure all the kids get the content.
Saxon also has very plain texts as I mentioned above. As the reviewers from CA said, it's a welcome change to not have any distractions from just learning the math. On the other hand, I did see some very nice colored problems in the other texts such as one in the H.M. text that had students calculating percentages of goals scored in the world cup by various countries. Thankfully they included the women's scores with the men's so the U.S. teams didn't disappoint so badly. :)
I did see that Liping Ma was one of the reviewers of the H.M. math book and she is very highly regarded as one of the premier math educators in the world. That's a plus.
At this point, it's mostly up to you to take a look at the programs and make a selection for your school. Always remember that ultimately, your child's success depends on you, not their teachers. If you want your child to be good at math, encourage and foster their math abilities by being involved. That's the number one determinate for your child's success in school. It really helps when your kids have a program you can understand and compliment at home.
Parent Letter to Deseret News on Vouchers
I received this letter from a parent and wanted to share it with you.
Davis County Parents Letter on Vouchers
I received this letter which was written to Davis county parents and thought I'd pass it on.
I don't have the "fact sheet" mentioned above, but there is this web site page from Parents for Choice in Education that does have a fact sheet flyer near the bottom that you can print out. As least read the page and I would encourage you not to sign the petition to put this on the ballot.
Shocking Media News
In this Illinois school, students were required to sign a confidentiality agreement that they would not tell their parents about the experience they were about to have. The experience was to have upper-classmen tell about their homosexual encounters and try to keep parents out in the cold as to what was happening. Sick.
MIT's Coursework ALL FREE
MIT has just announced they will be putting ALL of their courses online for anyone to benefit from. Read the article and then you can access their Open Courseware System here:
Till next week,
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