Weekly Math Updates

March 22 , 2008


  • Caucus Meetings Tuesday (urgent)
  • School Board Races (2 out of 3 opportunities)
  • National Math Panel Response (good news)
  • ASD's Community Meeting (positive overall)
  • Food Storage (Have you seen the price of wheat?)
  • Media Articles
  • Carcassone & Settlers of Catan - Fun Family Games

Hi folks,

Caucus Meetings Tuesday

This Tuesday night is your caucus meeting (at least for Utah Republicans). We all need to be there to elect delegates who are pro-family, who will fight for parental rights, who will fight for private property rights, who will defend freedom of speech, who are in favor of innovation in education, and who will protect second amendment rights. If enough of us do our jobs, the delegates we elect will go to the conventions and select the same kinds of legislators to be placed on our ballots.    The UEA is pushing to stack the deck against anyone who voted for vouchers by having delegates knock them out of their races.

http://home.utgop.org/page.php (caucus meeting locations)

School Board Races

Looks like we've got two people running out of the three races. Elaine Rodriguez and Kirby Glad are running against Debbie Taylor and Terry Peterson, respectively. There is another person running against Terry but I'm not sure who that person is. If you are willing and able to help with these individuals campaigns please contact them through this website and offer your help and contributions. More on this to come.


National Math Panel Response

Last week I sent you a link to the large National Math Panel report.  There have been a number of articles that have been sent to me this past week and I appreciate your sending them to me.  I'll link to them below.  Right now I want to share a response I received from the panel this week when I asked them to clarify what they meant by mastery of addition and subtraction by third grade and multiplication and division by fifth.

The intent of the Benchmarks was that they would be interpreted flexibly, but FOR ME, Proficiency with addition and subtraction by grade 3 means understanding the operations and how they work and everything that leads to them (place value, composing and decomposing numbers, etc) and then access to a standard algorithm and success with the algorithm. (digit size I would guess (for me) would be 3 d + 3 d, etc.)

Similarly with Multipication and Divison by the end of grade five - understanding how multiplication and division work, distributive property, facts, etc. all leading to access to a standard algorithm and then fluency with computation.

When I then asked about what could be done identifying programs that rely nearly 100% on discovery learning (which the report said there was no research to support--ie. Investigations), the reply was to look in the Learning section of the report.  I did, and found a couple of good quotes which I have passed on to the district and a couple board members.

Experimental studies have demonstrated that children’s beliefs about the relative importance of effort and ability or inherent talent can be changed, and that increased emphasis on the importance of effort is related to greater engagement in mathematics learning and, through this engagement, improved mathematics grades and achievement.

ie. Effort trumps talent.  The notion of "developmentally appropriate" skills is nonsense.  Children learn things when THEY are ready based on their background learning and personal effort.

The reasons for differences in the computational fluency of children in the United States and peers in countries with higher mathematics achievement are multifaceted. They include quantity and quality of practice, emphases within curricula, and parental involvement in mathematics learning. As an example, in elementary school textbooks in the United States, easier arithmetic problems are presented far more frequently than harder problems. The opposite is the case in countries with higher mathematics achievement, such as Singapore. Few curricula in the United States provide sufficient practice to ensure fast and efficient solving of basic fact combinations and execution of the standard algorithms.

This is a powerful paragraph which again, touts the prowess of Singapore in developing the world's greatest math standards, curriculum, and teaching style.

I encourage you to read the learning section of the report and browse through additional sections.



ASD's Community Meeting

Thursday night I was invited (as were some of you) to the district office for a community brainstorming meeting of sorts.  They basically had two questions they wanted feedback on and then a way of prioritizing answers to arrive at the most important points.  There were perhaps a hundred people present and it was a very positive meeting.  I am always encouraged when people seek feedback, but as always, follow-through on the suggestions will be most telling about whether or not the meeting was a waste of time and an effort to give the appearance of change rather than genuinely meaning it.  I am cautiously optimistic.

The two questions asked were (paraphasing):

1) What is being done well in the schools currently?
2) If you could craft a perfect school what are the things you would put into the system to make it the best such that people would be lining up to get in?

The number one voted item for question two was accountability for students, teachers, and administrators (maybe parents as well...can't recall now).  The top list consisted of about 10 items and will give the board a lot of food for thought as they have their discussions.

The only discouraging thing of the night was the huge carved letter sign upon entering the South building of the district.  Spanning 30+ feet at the top of a wall above a "Freedom" document display were the words "Enculturating the Young into a Social and Political Democracy."  A Social Democracy???  What the heck are they thinking? Right below it sat the constitution of the REPUBLIC of the United States of America, dormant in the minds and hearts of those called to educate our children.  Have they ever read that document that guarantees a Republican form of government?  Ugh!   Please help elect new school board members who understand this issue.

Food Storage (Have you seen the price of wheat?)

A number of you are not LDS but are possibly familiar with the practice of Mormons to set aside enough green jello in their basement to take care of the neighborhood in the event of a nuclear holocaust.  Hopefully you can provide some carrots to shred in the dish as well. 

Inside jokes aside, LDS leaders have encouraged members to set aside a years supply of food and other necessities for a long time (decades).  Some of you may be familiar with this information but I thought I'd point out a couple of things that should give you pause for thought and consider the state of your own preparedness (Note to Boy Scouts: Be Prepared).

This link shows a chart of wheat futures over the last several years. As you can see, the price of wheat has quadrupled in the last couple years. I have also heard that this is the first year that the U.S. has ever had to import wheat from foreign countries. That does not bode well.


An interview I think you may find interesting, if not downright alarming, is about Stephen Studdert's (former advisor to three presidents) new book "America in Danger."  In this interview Stephen discusses a number of concerns he has related to America's future and the very real threats it faces.


This next site has the neatest food storage calculator I've seen and it's built into their system to allow you to order the food directly from them after customizing whatever you'd like to store. You should always store the food that you will eat. You also better be thinking about personal products like toilet paper, etc...  I'd hate to not have a supply of that if something catastrophic happened. :)


Media Articles

This is one of the better articles on this math panel report.  Free registration required.

Panel Calls for Systematic, Basic Approach to Math

"Being able to recall basic number facts automatically reduces the strain on students when they encounter more-demanding tasks in algebra, said panelist Vern Williams, who teaches that subject at Longfellow Middle School."

"'If your mental energy is consumed figuring out what six times nine is, when that should have been covered three or four years ago, how are you going to conceptualize about math?' Mr. Williams said after the meeting."

New Mathematics Textbook is Drawing Ire

"Prince William classes use Investigations from kindergarten through third grade, and there are plans to introduce it in fourth grade in the next school year and into fifth grade after that. But parents are lobbying the School Board to kill the program. To do that, they have submitted a petition of 1,000 names, created a Web site (www.pwcteachmathright.com), and offered a video called "Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth" to bolster their case."

Report Urges Changes in Teaching Math (Another free registration required for this one)

For example, the report found it is important for students to master their basic math facts well enough that their recall becomes automatic, stored in their long-term memory, leaving room in their working memory to take in new math processes. ...

Dr. Faulkner, a former president of the University of Texas at Austin, said the panel “buys the notion from cognitive science that kids have to know the facts.”

The report also cited findings that students who depended on their native intelligence learned less than those who believed that success depended on how hard they worked.

Dr. Faulkner said the current “talent-driven approach to math, that either you can do it or you can’t, like playing the violin,” needed to be changed.

Alpine board to mull new programs
Summer school among items being considered

Alpine is finally offering summer math remediation.

The program could cost the district between $150,000 and $500,000. That would include teacher salaries, clerical, administration, counselors, custodial, textbooks and technology support, said Rob Smith, district business administrator.

Why is Public Education Failing? (Excellent article)

It’s a fact. Most of today’s children can barely read or write. They can’t perform math problems without a calculator. They barely know who the Founding Fathers were and know even less of their achievements. Most can’t tell you the name of the President of the United States. It’s pure and simple; today’s children aren’t coming out of school with an academics.

Colleges know it. They have to set up remedial courses for incoming freshmen just to prepare them for classes. Parents know it. Their children grow dumber everyday.

The politicians say they know it. They hold hearings to grill education “experts,” and they hold high-powered education “summits” to debate and discuss the “problem.”

And they keep coming up with more federal programs and dictate more standards and spend more taxpayer dollars to fix the problem. But the problem continues to explode. Why?

Frankly, any parent can find the answer simply by looking through their child’s textbooks or taking a close look at the classroom structures that their children are forced to endure.

That’s just what I’m going to do for you and when I’m through see if you still wonder why there is an education crisis. And ask yourselves why all the politicians, with huge staffs to do their bidding, can’t seem to find the problem.

Carcassone & Settlers of Catan - Family Games

I grew up in an era when strategic board games were at their peak. Computers were mainframes on college campuses and the coolest thing ever was as a teenager having my friend's brother at Penn State invite us to the campus to play Vaxtrek on the Vax system. Looking back on it I laugh at how we were enthralled at letters of the alphabet moving around on a text screen and punching in key sequences and angles as fast as we could. "P", "90", "Enter" might have sent a photon torpedo at a 90 degree angle toward someone's "Spaceship" identified by the letter "D" for Dreadnought. 

Anyway, it was during this era I got involved in classic wargames like Star Fleet Battles (90 page rule books) and other historical wargames.  I have no time for those anymore as they could last for hours at a time, but I do enjoy a good quality family game that's a little more complex than Uno.

A few years ago we bought a game called Settlers of Catan (Amazon link) which was very highly rated and it's been a very fun game.  You lay out large hexagonal tiles to construct the island and then lay circular chits on each piece that correspond to the roll of the dice.  If you roll an 8, anyone with a settlement on the edge of areas marked with an 8 get a card of that type of production.  Those cards are then turned in to build roads and more settlements. It's a pretty basic game and a lot of fun.  It takes about one to one and a half hours to play.

Last week, I decided it was time to try another game and bought Carcassonne (Amazon link).  It was also highly recommended and after the first game I can see why.  Very simple to play and with just the right blend of strategy and luck, it's easy enough for my 7 year old to understand some of the strategy elements.  Basically you're laying tiles where they can join other tiles to construct the countryside.  In doing so you build cities, roads, towns, and farms just by laying the pieces out.  You can put out one of your 7 people on anything you build and it accumulates points either immediately or at the end of the game.  It's simple enough to play in 30-45 minutes and a lot of fun.

Both games have expansions available if you really get into them but if you like playing unique games with family or friends, these are excellent.

Till next time,

Oak Norton

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