Thursday, March 13, 2008

National Math Panel works hard

I sure hope all those Everyday Mathematics books are recyclable because they won't do well on the re-sale market and no developing country is going to want them either.

The National Math Advisory Panel has issued the report they've been working on since 2006 having reviewed over 16,000 research studies in the process. Considering the findings of the panel, I would be worried if I were the Wright Group because if the report is any indication, Everyday Math's approach to teaching math to
over 2.8 million students, is anything but right.

Math courses must be streamlined, focusing on "a well-defined set of the most critical topics".

Anyone familiar with Everyday Math knows that this curriculum is anything but. The approach would be best described as a "Jack of all trade, master of none" kind of thing. Students move through mountains of concepts at break-neck speed never slowing down to appreciate the scenery.

Michigan State University professor William Schmidt adds, "In the U.S., we're trying to teach first-graders 20-some topics." There is no call for mastery, because according to Everyday Math's take on the
"spiral", the topics will be revisited again and again and again.

Despite the findings of the panel, the folks at Everyday Mathematics would have you believe the following:

Because very few people learn a new concept or skill the first time they experience it, the curriculum is structured to provide multiple exposures to topics, and frequent opportunities to review and practice skills. A concept or skill that is informally introduced in kindergarten, for example, will be revisited, developed and extended numerous times, and in a variety of contexts, throughout the year and into later grades. - About Everyday Mathematics

So, what happens to these children subjected to the Everyday Mathematics "spiral"? Dr. Larry Faulkner, president emeritus of UT Austin said, "There is a problem of kids not feeling like they're getting anywhere, that third-grade math is the same as fourth-grade math." I would add that it's more than just a feeling. They really aren't getting anywhere.

Any approach that continually revisits topics year after year without closure is to be avoided.

Everyday Mathematics does precisely that. In fact, they consider the it one of the program's most salient features. So, if you're the Wright Group and you've been pushing your "spiral" as the basis for your program, just how would you spin it?

In answer to the question of whether math should be all fun and games in order to be engaging and therefore effective (another feature promoted by the Everyday Math folks), the answer, as far as I can tell, is no. Foundational fluency leads to conceptual understanding-- you cannot have one without the other. Automatic recall of math facts is essential to that understanding. Even if you choose "games" to get there, fact mastery is serious business.

Faulkner said that the panel “buys the notion from cognitive science that kids have to know the facts.”

“In the language of cognitive science, working memory needs to be predominately dedicated to new material in order to have a learning progression, and previously addressed material needs to be in long-term memory,” he said.

The panel also determined that "Americans should look at prowess in math less as a talent than as the result of sheer hard work." Furthermore, "Effort counts. Students who believe that working hard will make them smarter in math actually do achieve better."

“Experimental studies have demonstrated that changing children’s beliefs from a focus on ability to a focus on effort increases their engagement in mathematics learning, which in turn improves mathematics outcomes,” the report says.

“When children believe that their efforts to learn make them ‘smarter,’ they show greater persistence in mathematics learning.”

Clearly, Barbie had it all wrong.

As my daughter says, "Math isn't hard, it's just hard work."


A solution to how to teach math: Subtract
By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
March 13, 2008

Panel Proposes Streamlining Math
By TAMAR LEWIN, New York Times
Published: March 13, 2008

Panel Finds Faults in America's Math System
By Maria Glod Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 13, 2008

National Math Panel Releases Final Report


Mr. Mitchell said...

Well said!

SteveH said...

Very nice summary! I've been meaning to go back and pull out my key Everyday Math quotes, but you've done it.

"Foundational fluency leads to conceptual understanding-- you cannot have one without the other. Automatic recall of math facts is essential to that understanding."

Ahhh! Linkage. They've been denying this for years and only look for "conceptual" understanding. Pie charts anyone?

Anonymous said...

A quick read of the Executive Summary is like hearing common sense being talked about mathematics education - the points you have raised illustrate this well.

FOr instance Page xiv discusses well the mutually reinforcing benefits of conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and automatic recall of facts.

Pg 31) says interestingly that USA mathematics text books are long winded - we all know that already - as is most other US writing on all subjects - not just mathematics.