Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Reforming Math 5

(Continuing from Reforming Math 1,  Reforming Math 2, Reforming Math 3, and Reforming Math 4.)

Here's the latest from the Head of Natural Friends:

I have read your e-mail several times and the more I have thought about it the more I am convinced that the distance between your position and mine is small.

I share the conviction that computation is an important component of mathematics.  I share the conviction that this vital curricular thread (computation) has developmentally appropriate expectations associated with it.  For example, multiplication tables 0 to 12 known at the end of fourth grade, and addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of parts of wholes (fractions, decimals, and percents) mastered at the end of fifth grade.

You seem to object to constructivist, mathematical inquiry only in so far is it is not the whole of the math curriculum (and not primary) or insofar as it is tiring, tedious, time-wasting (and alliterative).

I want you to know that our mathematics specialist shares the conviction that both computation and interesting, constructivist, mathematical inquiry are important elements of a strong mathematics curriculum.  I want you to know by way of example that our fourth grade teacher has identified the aforementioned multiplication tables expectation (in writing and at curriculum night) for his class parents this year.

I can not speak to the history of the successful implementation of this point of view at Natural Friends but I can tell you that I am determined that we as a faculty will successfully implement a mathematics curriculum that contains both elements and reflects clearly both rote and more creative expectations going forward.

and my reply:

I expect we agree on goals more than we do on methods.

I told you about NF's current reputation among the surrounding schools, not because I'm asking you to fix the past, (although if you can, be my guest), but because I'm trying to convince you that the status quo should not be allowed to continue.

If I could wave a magic wand and get anything I wanted, I would have you throw out Trailblazers/Connected Math and bring in Singapore Math.  Singapore Math is clear, it's concise, and it teaches real math.  TB/CM, by contrast, just doesn't teach a long list of important algorithms and concepts (I hope you've had a chance to peruse my list -- the e-mail is titled "Missing Math"), and it wastes a great deal of time and energy on substandard algorithms (like "partial sums" and "partial quotients").  There is also way too much time spent on discussion and writing in English, and not enough time spent learning the symbolic language of mathematics.  TB/CM is very weak on the abstract qualities of math; it doesn't go near logic and inference. 

Now, I'm not against constructivist inquiry if the kids enjoy it.  Of course, kids should be encouraged to ask questions and make sense of what they're learning.  If they can exercise their math skills while engaged in an interesting project or game, I'm all for it.  But they also need a coherent, complete curriculum.  Clearly stated goals (as in your example of the 4th grade) are an important first step.

I'm not a constructivist or traditionalist or drill-and-killer.  I'm  a pragmatist.  I want to know that if Younger Daughter stays at NF through the 6th grade, she will go on to her next school able to handle their math program, without remediation or extra tutoring.  I want her to know math, like math, and have justified confidence with it.  Can NF deliver all this?



P.S. Speaking of games, here's one that Older Daughter likes.  It's about probability.

Can't Stop

And here's a list of math games:

Math Games


  1. Well, at least you are dialoguing (that 90's buzz word) with him :). Natural Friends. What is this, peanut butter?

  2. I made up "Natural Friends" to avoid using the school's real name.

    I think we're making progress. I'm glad to see that he has concrete goals for what the kids should know. Now he just has to make sure kids are actually taught those things.