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It’s hard to believe that the summer break is almost over and that another school year is about to start rolling.  I’m excited as well as anxious.  I’ve got my class roster–looks like a good group; I’ve been into my room–it’s starting to look like a classroom again; I’ve almost got a handle on the curriculum changes for this year–that’s a small problem still!

The district has adopted a new reading/language curriculum, so that means familiarizing myself with a new set of materials.  The material looks pretty good (in my opinion), and I’m looking forward to working with it.  As always, my plan is to use their resources with my style of teaching.  I’m happy to find that there’s not too much disparity between those two elements this time around.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading this summer concerning writing and language as well as reading comprehension, so I’ll probably spend the first few weeks getting things to mesh as smoothly as possible.

The class blog has been fired up (http://room322.edublogs.org) and I’ve cleaned up the wiki.  Things are ready to get moving on that front.

Now all I need are some students (after I enjoy another week of summer)…

Sometimes people will ask me what I think about being a teacher; what’s the best part?  My humorous answer, when appropriate, usually involves pizza on Friday with chocolate milk.  If not that, I’ll ask, “Who wouldn’t want a job with recess every day?”

Apparently, I’m on to something.

Grown-up PE Class Has Adults Reliving Childhood” is an article by Holly Ramer that is out on the AP wire right now.

It sounds like fun, but I’m not sure about a game called “Spastic Ball.”  Maybe that’s a fourth grade game.

My favorite quote: “At Old School P.E., there are some concessions made for age, says Pettinicchio, who vetoed one commissioner’s plan to play Red Rover because “we felt pulling shoulders out of bodies at 35 or 40 years of age is not a good thing.””

Indeed.

Renegade parents teach old math on the sly

This is another article that qualifies as a math head-scratcher for me.  Written by Jocelyn Noveck, it gives a glimpse at the efforts, attitudes, and opinions of parents caught in the crossfire of the “math wars.”

I first found the article this morning over breakfast as I read through my Huntsville Times.  The title given in the paper is “The Old Math versus The New Math,” and the subtitle is “Some parents teaching traditional skills on the sly.”

There’s a lot to the article, but it’s basically about the conflict between (some) teachers and parents.

They call it the Math Wars: The debate, at times acrimonious, over which way is best to teach kids math. In its most black-and-white form, it pits schools hoping to prepare kids for a new world against reluctant parents, who feel the traditional way is best and their kids are being shortchanged.

Both sides of the debate are presented, but it seems to lean toward the side of the parents.  Rightly so, in my opinion (but more on that later).

Victoria Morey, the parent of a third grade student: …as for the concepts-before-procedure argument, she quips: “Would you want to go to a doctor who’s learned about the concepts but never done the surgery? Would you want your doctor to say I had the right IDEA when I removed your appendix, though I took out the wrong one?”

Pat Cooney, a math coordinator in Ridgefield, Connecticut: One problem … is that parents remember math as offering only one way to solve a problem. “We’re saying that there’s more than one way,” Cooney says. “The outcome will be the same, but how we get there will be different.” Thus, when a parent is asked to multiply 88 by 5, we’ll do it with pen and paper, multiplying 8 by 5 and carrying over the 4, etc. But a child today might reason that 5 is half of 10, and 88 times 10 is 880, so 88 times 5 is half of that, 440 – poof, no pen, no paper.

When did this start?

The “Math Wars” have been playing out since at least 1989, when the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics issued a document recommending concept-based teaching – which was, the group says, distorted by critics and “exaggerated in every direction.”

“Our position is that math ought to be reasonable and kids ought to be able to make sense of it,” says Hank Kepner, president of the council and a teacher for the last 45 years.

To me, the problem is simply communication.  I have experienced teachers (and have probably been one) who have had a, “Let me be the teacher” attitude that does nothing to allay the concerns of parents.  Of course, I’ve experienced many more teachers that have the exact opposite attitude and are respected and appreciated by parents.  This problem has been around for nearly 20 years; something has kept it going.

This quote, I think, demonstrates the heart of the matter:

“There never seems to be any explanation in the workbooks,” Allison Pennell says. “And there’s no textbook to refer to.” Her son doesn’t usually need her help, but when he does, she says, “I’m such a numbskull. I don’t think I could pass fourth-grade math.”

Communication needs to be improved.  No one–the teacher or the parent–is benefiting from a situation that engenders those feelings in a parent that just wants the best for her child.

From an article about the toll the wars are taking on military families:

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Far from the combat zones, the strains and separations of no-end-in-sight wars are taking an ever-growing toll on military families despite the armed services’ earnest efforts to help.

Divorce lawyers see it in the breakup of youthful marriages as long, multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan fuel alienation and mistrust. Domestic violence experts see it in the scuffles that often precede a soldier’s departure or sour a briefly joyous homecoming.

Teresa Moss, a counselor at Fort Campbell’s Lincoln Elementary School, hears it in the voices of deployed soldiers’ children as they meet in groups to share accounts of nightmares, bedwetting and heartache.

“They listen to each other. They hear that they aren’t the only ones not able to sleep, having their teachers yell at them,” Moss said.

I’m not a profane person, but this article tempts me to become so.

I don’t know all of the facts; I need to keep that in mind.

Sometimes my heart aches…

Now that I’ve finished a week’s worth of AMSTI training in math, I find this article concerning the state of mathematics eduction in the United States.  The two (AMSTI and the article) aren’t going in opposite directions, I’m happy to say, but they’re not exactly going in the same direction either.  The article (and the paper that it references) states that children need a deeper understanding of foundational material: number sense, fractions, decimals, and mastery (memorization) of basic addition and multiplication facts as well as their related subtraction and division facts.  Amen.

AMSTI places a great deal of importance on investigations that help students to develop an understanding of the aforementioned concepts, but I didn’t take away a feeling that there was a great deal of importance placed on the memorization of facts.

As is my wont, I’ll just try to do both.  I’m leaning, though, in the direction of the report’s findings.

Here are some excerpts from the report’s (The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel) executive summary:

— Although our students encounter difficulties with many aspects of mathematics, many observers of educational policy see Algebra as a central concern. The sharp falloff in mathematics achievement in the U.S. begins as students reach late middle school, where, for more and more students, algebra course work begins. Questions naturally arise about how students can be best prepared for entry into Algebra.

— A focused, coherent progression of mathematics learning, with an emphasis on proficiency with key topics, should become the norm in elementary and middle school mathematics curricula. Any approach that continually revisits topics year after year without closure is to be avoided.

By the term focused, the Panel means that curriculum must include (and engage with adequate depth) the most important topics underlying success in school algebra. By the term coherent, the Panel means that the curriculum is marked by effective, logical progressions from earlier, less sophisticated topics into later, more sophisticated ones. Improvements like those suggested in this report promise immediate positive results with minimal additional cost.

By the term proficiency, the Panel means that students should understand key concepts, achieve automaticity as appropriate (e.g., with addition and related subtraction facts), develop flexible, accurate, and automatic execution of the standard algorithms, and use these competencies to solve
problems.

— A major goal for K–8 mathematics education should be proficiency with fractions (including decimals, percent, and negative fractions), for such proficiency is foundational for algebra and, at the present time, seems to be severely underdeveloped. Proficiency with whole numbers is a necessary
precursor for the study of fractions, as are aspects of measurement and geometry. These three areas—whole numbers, fractions, and particular aspects of geometry and measurement—are the Critical Foundations of Algebra.

— Computational proficiency with whole number operations is dependent on sufficient and appropriate practice to develop automatic recall of addition and related subtraction facts, and of multiplication and related division facts. It also requires fluency with the standard algorithms for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Additionally it requires a solid understanding of core concepts, such as the commutative, distributive, and associative properties.

Finally, there’s this little gem:

— Research on the relationship between teachers’ mathematical knowledge and students’ achievement confirms the importance of teachers’ content knowledge. It is self-evident that teachers cannot teach what they do not know.

Actually, that’s not really a “finally” statement.  There are 120 pages of information.  Just a little summer reading…maybe I’ll just skim it and use the saved time to prepare math lessons!

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