
Investigations: An Extremely Weak Math Program
Posted:
Aug 25, 2002 2:43 PM


Mark:
I appreciate your parental concerns. It's very important for parents to have a strong connection to what their children are learning in school. I wonder if some of the issues you brought up are with your fifth grade son's experience and not specifically with the mathematical experiences in the Investigations program. The issues you brought up are worth discussing so other parents and students don't have similar experiences.
I will try to respond to your concerns from my personal experiences working with K5 teachers using Investigations for the past 7 years.
On Fri Aug 23 16:44:30 2002, Mark wrote Re. Investigations: An Extremely Weak Math Program:
>As a parent of a fifth grader, I feel compelled to include my >feelings/concerns regarding the Investigatons program. As a former >fifth grade teacher, I share the following concerns: > >1. There is a definite lack of a home/school connection. So many >times, my son has brought homework home where it was nearly impossible >to give him help. A general lack of focus and instruction within the >homework is, I believe, to blame. > I know it's very frustrating to try to help your child and not completely understand what the teacher wants. Is this the first year your son experienced Investigations? I ask, because parents often find that the homework looks different some times to traditional textbook homework when the program is newly introduced. Did your child's teacher send any letters home about the math being taught or about the activities sent home? Did you attempt to communicate in any way with your son's teachers about your frustration?
A number of schools I've worked with have scheduled multiple parent sessions so parents could learn more about the math their children are experiencing  especially the development of number sense and computation strategies. They discuss the homework and how parents can help their students.
>2. There are absolutely no previsions for students who may be absent >and miss instruction or group work. The program is like a freight >train and it just keeps on moving on. On a couple of occasions, this >presented an extremely difficult problem for my son. > I am sorry your son was put in an awkward position. What do you think could have helped him? What did the teacher do to help your son? No child should feel like he or she is left behind.
It's difficult with any program for students to catch up if they miss a week or more of instruction. It's true that the class experiences students missed when absent can not always be duplicated. However, my expectation would be that all children would have opportunities to learn what they missed in other settings  through choice time, small group experiences, teacher / student conference, peer collaboration, etc.
My experience in classrooms has been that students who miss one or two days have very little difficulty staying up with what's going on. Part of the reason for this I think is that the teachers established the student expectations. Students were encouraged to ask for help if they didn't understand. Students were encouraged to ask questions and help each other if they didn't understand. The teachers were actively engaged in what's going when the students worked in groups. If it seemed like there were misunderstandings or more time was needed to understand a concept, the teachers would do it.
>3. There is a definite lack of ongoing assessment with little or no >accountability as recommended by NCTM.
Investigations is full of assessment and accountability opportunities. There are several embedded assessments in each unit. In addition, there are additional assessments for each Investigation teachers can use (in a resource called Assessment Source Books). There are checkpoints throughout the units for teachers to assess how the class as a whole or individual students are doing.
Did your son's teachers share how he was being assessed with you? What would have been helpful to you as a parent for the teachers to communicate to you? How would you have liked the information reported to you? I think your suggestions might help teachers think about ways to better communicate to parents the mathematical ideas students are studying and how it's being assessed.
Please take a look at the following Ask the Author article by Megan Murray. She describes the Investigations assessment opportunities in detail.
Where is the assessment in Investigations? http://www.lab.brown.edu/investigations/author/q22.html
> >4. As I have studied the NCTM standards, these standards call for >students to become proficient in basic facts and algorithims. For >some, if not many students, this takes practice and memorization. I >am not, and never have been, a proponent of "drill and kill", but a >certain amount of practice IS ESSENTIAL!
I completely agree with you. Students must be proficient in basic mathematical ideas and computation facts. They must be able to think about a what a problem is asking, decide how to solve it in an efficient, fluent and accurate manner. They need to be able to know if an answer is reasonable. Investigations does give opportunities for students to practice computation in meaningful contexts. Students do learn basic facts and computational ideas.
I think the following articles would really help you understand what is being taught through the Investigations experiences.
Developing Computational Fluency with Whole Numbers in the Elementary Grades Susan Jo Russell http://www.terc.edu/investigations/relevant/html/CompFluency.html
Do students learn computational algorithms in Investigations? http://www.lab.brown.edu/investigations/author/q11.html
The Investigations Curriculum and Children's Understanding of Whole Number Operations Jan Mokros http://www.lab.brown.edu/investigations/resources/studresults/iccuwno.html
Parrot Math Tom O'Brien http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/kobr9902.htm
> >5. Have we all forgotten that in California, the Department of >Education called for a special math adoption to rid the state of >constructivist math  ALL DUE TO FALLING TEST SCORES!
Your statement is not completely accurate. I live in CA and have followed the math adoption developments over the past 15 years. It's true that the CA State Department has shifted the focus of state standards and criteria for state adopted programs to a direct instruction focus. Constructivist mathematics has never been the dominant approach to mathematics in the CA classrooms. So if test scores are going down, it's not because of an influence of constructivist mathematics programs.
The following articles will give you some background on what has been going on in CA:
The Politics of California School Mathematics: The AntiReform of 199799 By Jerry P. Becker and Bill Jacob http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/kbec0003.htm
The Mathematical Miseducation Of America's Youth By Michael T. Battista http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/kbat9902.htm

