From: Southern Illinoisan, Monday, June 8,m 1998, p. 3A
MATH CONFUSION -- Area educators must pick between dueling instructional methods
By Tracy James, The Southern Illinoisan
______________________________________________________________________ Sidebar: Elementary teachers in Carbondale and Marion began using very different math series this year. _______________________________________________________________________ In some circles, how one teaches math can be fighting words. The debate on math instructional tactics has been heating up in recent years, taking it to a national level. And examples of both camps can be found locally.
Elementary teachers in Carbondale and Marion began using very different math series this year. Marion adopted the more traditional Saxon math program, which emphasizes drills, structure and repetition of concepts.
The Carbondale Elementary District adopted the relatively new Every Day Math series that emphasizes hands-on learning but also integrates lessons so students practice concepts throughout the school year.
One day last month Linda McAnelly's fourth-graders at Lincoln Elementary in Marion began a typical day. They checked each other's homework, then had a 3-minute timed multiplication test, then they moved on to "mental math," where they worked out problems in their heads, not on paper or with aids such as calculators.
To motivate and keep students' attention, McAnelly called on students randomly to answer the mental math problems. If they got the question right, she threw them a piece of candy. If they got it wrong or didn't know how to solve it, she called on another student after drawing his or her number from her handful of number buttons. Some students ended the brief segment with two pieces of candy, others with none.
Usually they spend some time on their evening's homework assignment, but on that day McAnelly wanted to move on to their next lesson.
A nice-sized textbook comes with the Saxon series, unlike Every Day Math, which just has a workbook.
Student Sarah Taylor said she likes the practice drills because they help her learn the material. She thinks math this year was easier because they went over the same things more often.
At Winkler School in Carbondale just a week earlier, one of Linda North's fifth graders presented his assignment to the class. The students had to prepare reports on how they would spend $1 million. They were graded according to their theme, research, accounting and display.
"How come none of our projects include tax?" one student asked after the presentation on buying and furnishing a mansion.
North pointed out that some of the projects do. The students' million-dollar investments included soccer and basketball teams, trips to Africa, a hospice for babies with HIV and a dog school.
"I'd put it in the bank and live off the interest," another student said.
Then the students moved onto a lesson about fractions, decimals, percentages and pie charts. They worked on the concepts by discussing the make-up of concrete, breaking down the class' favorite snack foods and converting the fractions into decimals and then percentages and then talking briefly about what goes into landfills.
Student Joshua Wooley said the math is easier to do this year and he already has a jump on material he will be studying next year. He also likes the homelinks, which are assignments students take home to work out with an adult.
"I get to spend more time with my dad," he said.
North said the piloting of Every Day Math in Carbondale this year went very well. Teachers and the school board decided to implement it across the board next year. North noted the curriculum is challenging for teachers as well as the students because it is so different.
"It's hands-on but the mathematics is very solid," she said.
North said a lot of the material was not new, just presented differently. But the students did study material not normally covered in her fifth-grade class, just like McAnelly's students covered some topics she normally didn't teach.
North, who has been teaching for 29 years, said she loves math. So the more telling comments come from teachers who are not as enthusiastic about math yet tell North the Every Day Math curriculum makes it fun for them and enjoyable.
North, however, said she has seen math curriculum come and go and she has never been as enthusiastic about a series as she is with Every Day Math, which she said includes all the extras she used to add to lessons. McAnelly said she has had no second thoughts about Saxon, either. _______________________________________________________________________ Sidebar: Rift began with 'Nation at Risk' report 15 years ago _______________________________________________________________________
The growing math debate began around 15 years ago when the U.S. Department of Education's Nation at Risk Report rang alarms across the country concerning math instruction.
University of Illinois math education professor Kenneth Travers said two camps have since emerged, one of which spawned from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which developed some recommendations in response to the controversial report.
The council advocates more math instruction for students and more engaging teaching methods so students understand it and are not turned off by boredom.
Travers described the council's standards as "solid, good math," and "sound teaching," emphasizing hands-on projects and other ways to get students involved with the lessons. Every Day Math was developed in this vein, he said.
Travers said the council's standards are reflected in standards adopted by many states, including Illinois.
The other camp Travers said, looks at the standards and sees an approach to math very different from their childhood experiences. They call it "fuzzy math" and subscribe to the "no pain, no gain strategy."
He described Saxon as reactionary, harkening back to this emphasis on basic facts, drill, and memorizing tables and procedures, while the math council's approach puts more emphasis on higher-level thought processes such as problem solving and application.
The creator of Saxon was active in denouncing the new teaching approaches, Travers said, even organizing a picket of a NCTM meeting.
He said the debate has risen to a pitch comparable to the whole language and phonics debate, with some people even referring to the NCTM standards as "whole math."
He said there is evidence to show the older approach is not working, yet there has not been enough time to determine how well the new approaches are working. In California, current "reforms" are moving away from the newer instructional approaches in favor of more traditional teaching.
Marion teacher Linda McAnelly, who served on the committee that selected Saxon from a variety of series that included Every Day Math, isn't daunted by its critics.
"They'll think it's archaic to go back, but you ask the kids," she said. "I think they've learned more this year."
She said problem solving was not as important to the math committee as providing the students with a solid foundation of basic facts. Yet she pointed to textbook pages filled with word problems.
"We got a lot more of it than I thought," she said.
Meda Thompson, the Marion district's curriculum director, said the district supplements the series with open-ended problems. Illinois and NCTM standards call for students to be able to figure out word problems, she said, and to be able to explain how they did it and represent their answers graphically.
She said Saxon includes hands-on lessons in kindergarten through third grade and that teachers add things to their lessons on an individual basis.
"Good teachers do that all the time," she said.
Marion high school teachers, Thompson said, decided to drop their Saxon series because they wanted something that incorporated technology and involved other subjects.
She said most series need to be supplemented one way or another, and Travers agreed, adding that this can be a problem for busy teachers. And programs like Every Day Math run the risk of being done poorly, he said, if the teachers do not have a good understanding of math and how students learn. **************************************************************** Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618)453-4244 Phone: (618)453-4241 (office) E-mail: JBECKER@SIU.EDU