The post Open Curriculum Releases Massive Math Library for Teachers appeared first on Education News.

]]>Launched in Pittsburgh, Open Curriculum’s goal is providing teachers with materials which are curated and organized from teacher blogs and lesson material publishers. Not only materials, but tools for creating lesson plans and more are available on the site, according to Julian Chokkattu, writing for website TechCrunch.

Now, Open Curriculum has released a 5,000-document library on its website for math teachers to enhance their lesson materials. The site is available to anyone, but registering allows the user access to special tools, such as the lesson planner.

Currently, there are approximately 6,000 teachers and users every month, who, it has been discovered by the site, are saving putting together first-time lesson plans 50% faster, and 20% of revised lesson planning time. The library is live on the website and has been tailored for planning lessons for Common Core mathematics. Varun Arora, the site’s founder and CEO, says the idea was to focus on one subject to begin. Other subjects, he says, will be added as evaluations take place.

“We want to really nail this, because our competitors tried to do the same thing but they tried to go really broad and they do a “#!*%” job in every department, so we said let’s just nail mathematics. We’re really connected to the math community across the US,” he said.

According to Arora, the majority of Open Curriculum users are from the US, but other English-speaking educators from countries like the UK and Australia are using the site, too.

Open Curriculum raised investments from Y Combinator, Points of Light Civic Accelerator, ITU, Carnegie Mellon University’s Institutes of Social Innovation, and Thrill Mill. Arora was a graduate of Y Combinator from its first non-profit class.

On its site, Open Curriculum states its purpose as:

Our mission is to bring openness and innovation to K-12 education around the world.

We believe that every child in the world deserves access to a high-quality early education. Such an education empowers individuals to grow and get access to opportunities better than ever before, and thus drives economic development.

Open-source curriculum (OSC) is “an online instructional resource that can be freely used, distributed, and modified,” according to Wikipedia. The idea for such a resource is based on the idea of creating software or products that lead to source materials or codes.

Where education is concerned, OSCs allow parents, teachers, developers, government officials, and students to interact, exchange ideas, and make improvements in the world of learning.

An Education News article by Kirstin Decarr refers to a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposal for new Net Neutrality rules which would institute a “two-tiered” Internet and is called “paid-prioritization”. This means that one form of Internet would be created that would cost less and would have a slower speed (slow lane). The other tier would cost more and be faster (fast lane).

Open Curriculum is one of four major online education start-ups which are openly against this move. Sarah Buhr, writing for TechCrunch*, *says the companies argue that the new rules would create an uneven playing field.

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]]>The post WestEd Awarded Grant to Evaluate Khan Academy’s Effectiveness appeared first on Education News.

]]>The STEM program at WestEd, a national nonpartisan research, development, and service agency in San Francisco, has been awarded a $3 million grant from the US Department of Education to evaluate the effectiveness of Khan Academy’s resources for improving mathematics achievement.

Khan Academy is a free, Internet-based learning environment and one of the largest online learning sites used worldwide. Many nationwide community colleges are integrating with Khan Academy to increase course completion and achievement in mathematics courses.

“Until now, there has never been a rigorous, large-scale efficacy study of Khan Academy, in community colleges or in K-12 settings,” says STEM Program Director Steve Schneider. “WestEd looks forward to evaluating the effectiveness of Khan Academy’s resources in improving community college students’ algebra achievement.”

A randomized controlled trial, the study will begin in the 2015-2016 academic year. Algebra teachers from community colleges who have used Khan Academy in a blended learning environment will be recruited. They will then be assigned to use Khan Academy or randomly chosen to continue to run their classes as they usually do.

The STEM research team will:

- Test whether the addition of Khan Academy to their Algebra I courses improves students’ course completion and achievement.

- Identify factors which contribute to the higher quality and more effective use of Khan Academy, like teacher preparation, student characteristics. and course structure.

The STEM program offers a variety of high-profile national projects to enrich teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The program offers research, evaluation, curriculum development, and professional development.

WestEd works with education and other communities to promote excellence, enable equity, and to enhance social and learning outcomes for children, youth, and adults. The organization has 15 offices nationwide from Washington to Boston to Arizona and California.

Khan Academy was founded by Salman Khan, whose free online learning site has been called the future of education. It reaches 10 million students a month, but has its critics. Tate Williams, writing for *Inside Philanthropy*, says that it also has plenty of friends in high places. Some of those friends are:

- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which gave the academy $1.5 million in 2010, along with$9 million since then, in part to carry out the foundation’s spreading of the Common Core standards.

-The Broad Foundation, founded by Eli and Edythe Broad. The Broads made a $4 million grant to analyze the academies online lessons to help students and education in general.

- Google, an early funder, gave $2 million in 2010. Khan Academy runs the Google Cloud platform and is a participant in Google’s $50 million initiative to encourage girls to code.

- The O’Sullivan Foundation granted $5 million in 2011 to speed up the reinvention of education.

-The Skoll Foundation kicked in $1.25 million in 2012.

- The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, which supports education in Idaho, gave $1 million to support the supplementing of classroom teaching with online videos.

- The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust gave $2.2 million last year to help teachers and students meet the Common Core standards.

Some of the individuals who have donated to the Khan Academy include Netflix founder Reed Hastings, Intuit founder Scott Cook, Google’s chair Eric Schmidt. Corporate backers include Bank of America, Oracle, and tech law firm, WSGR.

The Khan Academy stats include 6,000 instructional videos; 100,000 practice problems in math, biology, chemistry, economics, and more; 350,000 registered teachers using the videos as classroom aids; several computer whizzes on staff as well as PhD-holders, and advanced education degree-holders.

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]]>The post Study Suggests Same Genes Promote Math, Reading Aptitude appeared first on Education News.

]]>A study published this week reveals that the genes that determine how well a person reads also influences their math skills.

The study, released by British multidisciplinary journal Nature Communications, used 1,500 sets of 12-year-old twins from British families to look at the effects of genetic inheritance and environment on math and reading skills, writes Julia Rosen for *The Los Angeles Times.*

“Twins are like a natural experiment,” said Robert Plomin, a psychologist at King’s College London who worked on the study.

Plomin looked at reading and math test results of these sets of twins and compared them to those of unrelated children.

Identical twins share 100% DNA and fraternal twins share 50%. Environmental variables are shared. What they found were that the scores for each set of twins were two times as similar in identical twins as they were in fraternal sets. These results suggest that half of a child’s ability to read and succeed in math comes from “generalist genes”, working across a number of disciplines.

“If you found genes for reading,” Plomin said, “you have over a 50% chance that those same genes would influence math.”

The study does not suggest that the genes will influence how well students perform in these disciplines. What it does offer is insight into how the genes influence learning abilities and “how easily they learn to read and to do maths”, according to Plomin. He also suggests the genes “are like little nudges” that may cause a person to read more.

“We don’t want to pit nature vs. nurture,” Plomin said. “But for parents who still think kids are a blob of clay that you mold to be what you want them to be, I hope this data — and there’s tons of other data like this — will convince people to recognize and respect individual differences that are genetically driven.”

The same genes may cause these skills to come with some difficulty for other children. “It’s not that the child just isn’t motivated, or that he’s just not trying hard enough.” The child simply needs some extra help to find the same level of success.

Environmental factors also come into play, even in sets of identical twins. One may have a different teacher who causes them to have a fondness for math while the other does not.

Douglas Detterman, an emeritus professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University and editor of *Intelligence *who was not involved with the study*,* says that more research will be needed looking at the DNA of millions of people to better isolate the genes that affect our aptitude, writes Maanvi Singh for KPBS.

Detterman refers to teachers as farmers and children as their crop:

“You have corn plants that do well in certain environments, and don’t in others. And the farmer’s job is to get the corn plants into the right soil.”

This could mean individualized educational approaches where students are allowed to learn at their own rate through different techniques. Plomin suggests a strategy similar to that in place in Finland, where schools do “whatever it takes” to give children the skills necessary to thrive in the modern world. This means smaller class sizes, extra hours of tutoring, and alternative learning approaches.

“Heritability does not imply that anything is set in stone – it just means it may take more effort from parents, schools and teachers to bring the child up to speed.”

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]]>The post Majority of Georgia High School Students Fail State Math Exams appeared first on Education News.

]]>End-of-course exam results from the Georgia Department of Education show that as a whole, high school students are failing the state’s math exam.

According to research released, 77.4% of the students who took the Algebra II/Geometry combined test failed it; 65.4% failed Analytic Geometry; 61.8% failed Geometry and 59.7% failed Coordinate Algebra.

These were easily the most glaring areas of trouble for the state. The next highest failing rate was for US History at 27.2%, followed by Biology (25%), Economics/Business/Free Enterprise (18.8%) and Physical Science (15.5%)

The scores account for 20% of students’ entire grade for the course for those enrolled in ninth grade as of July 2011, and 15% for those enrolled previous to that date, writes Thompson Wall for *The Peach Tree Corners Patch.*

“While these results seem low and different from what we are used to seeing, they are in line with what many national assessments say Georgia’s students’ college and career readiness level is,” said State Superintendent John Barge in a statement. “We must address this head-on so our students leave our schools with the best preparation possible to succeed in life after high school.”

Scores improved in six of the eight End-of-Course (EOCT) exams from last year, including the reading exams. According to Ty Tagami for *The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, *Barge found this news encouraging.

“Reading is truly foundational to learning, so those increases in students exceeding standards are encouraging to see,” he said. “As we transition to tests that more accurately reflect our standards — and the emphasis those standards place on critical thinking and comprehension — students’ reading abilities will help them to excel.”

Only 7.5% of Georgia students failed the American Literature and Composition exam, and 12.3% of the Ninth grade literature test.

The EOCTs will be replaced by a new set of tests next year being referred to as the “Georgia Milestones Assessment System”. The exams will be aligned with the Common Core standards, and will also replace grade level tests in grades 3 and 8, according to Lee Shearer for *The Athens Banner-Herald.*

The Milestone tests will still be one of the deciding factors in a student’s ability to go on to the next grade from grades 3, 5, and 8. The tests will also be used for teacher assessments.

The Milestone end-of-course tests will account for 20% of a student’s total grade.

Milestone tests will be taken online. In an effort to ease into this transition, 30% of students will begin online testing this year, 80% within three years and 100% within five years.

“The Analytic Geometry and Coordinate Algebra results give us another look at the new level of increased expectation for student achievement that is coming with Georgia Milestones,” Barge said in a press release. “The expectations to meet standards are significantly increasing so we have a new and more realistic baseline of student performance.”

School-level results are expected in July.

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]]>The post 3p Learning Goes Public With 135 Million Share IPO appeared first on Education News.

]]>Online education company 3p Learning is going public, setting its price at $2.50 per share, offering 135 million shares to current and new investors in an IPO.

The company is hoping to raise $300 million to help bring its product into more schools across the globe, as more districts are dropping the standard textbook for online learning. 3p Learning is currently used in 17,000 schools worldwide, write James Hutchinson and Misa Han for *Business Review Weekly.*

Approximately 79% of the company’s revenue is created by the sales of its Mathletics software, which is currently in use in some 50% of Australian schools. The software is an online learning program that offers students rewards, certificates, and online gaming to keep interest and motivation high, helping to create and instill a love of learning.

The program offers more than 1,200 activities to coincide with international curricula, complete with tests for each unit. The program offers teachers easy assessment, allowing for a more in-depth and personalized plan for each student.

The most popular part of the software is Live Mathletics, where students can “race” against others from their own class, or around the world to see how much they know.

And yes, there is an app for that.

The company is also hoping to cross-sell its software for other topics, such as spelling, reading, and science to schools who already hold a license for the Mathletics program. License holding schools have grown 54% each year from 2010-2013, in the UK, the US, and Canada, according to Maggie Lu Yueyang for *The Herald Sun.*

According to its website, 3p Learning uses earnings from Mathletics to power its work with UNICEF.

Within the

Live Mathleticsarea, students can challenge each other to 60 second mental arithmetic races. Each time they do so, they will earn Connector Points. Every time 2 million Connector Points have been earned by students globally, we will add a piece to our jigsaw puzzle of a school – displayed in the Mathletics student interface. When all 12 pieces of the puzzle are in place, Mathletics will fund the building of a brand new school in a UNICEF-supported part of the world. The more connections made, the more schools we will build.

So far, 3p Learning has been able to help 100,000 students in UNICEF-supported areas by supplying them educational tools needed to succeed.

IPOs are usually a bit of a gamble for companies whose presence is solely online, as common laws of supply and demand seldom fit and the price of shares can fluctuate dramatically when a company hits the open market. Even mighty Facebook, which was valuated as high as $45 by some in the days before it went public in the late spring of 2012 struggled out of the gate, with its stock price dropping from $38 at opening to $27.72 nine days later.

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]]>The post TenMarks Releases First Math App Since Acquisition by Amazon appeared first on Education News.

]]>Amazon broke five months of silence for acquisition TenMarks on Monday, releasing a new app for its Kindle reader and offering free access to its summer math program in an effort to entice new customers.

TenMarks is a completely online learning application for mathematics that can be used to either supplement traditional brick and mortar learning or as its own stand-alone facilitator.

One of its main areas of appeal is it coinciding with material being taught in many states by the Common Core Standards.

The latest app, the TenMarks Summer Math Program, appeared Monday on the Amazong Appstore website for free. In prior incarnations, the program had a list price of $39 per student, and could be used only via the company website or on an iPad.

Desgned for all ages, the Summer Math Program has assignments, videos and real-time tutoring starting with first grade math and advancing as far as geometry and Algebra 2, according to a review by CNET’s Donna Y. Tam.

Because of the success of Apple’s iPad, companies like Amazon have found themselves in the unfamiliar position of trying to play catch-up:

Amazon, which runs a forked version of Android, has made other efforts in education, including Whispercast, a free online tool that lets schools and businesses manage a fleet of Kindle tablets and wirelessly distribute Kindle books, documents and apps. Overall, the e-commerce giant’s tablet focuses on kid-friendly features and education through its FreeTime mode.

Tenmarks’ products, including the Summer Math Program, smartly incorporate elements of online and video games that many children are familiar with, filling their releases with customizable options, and having the experience being a tiered one – complete with levels, bonuses and even personalized reward schemes to make it seem like a completely unique experience, according to an article in *The Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel.*

Amazon reached an agreement to acquire TenMarks in October of 2013 for an undisclosed amount. At the time, TenMarks was being used by students in more than 25,000 schools and 7,000 districts in the United States:

“Amazon and TenMarks share the same passion for student learning. TenMarks’s award-winning math programs have been used by tens of thousands of schools and Amazon engages with millions of students around the world through our Kindle ecosystem,” said Amazon vice-president of Kindle Dave Limp, shortly after the deal was finalized.

This isn’t the first time that a TenMarks has been a freebie. According to an article by Geekwire’s Todd Bishop, TenMarks has previously operated using a “freemium” model, which means that the company allowed teachers to sign up for free access to products, but that they pay in order to access certain features and functions.

Amazon hopes this will be a first step towards its Kindle Fire becoming an educational rival to the iPad.

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]]>The post Laurie Rogers: Professional Development in Math Should Focus On Math appeared first on Education News.

]]>**by Laurie Rogers **

*“Creativity springs unsolicited from a well prepared mind.”*

*“Fundamental knowledge is the basis of creativity.”*

– John Saxon, co-author of the *Saxon Math* textbook series

Recently, I asked Spokane Public Schools about the new professional development (PD) in math for teachers. I was sent a link to a district page where upcoming courses focus on the implementation of a new and unproved *math curriculum*, not on mathematics.

Chief Academic Officer Steven Gering said the district plans to teach fractions to teachers, and I’m glad to hear it. But those skills should *always* have been required. Fractions are a small “fraction” of what’s missing in the skill set of many K-8 teachers.

Where else but in our public schools are employees persistently deficient in necessary skills? Where else are they taught that pedagogy is infinitely more important than expertise in the subject? Where else are billions of our dollars used to train employees in skills they should have had before they were hired? Who in the private sector knowingly hires doctors who don’t understand medicine, contractors who don’t know how to build, or rocket scientists who don’t understand rocket science? Who would knowingly hire an endodontist who doesn’t know how to do a root canal?

It’s true that many teachers don’t understand enough math. I don’t blame them. They learned what they were taught.

I’ve been conversing with an assistant professor of education who maintains that constructivism is the best way to teach math. (Professors of education are largely in charge of educating the country’s prospective teachers.) This assistant professor said substantial evidence supporting constructivism is easy to find, so I asked him for some. He sent me a few articles containing older, questionable methodology or anecdotal criticisms of a teacher. I pointed out to him the last 30 years of the failure of excessive constructivism. He responded:

I am interested in this country you speak of that has been in the grip of constructivism for 30 years. Most studies indicate that American classrooms incorporate few (if any) constructivist practices espoused by schools and colleges of education. … What we do have, I would argue, is a fairly widespread attempt at ham-handed implementations of constructivist-oriented reforms. …. The mathematical and pedagogical knowledge needed to run a constructivist mathematics classroom is not possessed by most teachers now, or at any point in the last half-century … (W)e graduate and hire most anyone with a pulse and a clean-ish criminal record. … (A)s a whole our system in its current form couldn’t teach constructively if it wanted to. And it doesn’t even want to because it hasn’t seen much (if any) constructivist teaching.

This stance is typical. As our conversation continued, this man refused to acknowledge the problem and ducked most of what I told him. It wasn’t long before he began to call me names. He is courteous in the way of many reformers: Ostensibly civil, yet still calling me a conspiracy theorist, “closed” to the conversation, “dogmatic” and even “indulging in intellectual dishonesty.” I’m sure he sees himself as polite and restrained. His entire defense boils down to this: Constructivism works; they just aren’t doing it right.

Avid proponents of constructivism typically seem certain that they’re correct, that they don’t have to prove anything, and that all problems are due to incompetent implementation. After 30 years and trillions of taxpayer dollars spent pushing fuzzy math and constructivism on public schools, they don’t see today’s nationwide math problem as due to fuzzy math and constructivism.

Many maintain their faith by denying the problem. Obvious academic failure is explained away or deemed to be irrelevant; they focus on an undefined notion of “deeper conceptual understanding.” (They ignore the fact that this “understanding” can’t be achieved without acquisition of skills.) When confronted with irrefutable evidence, they blame it on teachers, parents, students or society.

I don’t blame teachers. Most received garbage for math instruction – in K-12, in college and for years after they were hired. How *could* they teach math properly? They were taught that math is hard and that they don’t have to *know* math in order to teach it. (They must be so tired of being lied to.) Their training has intellectually disarmed them, their students and this country. *These are unforgiveable sins.*

If proponents of fuzzy programs and constructivism had to use math in the “real world,” and were held accountable for the results, they would have to modify their views. In the “real world,” math is a tool, used to get a job done. What matters are ** clarity** (understandable by others);

We use math to help us cut the wood, build the bridge, fill the ditch, fire the rocket, heal the sick, fire the bullet, cook the food, calculate the pay, run the business, combine the chemicals, fly the plane, build the software, measure the floor, balance the checkbook, project the earnings, and balance the budget.

Math is critically necessary to the functioning of the country. A mathematically illiterate populace puts America’s future in jeopardy. K-12 math is inherently understandable and doable, but proponents of fuzzy math and excessive constructivism have *made* it incomprehensible.

Luckily, I was taught properly, and I refuse to be “disarmed” now. I’m engaging in some PD of my own. I recently picked up *Saxon Algebra I* and read it cover to cover. That was instantly helpful. I’m now doing the problems in *Saxon Algebra II*, chapter by chapter. I wondered if this PD would change my views, but it’s reinforcing everything I’ve been thinking about how math should be taught and learned.

“Deeper conceptual understanding” in K-12 math comes with knowledge and practice to mastery, *not* with pointless struggle and reinventing of the wheel. Efficiency on paper is critical; the calculator tends to get in the way of learning. Each day, as I work through another chapter, I think, “Oh, yes. Right. I see that now.” Proper process is being reinforced for me; each time I cut a corner, I pay for it with an error. As I practice, I’m becoming faster, more efficient and more accurate. Recently I tweaked an algorithm to make it more efficient; this would not have come to me without skills and understanding.

Constructivists claim that the materials don’t matter (*as they insist on fuzzy materials*), and that it’s *the teacher* who matters. (This is how they duck criticism of their materials and blame everything on teachers.) But proficiency is gained via solid instruction, such as from textbooks that provide sufficient explanation and practice, examples, structure, and an incremental and logical progression of skills.

Below are some processes that are conducive to the development of solid math skills. (Proponents of fuzzy math and excessive constructivism typically refuse to implement these):

- Direct instruction of sufficient material, emphasizing the most-efficient, most-effective processes (including long division; vertical multiplication; arithmetic; exponents; negatives; the number line; polynomials; fractions, decimals and percentages; the clock and the calendar; and proficiency with paper and pencil).
- Practicing concepts to mastery, with constant refreshers of previously learned skills
- Using good process:
- Working vertically
- Writing down the equation, filling in what’s known, solving for the variable, checking the work, making sure the question is answered
- Writing clearly, separating equations from calculations
- Going from simple skills to complex, working forward in a logical, linear fashion. (Classes should NOT begin in the middle of a math textbook)

Below are processes that tend to result in increased errors and misunderstandings. (Proponents of fuzzy math and excessive constructivism typically emphasize these):

- Excessive use of mental math
- Prioritizing methods and processes that are inefficient, confusing, nonstandard, not useful long-term, and complicated for children
- Constant distractions through group work, discussion and premature “real-world application”
- Dependence on calculators, classmates and achieving consensus, rather than emphasizing individual understanding and proficiency
- Forcing children to “construct” their own methods, manage their own classmates, explain things to themselves, and understand concepts at a level that is wildly inappropriate for their age
- Dependence on teachers who don’t understand math, refuse to correct or explain work, and don’t provide students with answers so that students can check their
*own*work - Dependence on administrators who refuse to give textbooks to children, destroy solid materials by inserting loopy processes and philosophy, and force teachers to begin in the middle

The success and clarity achieved ** with direct instruction** are motivating and empowering. The confusion, struggle and failure found in

I’ve come to see fuzzy math and excessive constructivism as abusive. Indeed, the assistant professor described his own reeducation in math as “painful,” “brutal” and “ego-crushing.” Why would he want that for children? I can’t think of a reason to demand that children suffer. He insists his efforts are to benefit children, but he appears to be too far removed from classrooms, math, children and outcomes to understand how fuzzy math and excessive constructivism destroy skills, self-esteem and futures.

I would never do that to a student. Math should be enjoyable. Individual understanding** **and

Doing the math I’ve done has reinforced what I knew. The truth is evident in the children. Thirty years of fuzzy math programs and constructivism have led us here, to a nation that can’t do much math.

It’s no wonder that Eastern Washington University decided in 2011 to disband its masters in math. After two decades of fuzzy math and excessive constructivism in surrounding school districts, it’s likely that few high school graduates were able to get through the EWU program. Sadly, the EWU situation reflects just the tip of the national math iceberg. We are clinging to the edge of a grim precipice that teeters over complete national mathematical illiteracy.

All K-12 teachers and parents should have received at a minimum the instruction I did, but it isn’t too late. Take a placement test so you can assess your level and start teaching yourself. Buy a textbook online or at a secondhand bookstore. You don’t need highlighter pens, sticky notes, butcher paper or group work. All you need is about $15 and some time. (Teachers will have to do it on their own because their district is not likely to give them *this* PD, nor is Bill Gates, Pearson Education, the Broad Foundation, the Common Core, Texas Instruments, EngageNY, Arne Duncan, or the teachers union).

Get yourself some math skills, and pass them on. Watch as the children soar.

(P.S.: You might want to buy a complete set of *Saxon Math* now, before some well-meaning and ostensibly polite person wants to make them illegal.)

**Laurie H. Rogers** has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication and a master’s in interpersonal communication, emphasizing the evaluation of argumentation and logic. In 2001, she founded Safer Child, Inc., a nonprofit child advocacy information resource. In 2007, she narrowed her advocacy to public education, and in 2010, she founded Focus on the Square™, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving American K-12 education.

*Laurie is the author of the blog “Betrayed,” located at http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/. Her book Betrayed: How the Education Establishment Has Betrayed America and What You Can Do about It (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2011) is now available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.*

*Besides serving on the executive committee for Where’s the Math?, Laurie has a background in finance, journalism and child advocacy. She has volunteered in schools – tutoring children in literacy and math, and teaching chess, argumentation and knitting. She lives in Spokane with her husband, daughter and two cats.*

*Contact Laurie Rogers at wlroge@comcast.net.*

The post Laurie Rogers: Professional Development in Math Should Focus On Math appeared first on Education News.

]]>The post Reform Math: The Symptoms And Prognosis appeared first on Education News.

]]>*by Robert Craigen and Barry Garelick*

It is obvious to many parents that something is off in their children’s math classes: Instead of learning math facts and standard methods, their kids must use cumbersome procedures, find multiple ways to do simple tasks, and explain in writing what they have done. In general, they need more help than their parents did when they were in school.

For two decades now parents and children have been collateral damage in a struggle that has come to be known as the “math wars”. Opinion is sharply divided on how best to teach K-12 math. The tension is between conventional, or traditional, instruction versus what is known by various names including “reform math” (to proponents), or “fuzzy math” (to critics).

Reform math differs from the conventional approach in many ways. To help parents ascertain whether their children are being exposed to reform math-borne illnesses, we have set out a brief guide to key symptoms of a reform math approach.

**The Symptoms**

**“In the past students were taught by rote; we teach understanding.” **First, ‘rote’ literally means ‘repetition’ — and this is a good idea, not a bad one. Second, it is simply false that teaching was without understanding — by design, in any case — in the past. There have always been teachers who taught math poorly or neglected to include a conceptual context. This does not mean that conventional math was/is never taught well.

Under reform math, students are required to use inefficient procedures for several years before they are exposed to and allowed to use the standard method (or “algorithm”) — if they are at all. This is done in the belief that the alternative approaches confer understanding to the standard algorithm. To teach the standard algorithm first would, in reformers’ minds, be rote learning. But this out-loud articulation of “meaning” in every stage is the arithmetic equivalent of forcing a reader to keep a finger on the page, sounding out every word, every time, with no progression of reading skill. Alternatives become the main course instead of a side dish and students can become confused — often profoundly so.

**“Drill and kill is bad.”** Reformers believe that making students do repetitious ‘rote’ exercises will deaden students’ souls and impede true mathematical understanding. Actually the reverse is true: repetitive practice lies at the heart of mastery of almost every discipline, and mathematics is no exception. No sensible person would suggest eliminating drills from sports, music, or dance. De-emphasize skill and you take away the child’s primary scaffold for understanding. As for killing fun, that all depends on the spirit of the exercise. Drills are boring only if they are made boring.

**“The guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.”** “Guide on the side” is also known as “student-centered learning”. Sounds wonderful until you realize it means that it reduces the teacher to a mere facilitator of holistic “inquiry-based” or discovery learning experiences. Students teach themselves. Providing information directly is regarded as “rote learning” – and a bad thing. Recent meta-studies in cognitive science by Sweller et al, and Mayer, have shown that “minimal guidance instruction”—the corresponding term in that field — is a very poor way to teach novices, though it has some merit for teaching experts. To be clear, “novices” would include elementary school children when learning arithmetic and 7^{th} and 8^{th} grade students learning algebra.

**“‘Just in time’ learning.” **This approach prescribes giving students an assignment or problem which forces them to learn what they need to know in order to complete the task. The tools that students need to master are dictated by the problem itself. For example, students might first encounter long division in a lesson, late in their education, about repeating decimals, where it is an essential ingredient. Many reformers consider long division too tedious and unproductive to teach until it is absolutely needed. The question of how repeating decimals work supposedly motivates students to overcome this barrier. This is like teaching someone to swim by throwing them in the deep end of a pool and telling them to swim to the other side. The teacher shouts the instruction to the students, who are expected to swallow the method whole along with mouthfuls of pool water, in one go. The students who by some miracle make it to the other side are apt to say, “I don’t know how I got here, but I sure don’t want to do that again!”

**“Ambiguity is a great way to learn.” **Another aspect of discovery learning. It reveals an underlying pattern that dominates Reform/Fuzzy math: it has no bottom-up structure, lacks coherence, and uses deliberately confusing elements to force a child to decide for themselves how to do this or that, and what, if anything, constitutes a correct answer. While children are psychologically unsuited for lack of structure and ill-defined expectations, reformers hold that “struggle is good”. For experts, struggle is suitable; e.g., an expert swimmer may struggle to perfect a swim stroke whereas a novice may struggle to keep from drowning—a struggle that doesn’t teach them how to swim.

**“Flip the classroom!”** Flipped classrooms can be implemented in a number of ways, but a trend emerging in poorly implemented reform math programs is the class becoming a homework-like learning-lab environment. The student is expected to learn at home by watching videos on the internet — videos consisting of direct instruction on mathematical procedures. The direct instruction of the classroom is often replaced with “stimulating and engaging activities”. This puts the onus on children to (1) have access; (2) be in a good home environment; and (3) self-motivate to pick up the lessons. But if a student does not understand something in the video, the rest of the lesson is not going to make sense. How much time does the teacher have the next day — in a lesson packed with inquiry-based activities — to backfill what students didn’t understand from the video?

And another inconvenient question: Isn’t the education community’s avalanche-like acceptance of the flipped classrooms a tacit admission that learning procedures *is* important?

**“We’re making students think like mathematicians.” **Professional mathematicians are often puzzled at what is meant by this. Mathematicians know that students need both to master procedures and to have a basic understanding of their conceptual underpinnings. Reformers make the mistake of not distinguishing between how novices learn and how experts think. Reformers are often heard to exclaim, “I wish I had understood it this way when I was learning it”. But children do not have that adult’s many years of experience. Denying them the foundational mastery to acquire mathematical expertise deprives students of essential formative experiences.

**“Group learning.” **Working in groups is not limited to just math classes. It has been a trend over the past two decades that shows no sign of letting up. Group work can be a healthy supplement to teacher-driven lessons or for highly social kids. But it is an inefficient way to get through a lesson in which new technical skills are to be learned. Here are four groups for which this approach is a particularly bad idea: (1) very poor performers—who shrink from participating and can panic at exposure among peers; (2) very high performers—who resent that others in the group look to them to carry the burden, (3) students with social handicaps—for obvious reasons; and (4) students with communication deficits—such as, but not limited to, having a different native tongue as classmates.

**The Prognosis **

Finding a cure for a system that refuses to recognize its ills has proven futile. Parents confronting school administrators are patronized and placated. School officials will agree and say something like, “Yes, students should learn math facts and procedures (and we do this!). Yes, teachers ought to actually teach, (and we do this!). And yes, students should do drills (and we do this!)” This is all followed with: “We use a balanced approach,” which is often followed with: “We’re saying the same things; we’re in agreement”

The purpose of these bromides is twofold: 1) to make everyone feel good, and 2) to make parents go away. Pressed to define what “balance” means, the reform camp will say, “Show why things work first to gain understanding; then use the understanding to teach traditional mathematical operations!”

Such statements reveal internal biases about priorities — priorities that intrinsically lack balance. Whether understanding or procedure comes first ought to be driven by subject matter and student need — not by educational ideology.

And in answer to the statement that we’re all saying the same thing: No. We’re not saying the same thing at all.

Why don’t those arguing for better math education (and who insist they are using a balanced approach) look at what those students are doing who are succeeding in pursuing majors in science, engineering or math? If they did, they would see students learning standard algorithms and practicing many drills and problems (deemed dull, tedious and “mind numbing”) and other techniques that they believe do not result in true, deep, and authentic understanding.

But such an outcome based investigation is not occurring. Some parents whose children are not doing well in math believe what they hear from school administrators that, “Maybe your child just isn’t good at math.” Parents who recognize the inferior math programs in K-6 for what they are get their children the help they need. Unfortunately, parents who lack the means have fewer options.

**Robert Craigen** is associate math professor at University of Manitoba and co-founder of Western Initiative for Strengthening Education in Math (WISE Math).

*Barry Garelick** has written extensively about math education in various publications including The Atlantic, Education Next, Educational Leadership, and Education News. He recently retired from the U.S. EPA and is teaching middle and high school math in California. He is co-founder of the U.S. Coalition for World Class Math. *

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]]>State Lawmakers in Arizona say that a bill allowing high school students to take a computer science course instead of required math course will make students more competitive for technology jobs. HB 2265 was introduced by Representatives Tom Forese and Ruben Gallego who said they came up with the idea after seeing an inconsistency in the amount of computer science jobs available vs. graduates who had the skills needed to obtain those jobs.

“You have this huge delta in terms of unemployment, yet the jobs of the future are already here and we’re not ready for them,” Forese said.

Forese says that the state’s public universities are not graduating enough science majors to keep up with demand of computer science jobs. Gallego says that business leaders have told him they would love to hire Arizona graduates but that they cannot fulfill the demand, causing businesses to recruit out of state. “Local workers would cost the company less, and then you’re employing people here in Arizona,” he said.

Rachel Leingang with Cronkite News Services reported on the bill, saying that according to Forese, the bipartisan effort shows that computer science is a valuable tool for the state’s students. It received a unanimous endorsement from the House Education Committee.

Arizona state law requires students to take four math credits.

The law says that “one credit that includes significant mathematics content as determined by the local school district governing board or charter school” may be used as a math class.

HB 2265 would allow school districts to make a computer science class one of the math courses required for graduation. The Arizona Board of Regents would determine whether or not those courses are acceptable for college admission. The Arizona Board of Education says in terms of the bill, they are neutral, but a statement from the agency implies they would not change for the school districts.

“Because of the wording of this rule, it is our position that a school district is already free to adopt a computer science course to cover this fourth math credit if they deem it to ‘include significant mathematics content,’ and the bill is not really necessary,” said the statement, attributed to Christopher Kotterman, deputy director of policy development and government relations.

Executive director of community relations for the Tempe Union School District says students are offered an Advanced Placement Computer programming course and an honors mobile device programming class taught by math teachers in exchange for math credits.

Gallego says he understands that some schools use computer science classes, but that “legislation would send a message at the state level and inform parents of the options their children have” and that the bill would “encourage students to learn a skill that could even get them a job right after high school”.

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]]>The post James Shuls: Students Display Deep Understanding by Getting Answers Correct appeared first on Education News.

]]>**by James V. Shuls, Ph.D.
Director of Education Policy, Show-Me Institute**

Fill in the blank: In math, what matters most is the ______. If you answered “the process,” you picked the answer supported by mainstream colleges of education and teachers throughout the country. If you replied “the answer,” give yourself a pat on the back because you are correct.

Think about it. When your accountant does your taxes, when the carpenter builds your home, when scientists conduct experiments, what matters most? I can tell you, it is not the process. If the accountant gets the wrong answer, you could be in big trouble with the IRS. If the carpenter’s measurements are off, your house could crumble. And if the scientist’s calculations are amiss, their findings are invalid. The answer matters most.

Unfortunately, too many in the field of education have given correct answers a bad rap and held up the process as king. Let me illustrate with an example. My second grade daughter has been working on many word problems this year as part of her school’s push to give “real world” examples. In the problem below, she correctly identified that the answer could be found by doing subtraction. That is, she needed to find the difference between the two numbers.

She used a standard algorithm and she got the answer correct — or did she? Not according to her teacher.

Grades are not assigned in second grade at my daughter’s school, but students are given a rating of one through four. These numbers coincide with: does not meet expectations, developing, meets expectations, and exceeds expectations. The problem solving skills that she displayed here probably deserved a “meets expectations.” Instead, she received the lowest rating possible.

Why? She did not follow the process. Interestingly, there have been other problems where she reached the wrong answer, but received a higher score.

This is not the first time I have taken issue with the math instruction at my kid’s school. Two years ago, when we were in a different school, in a different state, I pulled my children out of a school because of the math program. At that school, they used a discovery learning approach and shunned standard algorithms. When we moved, we chose our current school because the district embraces standard algorithms and explicitly teaches concepts. Though the curriculum and instructional strategies are completely different at the two schools, there is one underlying principle to which they both subscribe. They believe that getting the correct answer does not imply “deep understanding.” In the former school, students had to display their thinking in some form besides the standard algorithm. In the latter, students have to demonstrate their problem solving skills by following the prescribed process.

Both schools are amiss. When a student gets an answer correct, they are displaying deep understanding. They are displaying problem solving skills. Of course, there are times when a student may haphazardly stumble into a correct answer. That is not what I am referring to. What I mean, is that when a student can correctly identify the type of problem and can solve for the answer using some type of process, they understand the concept.

All of this is not to downplay the role of the process. The process matters tremendously. But as educators, we should not be so dogmatic about it. When we do so, we send mixed messages to kids and we prevent them from enjoying math. There are few things as discouraging as knowing you have done something right and then getting criticized nonetheless. Rather, we should celebrate correct answers and, when necessary, demonstrate more efficient methods or other ways of thinking about problems. This should be done while keeping in mind that what matters most is that our students have a method that works and is transferrable to other problems.

We continually tell students to “think like scientists” and “act like mathematicians.” Do you know what good scientists and mathematicians do? They get the answer correct. It’s time we elevate correct answers to their appropriate level of prominence and put the process in its place. The best way for students to display “deep understanding” is by getting answers correct.

**James V. Shuls**, Director of Education at the Show-Me Institute, earned his Ph.D. in education policy from the University of Arkansas. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Missouri Southern State University and a master’s degree from Missouri State University, both in elementary education. Prior to pursuing his doctorate, James taught first grade and fifth grade in southwest Missouri. His primary research interests are in the areas of school choice and teacher quality. His work has been featured in numerous media outlets, including: Phi Delta Kappan, Social Science Quarterly, Education Week, The Rural Educator, Education News, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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