The post One Step Ahead of the Everyday Math Train Wreck appeared first on Education News.

]]>**by Barry Garelick**

The first math tutoring session with my daughter and her friend Laura had ended. I sat in the dining room, slumped in my chair. “You look sick,” my wife said.

“I am,” I said.

My daughter—subjected to the vagaries of Everyday Mathematics (1), a math program her school had selected and put in effect when she was in the third grade—was having difficulty with key concepts and computations. She was now in 6^{th} grade, and with fractional division, percentages and decimals on the agenda, I wanted to make sure she mastered these things. So, near the beginning of 6th grade, I decided to start tutoring her using the textbooks used in Singapore’s schools. I was familiar with the books to know they are effective (2). To make the prospect more palatable, I suggested tutoring her friend at the same time, since Laura’s mother had mentioned to me that her daughter was also having problems in math.

I figured I would start with the fourth grade unit on fractions which was all about adding and subtracting fractions, which they had already done, and then move rapidly into fifth grade, and start on the rudiments of multiplication. “This’ll be easy,” I thought. “They’ve had all this before in 4th and 5th grades.”

We only made it into two pages of text in the fourth grade book. I came to find out that despite their being in 6th grade, the concept of equivalent fractions (1/2 = 2/4 = 3/6 and so on) was new to them. This was the beginning of my attempt to teach my daughter what she needed to know about fractions while trying to stay one step ahead of the train wreck of Everyday Math (EM).

**Train Wreck Defined**

To understand why I refer to Everyday Math as a train wreck, I need to provide some context. First of all, some information about me: I majored in mathematics and have been working in the field of environmental protection for 36 years. I not only use mathematics myself, but I work with engineers and scientists which requires a fairly good proficiency in it.

Everyday Mathematics was developed at the University of Chicago through a grant from the Education and Human Resources Division of the National Science Foundation in the early 90’s. It has been implemented in many public schools in the U.S. Parents have often protested its adoption and in some cases have prevented it from being used, or succeeded in getting the program halted. For example, after a local parent group put pressure on the Bridgewater-Raritan Schools in New Jersey, a very comprehensive program evaluation was conducted (http://www.brrsd.k12.nj.us/files/filesystem/Math%20Evaluation%20Report.pdf) which resulted in a 9-0 school Board vote to replace Everyday Mathematics with a more balanced and traditional program, HSP Math by Harcourt School Publishers. In other cases (such as in Palo Alto, California most recently), it has been adopted despite protests from parents.

The Singapore math texts are part of the Primary Mathematics curriculum, developed in 1981 by Curriculum Planning & Development Institute of Singapore. Singapore’s math texts have been distributed in the U.S. by a private venture in Oregon, singaporemath.com, formed after the results of the international test TIMSS spurred the curiosity of homeschoolers and prominent mathematicians alike.

As I mentioned, my daughter’s school in Fairfax County, Virginia started using the program when she was in third grade. By fourth grade, I was seeing some of the confusion caused by EM’s alternative algorithms. This aspect of EM has been written about extensively so I won’t dwell on it here [*i, ii, iii*] except to say I wanted to make sure my daughter understood the standard algorithms for two-digit multiplication and for long division. Her teacher insisted they use the alternative algorithms offered by EM; she did not teach the standard algorithm for long division. Some of the teachers at her school offered tutoring services, so we hired one of them to teach her the standard algorithms.

The teacher/tutor did as we instructed and after four sessions, my daughter was excited to show me how she could do long division. She wrote out a long division problem but got stuck along the way when she didn’t know the answer to 28 divided by 7. Long division is predicated on students knowing their multiplication facts. My daughter was not alone in this; many of the students in her class did not know them. Perhaps her tutor had discussed what to do in such instances. It was apparent that whatever she told her was not to brush up on her facts, but rather go back to first principles, since my daughter was now drawing 28 little lines on the sheet of paper and grouping them by 7’s. I decided to inquire.

“WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING?” I asked. My daughter began to cry.

I felt bad about yelling. Later, my wife, daughter and I sat down and reached an

agreement. It was too expensive to keep on having her tutored– I had spent $200 so far on tutoring and really could not afford any more. We would therefore halt her tutoring and I would take over provided that I would not yell.

I helped her on an ad hoc basis. If she needed help, I would step in. The problem is that when she needed help, it was generally too late, and I would end up having to do damage control. One problem I was having was that EM does not use a textbook. Students do worksheets every day from their “math journal” a paperbound book that they bring home. Without a textbook, however, it is not always apparent what was taught—particularly when the student doesn’t remember. Any explanation that a student has received about how to solve such problems is done in class. The technique is contained in the Teacher’s Manual, but that is something neither students nor parents have. There is a student’s reference manual, a hardbound book containing topics in alphabetical order and which can provide some guidance, but does not necessarily cover what was said in class. Thus, there is no textbook a student (or parent) can refer to go over a worked example of the type of problem being worked. Worse, sometimes problems are given for which students have no prior knowledge or preparation. They appear to be reasonable problems—it is just not evident to the parent who steps in to help the struggling child that they have had little or no preparation for such problems. Then there is the issue of sequencing, or lack thereof—which I will discuss later.

By the time my daughter was in fifth grade, she would get a problem like 8÷0.3. They had not had fractional division, and limited work with decimals—certainly nothing like this problem before. A typical dialogue would then proceed as follows:

Me: What did the teacher say about how to solve this?

Daughter: I don’t know.

Me: Whattya mean you don’t know? You were there weren’t you?

Daughter: I don’t know what he said; he just said do the problems.

Me: Well, how do they expect you to do this? You’ve never had anything like this before. SO OF COURSE THEY GIVE YOU SOMETHING THAT YOU CAN’T DO AND YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO FIGURE IT OUT?

Wife: (offstage) what’s the yelling about?

Daughter: It’s OK, he’s not yelling at me.

Me: I’m not yelling at her.

Wife: (offstage) I heard yelling. Are you getting mad at her?

Daughter: He’s not getting mad at me; he’s mad at the book.

My daughter’s fifth grade teacher shared my disdain for EM and supplemented it heavily with photocopies of pages from an older textbook. I told him once in an email that I was not happy with EM and asked him his opinion. I’ve asked other teachers this question and they usually chose not to answer—perhaps out of fear for their jobs. I was surprised therefore when he responded: “I totally agree with you on everything you said about Everyday Math. It has been very difficult for me to use the book.”

Despite his knowledge and good teaching, there was still lack of a textbook and he was still consigned to the pacing and sequence of EM. I believe these factors contributed to the lack of knowledge about fractions exhibited by my daughter and Laura.

**The Long March to Fractional Division**

Knowing that in 6^{th} grade, they would learn fractional division, as well as decimals and percents, I feared a train wreck if I didn’t get to my daughter first. Given how little they knew about fractions during the first lesson, I felt that my fears were justified.

Fortunately, things progressed nicely with the two girls after that first lesson. But I only had about four weeks before they hit fractional division—not a lot of time. Therefore, I decided to teach each chapter on fraction in the Singapore Math, from 4^{th} grade to 6^{th} grade textbooks in a concentrated burst. Although I really should have started all this back in 4^{th} grade, doing it this way had an unexpected benefit: they saw almost immediately the connections between multiplication and division of fractions. This was no coincidence—the curriculum is very carefully sequenced. And while fractional division isn’t presented formally until the 6^{th} grade, students are working on aspects of fraction division long before they reach the 6^{th} grade. By the time students reach the 6^{th} grade unit on fraction division, they have done hundreds of these problems leading to an understanding of the meaning of and connection between fraction multiplication and division.

The heavy lifting with Singapore worked well; when they got to EM, it was a review. It was almost anticlimactic. It was a one page worksheet asking questions such as “How many ¾ inch segments are there in 3 inches?” After four such questions, the text presented a formula in a box in the middle of the page, titled “Division of Fractions Algorithm”. The algorithm was stated as a/b÷ c/d = a/b * d/c. Unlike in Singapore Math, there was nothing to connect any invert and multiply relationships to previous material. In fact there was nothing that appeared to lead up to this—just a rule to be memorized despite EM’s pledge to teach “deep understanding”. As I and many other parents I’ve spoken with have found, EM lacks the sequencing to pull it off; and that is the crux of the train wrecks that were to come.

**The Spiraling Train Wreck: Numbers with Points in Them**

Despite the victory with fractional division, the following week’s tutoring session left me slouched in my chair with my hand over my eyes.

“You look sick,” my wife said.

“I am,” I said. “Just when you think everything is going great, it isn’t.”

I had planned to focus on word problems in fractional division to cement in the concept, but apparently the day’s math lesson at school had confused Laura, and before my lesson could begin, she asked me the following question:

“I’m confused about something,” she said. “How do you get from a number on top and number on the bottom of a line into a number that has a point in it?”

I had her repeat the question a few times before I understood she was asking how you convert a fraction to a decimal. Now, Laura was bright and she knew what a numerator and denominator were, and what a fraction was, but apparently the EM lesson they were working on sprung this on them without warning

I wasn’t planning on teaching decimals that day, but seeing that the train wreck of conversion of fraction to decimal was upon us, I took this as a cue. Singapore presents conversions for the first time in the 4^{th} grade text [*iv*] showing 6 dimes divided into 3 groups yielding 2 dimes per group, which is expressed first as 6 “tenths” divided by 3 is 2 “tenths”. They then take it to the next step: 0.6÷3 = 0.2. After a few more similar problems, Singapore then introduces 2÷ 4 and shows a boy thinking “2 is 20 tenths.”

At the end of the unit they are solving problems like 2.4÷ 6, 3 ÷ 5 and 4.2 ÷7 as well as non-terminating decimals such as 7 divided by 3. What is striking about this lesson is that while its focus is decimal division, the lesson implicitly teaches how to convert fractions into decimal form by virtue of students having learned earlier that fractions are the same as division. That is, they have learned earlier that 1÷ 4 is the same as ¼. The lesson on dividing decimals was situated in the context of fractions—and treating fractions (i.e., tenths) as units—a unifying theme that extends throughout the Singapore series.

I’ve thought about why Laura could not understand the lesson at school, to the extent she could no longer recognize what a fraction was. I believe it is because while Singapore situates decimals in the context of fractions, EM situates decimals in the context of the unfamiliar. The EM program is predicated on the theory known as the “spiral approach”:

“The *Everyday Mathematics *curriculum incorporates the belief that people rarely learn new concepts or skills the first time they experience them, but fully understand them only after repeated exposures. Students in the program study important concepts over consecutive years; each grade level builds on and extends conceptual understanding.” [*v*]

This does in fact make sense considering that for most people a particular concept or task starts to make more sense after they have moved on to the next level. But this phenomenon occurs when there is mastery at each previous level. For example, I became fairly good at arithmetic and developed a deeper understanding of it after I took algebra; I fully understood analytic geometry after calculus and so on. Each previous bit of learning seems that much more apparent at the next level of understanding.

In EM, however, students are exposed to topics repeatedly, but mastery does not necessarily occur. Topics jump around from day to day. Singapore Math’s very strong and effective sequencing of topics is missing in Everyday Math. While Singapore develops decimals by building on previous knowledge of fractions, in Everyday Math, students are presented with fractions and decimals at the same time. The topic of conversion of fractions to decimals occurs in the fourth grade in the context of equivalent fractions, and is called “renaming a fraction as a decimal”. The “Student Reference Manual presents fractions that can easily be expressed as an equivalent fraction with a denominator of a power of 10 such as ½, or ¾. For fractions that cannot be directly expressed with power of 10 in the denominator, the Student Reference Manual provides the following instruction: “Another way to rename a fraction as a decimal is to divide the numerator by the denominator. You can use a calculator for this division. … For 5/8 key in: 5 ÷ 8; “enter”; Answer: 0.625.” [*vi*]

It is not surprising then that Laura would fail to see what was going on. Without knowing what the connection was between fractions and decimals, the fraction ceased being a fraction in her mind and was just a number on top and a number on the bottom with a line in between. And somehow that strange looking number got transformed into a number with a point in it.

**What the Casual Observer Doesn’t Know**

A casual glance at Everyday Math’s workbook pages does not reveal that there is anything amiss. The problems seem reasonable, and in some cases they are exactly the same type given in Singapore Math. What the casual observer doesn’t know is what sequencing has preceded that particular lesson, nor how that lesson is conducted in class. What is supposed to happen is that students are given a series of problems to work (in small groups). The Teacher’s Manual advises teachers to monitor students as they work through the worksheet and look to see if students can answer certain key questions. If a student cannot, it is an indication that the student needs more help. This means “reteaching”. Reteaching amounts to having students read about the particular topic of concern in the Student Reference Manual.

If the lack of proper sequencing, lack of direct instruction, lack of textbook and lack of mastery of foundational material prevents a student from making the necessary discoveries, he or she can be “pulled aside” and given material to read. So teachers are left with a three ring circus of kids getting it, kids not getting it, and are expected to “adjust the activity” as needed.

By the time EM gets to 6th grade, the workbooks are loaded with Math Boxes—the term for worksheet review sessions that come in the midst of a particular unit and consist of a mixture of problems from past years in the hope that the kids will finally master the material. Students get ever increasing amounts of Math Boxes. The expectation is that the nth time through the spiral is the charm. With EM, every day is a new train wreck of repeated partial learning.

**Connecting Home with School**

The danger of an “after schooling” program such as I was conducting is a tendency for the students to think of the math learned at home to be different or unconnected with the math learned at school. My goal of staying one step ahead of train wrecks worked to get to the topics first, so that by the time they got to it in school, they had seen it before. This was difficult since I was held hostage to EM’s topsy turvy sequencing and occasionally was forced to tackle things like geometry that came out of nowhere. All in all, the crash course that I cobbled together on fractions provided the proper framework to then work with Singapore Math’s lessons on percents, ratios, proportions and rates. The rest of the semester came without undue problems and both girls got A’s in the class I’m happy to say.

I’ve told this story to many people since it happened—mostly people who have asked me what to do when their school has a problematic math program. My last retelling was to my wife; it’s a recurrent theme in our house. We were reminiscing about when I had our daughter’s toy blackboard set up in the dining room, and I was teaching her and Laura the math they weren’t learning at school.

There was no need for me to finish the conversation, because the conclusion is always the same: Poorly structured math programs are not fair to students, parents or teachers. It is unfair to students because they are essentially attending another class after a fully day in addition to finishing their homework for school. It is unfair to parents who have to either teach their kids or hire tutors—and are held hostage to the school’s math program whether they like it or not. And it is not fair to teachers who are expected to teach students based on an ineffective and ill-structured program. Through no fault of the teachers, math taught via EM is math taught poorly. It is by no means easy to teach math correctly. But it is even harder to undo the damage by math taught poorly.

Many teachers do not realize that they have been given an unenviable and impossible task. In fact, I have spoken with new teachers who speak of EM and other poorly conceived programs in glowing terms, speaking of them as leading to “deeper understandings of math.” Some have said “I never understood math until I had this program.” But it is their adult insight and experience that is talking and creating the illusion that the math is deep. Children cannot make the connections the adults are making who already have the experience and knowledge of mathematics.

Through my experience teaching my daughter and her friend, I have come to believe that an essential requirement of textbooks is that they teach the teachers. This may happen to some degree with EM, but based on my experience with the program, not much gets transferred to the students. With Singapore Math or any well structured and authentic mathematics program, both teachers and students greatly benefit.

Shortly after this experience, I began taking evening classes at a local university to obtain certification to teach math after retirement. I have no illusions—I’m told that it isn’t easy. I’m not out to save the world—just to educate one child at a time. That said, I will remain forever grateful to my daughter and Laura for having taught me so much about fractions.

**References:**

[*i*] Braams, B. (2003). The many ways of arithmetic in UCSMP Everyday Mathematics. *NYC HOLD website.* February. http://www.nychold.com/em-arith.html

[*ii*] Braams, B. (2003). Spiraling through UCSMP Everyday Mathematics. *NYC HOLD website*, March. http://www.nychold.com/em-spiral.html

[*iii*] Clavel, M. (2003). How not to teach math. *City Journal,* March 7. http://www.city-journal.org/html/eon_3_7_03mc.html

[*iv*] Singapore Math 4A

[*v*] Everyday math; Education Development Center; Newton MA; 2001. Available at http://www2.edc.org/mcc/PDF/perspeverydaymath.pdf

[*vi*] University of Chicago School Mathematics Project; 2004. *Everyday mathematics. Student reference book. 2002. *SRA/McGraw-Hill; Chicago (p. 59)

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]]>The post Undoing the ‘Rote Understanding’ Approach to Common Core Math Standards appeared first on Education News.

]]>*by Barry Garelick*

A video about how the Common Core is teaching young students how to do addition problems is making the rounds on the internet: http://rare.us/story/watch-common-core-take-56-seconds-to-solve-96/

Much ballyhoo is being made of this. Given the prevailing interpretation of Common Core math standards, the furor is understandable. The purveyors of these standards claim that they neither dictate nor prohibit any pedagogical approach, but the wave of videos and articles sweeping the internet like the one above suggest the opposite may be true: that, in fact, the Common Core math standards *are *dictating how teachers are to teach math.

The method of “making ten” is not unique to Common Core. It is how it is implemented that’s the problem. The method is embedded (and explained by way of example) in **Standard 1.OA.C.6: **

*“**Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10. Use strategies such as… making ten (e.g., 8 + 6 = 8 + 2 + 4 = 10 + 4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13 – 4 = 13 – 3 – 1 = 10 – 1 = 9)….”*

The “making ten” method is included in the math program used in Singapore—a nation whose fourth and eighth graders have consistently obtained the highest scores in international math tests. Specifically, in Singapore’s Primary Math textbook for first grade, the procedure for adding by “making tens” is explained. Of particular importance, however, is that the procedure is not the only one used, nor are first graders forced to use it. This may be because many first graders likely come to learn that 8 + 6 equals 14 through memorization, without having to repeatedly compose and decompose numbers in order to achieve the “deep understanding” of addition and subtraction that standards-writers—and the interpreters of same—feel is necessary for six-year-olds.

“Making tens” is not limited to Singapore’s math textbooks, nor is it by any means a new strategy. It has been used for years, as it was in my third-grade arithmetic textbook, written in 1955 as shown in the figure below:

*(Brownell, et. al., 1955)*

The book did not insist on this method; it was introduced as a possible help. Students were required to use it in one set of exercises in my old textbook. Then it was up to the student whether to use it or not. As such, it served more as a side dish than the main dish it is turning out to be; in some cases, students discovered the method on their own. (I have written about this and other methods in a series on common sense approaches to the Common Core math standards: see here and here.)

What has been used as a help in older textbooks and in Singapore, is turning out to be a hindrance in the U.S. under the current interpretations of Common Core. Insisting on calculations based on the “making tens” and other approaches are in my opinion not likely to prove useful for all first graders. Teachers should be free to differentiate instruction so that those students who are able to use these strategies can achieve those goals. It is unrealistic and potentially destructive to interpret the Common Core math standards as requiring that all first grade students use these strategies in the name of “understanding”. That should be the real objection voiced to demonstrations of this method under Common Core—not the method itself.

The mantras of “students shall understand” and “explain” are what Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution calls the dog whistles of Common Core that are picked up on and responded to by the math reform movement. In my opinion, while not dictating particular teaching styles, the CC math standards have given the math reform movement that has been raging for slightly more than two decades in the United States a massive dose of steroids. Reform math has manifested itself in classrooms across the United States mostly in lower grades, in the form of “discovery-oriented” and “student-centered” classes, in which the teacher becomes a facilitator or “guide on the side” rather than the “sage on the stage” and students work so-called “real world” or “authentic problems.” It also has taken the form of de-emphasizing practices and drills, requiring oral or written “explanations” of problems so obvious they need none, finding more than one way to do a problem, and using cumbersome strategies for basic arithmetic functions.

The reform math ideology is in fact encouraged in the Common Core math standards in some suble and not-so-subtle ways. In particular, CC’s own documentation of the standards states that understanding is a major shift in how math should be taught:

*“The standards call for conceptual understanding of key concepts, such as place value and ratios. Students must be able to access concepts from a number of perspectives in order to see math as more than a set of mnemonics or discrete procedures.”*

Such philosophy plays into the math reformers’ unwavering beliefs that requiring students to master practices such as “making tens” will result in students understanding how numbers work—as opposed to just “doing” math. In fact, reformers tend to mischaracterize traditionally taught math as teaching only the “doing” and not the understanding; that it is rote memorization of facts and procedures and that students do not learn how to think or problem solve.

Because CC emphasizes understanding rather than just doing, it has become *the *way to teach math and has become synonymous with Common Core. Schools and administrators may resist an approach that does not require students to master a supplemental approach to help add numbers. This is because standardized tests—the mechanism of accountability for many in education—may require reform math approaches to math problems. The fear is that students will do poorly on such tests because they will not know how to write explanations that demonstrate the so-called understanding. But such thinking confuses cause and effect. Forcing students to think of multiple ways to solve a problem, or using “making tens” as a method to explain why, for example, 9 + 6 equals 15, does not in and of itself demonstrate understanding. Those who believe it does seem to be saying: “If we can just get them to do things that *look* like what we imagine a mathematician does, then they will be real mathematicians.” It is an investment in the wrong thing at the wrong time. The “explanations” most often will have little mathematical value and are on a naïve level since students don’t know the subject matter well enough. The result is at best a demonstration of “rote understanding.”

Interestingly, the nations that teach math in the traditional fashion seem to do quite well on tests like PISA, the international exam that is essentially constructed along reform math principles. Perhaps this is because basic foundational skills enable more thinking than a conglomeration of rote understandings.

**Reference:**

Brownell, W.A., Guy T. Buswell, I. Saubel. *“Arithmetic We Need; Grade 3”*; Ginn and Company. 1955

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]]>The post Texas Education Agency Delays Critical Math Test appeared first on Education News.

]]>The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced that this year’s fifth and eighth graders will not have to pass a high-stakes math assessment given at the end of the school year.

New curriculum standards for mathematics were initiated in the state in the spring of 2012 as part of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the statewide curriculum standards, but the system was not without flaws.

“There are substantial challenges associated with implementation of the revised mathematics statewide curriculum standards in the STAAR grades 3–8 assessments,” Education Commissioner Michael Williams wrote. “For the 2014–2015 school year, districts will use other relevant academic information to make promotion or retention decisions for mathematics.”

For only this year, students get a free pass on the state math exam, although they will still be required to pass the reading exam. Due to performance standards for the test not being set until the spring of 2015, the exam will only be offered once this year. The May and June offerings will be suspended.

Although the announcement officially came last week, Williams had previously suggested to districts to use other “relevant academic information to make promotion or retention decisions” in math for this coming year.

Students will still take the math exam this year, but the Student Success Initiative (SSI) will be suspended. In other words, their moving on to the next grade will not be dependent on receiving a passing grade.

Last year’s students collectively did not do well on the exam, with only 40% of eighth graders and 45% of fifth graders passing. According to the promotion law, students have three opportunities to pass the exams before being held back.

This is not the first time students have been allowed to graduate to the next grade without passing the exam. The first time was in 2012 when the new state assessment system was put in place.

Coincidentally, the TEA has also delayed the initiation of higher passing standards for the new state exams, STAAR. According to the TEA, if the standards were in place last year, only 14% of fifth graders and 9% of eighth graders would have passed.

“While I firmly believe that our students are capable of reaching the high expectations reflected in the TEKS and the STAAR performance standards, moving to a three-step phase-in plan gives educators additional time to make the significant adjustments in instruction necessary to raise the level of performance of all Texas students,” Williams said in a statement on Thursday announcing the decision.

Critics of the decision believe that the delays will cause students to perform poorly in their academic work.

“The standard needed to pass these tests is already very low and the commissioner has just lowered that passing standard to zero,” said Bill Hammond, the Texas Association of Business’ chief executive officer. “This is another example of going back on high standards, even if it is just for this school year.”

The new math curriculum will be taught for the first time this year.

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]]>The post Study: Tougher Math, Science Courses May Lead to More Dropouts appeared first on Education News.

]]>A study conducted by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis has found that dropout rates increase with a more rigorous course load. These findings are come as especially bad news since many high schools have ramped up their requirements for math and science, reports Jim Dryden from Washington University in St. Louis*. *

The research team said it was likely that the increase in math and science courses is linked to the increased drop out rates.

“There’s been a movement to make education in the United States compare more favorably to education in the rest of the world, and part of that has involved increasing math and science graduation requirements,” explained first author Andrew D. Plunk, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine.

However, many students were not prepared for in increase in math and science courses and felt overwhelmed and underprepared which lead them to drop out.

During the 1980s and 1990, many states required schools to have more stringent graduation requirements. The researchers looked at 44 states during that time and examined factors including sex, race, ethnicity, along with moving patterns together with the more difficult requirements to see how they effected educational success, reports Science 2.0*. *

There was no broad benefit found to raising math and science requirements. John O’Connor for State Impact writes Florida was one state that had increased the math and science requirements, with four math courses and three science courses. However, recently the state has backed away from those requirements, no longer making Algebra 2 a requirement. Students are no longer required to pass their final exams; instead the exams are worth 30% of their grades.

Some researchers believe that other factors beside more difficult learning requirements play a large role in drop out rates. Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham argues that it’s misleading to blame math for higher drop out rates, reports John Higgins from *The Seattle Times. *

He asserts research shows that motivation, self-control, social culture and the feeling of being connected and engaged at schools can be major factors as well.

The implications of high dropout rates go beyond the actual education. Research shows that a high school education is correlated with health.

“Individuals who drop out of high school report more health problems and lower quality of life. Higher dropout rates also can strain the welfare system, which can affect people’s health.”

Another ramification is the increase in crime that can occur. Areas with higher dropout rates also have higher crime rates. Another study found that if the country’s dropout rate could decrease by 1%3 then there would be 8,000 fewer assaults and 400 fewer murders.

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]]>The post Study: Math Success Aided by Knowing Facts, Freeing Working Memory appeared first on Education News.

]]>Dr. Kathy Mann, working for the National Institutes of Health, has discovered that children’s brains reorganize as they are learning math. That means experience does matter and drilling children at home on simple addition and multiplication really could pay off in the long run, says Lauren Neergaard writing for the *Associated Press.*

Children start making the switch from counting in their heads or using fingers to “fact retrieval” at about 8 0r 9 years-old. How well they make the transition from this to memory-based problem-solving will ultimately predict their math mastery. If a child does not make the transition well, they can have difficulties or a slow pace in their math learning down the line.

The question then becomes, what makes the transition difficult for some children?

That is what Stanford researchers wanted to know, and they began the quest by using a brain-scanning MRI on 28 children while they solved simple addition problems. When the children saw a math calculation such as 6+1=7, they were instructed to push a button to signal whether the answer was correct or incorrect.

What the researchers were looking for was how quickly they responded and which regions of the brain lit up when they responded. The scientists met with the students again and observed the children to see if they moved their lips or counted on their fingers and compared the brain data. The students were tested again about one year later. As the subjects got older, their answers were based more on memory, the answers were faster and more accurate, and the changes showed in the brain.

The part of the brain that relays information when new data come in – short-term working memory – and then sends it to the longer-term memory area where it is stored for retrieval is the hippocampus.

“The stronger the connections, the greater each individual’s ability to retrieve facts from memory,” said Dr. Vinod Menon, a psychiatry professor at Stanford and the study’s senior author.

When Menon put 20 adult and 20 adolescents in the MRI he found that the hippocampus hardly came into play, and answers were practically automatic from long-term storage. The brain becomes much more efficient over time. When your brain can solve simple math quickly and easily, it has more working memory free to process more difficult math.

“The study provides new evidence that this experience with math actually changes the hippocampal patterns, or the connections. They become more stable with skill development,” she said. “So learning your addition and multiplication tables and having them in rote memory helps.”

These findings probably carry over to other subject areas. One example is that children who learn to match the sounds of letters with the letters themselves learn to read more quickly. Researchers hope to be able to study why this system does not work for students with math learning disabilities.

The study, from the Stanford University of Medicine, was published this month online at *Nature and Neuroscience*. Erin Digitale of the medical school’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs said some of the findings were a bit of a surprise to the researches.

“It was surprising to us that the hippocampal and prefrontal contributions to memory-based problem-solving during childhood don’t look anything like what we would have expected for the adult brain,” said postdoctoral scholar Shaozheng Qin, PhD, who is the paper’s lead author.

*ZeeNews* of India quotes Dr. Menon:

“This work provides insight into the dynamic changes that occur over the course of cognitive development in each child,” said Vinod Menon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences and the senior author of the study.

“The hippocampus provides a scaffold for learning and consolidating facts into long-term memory in children,” Menon added.

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]]>The post Study Shows Link Between Music and Learning Retention appeared first on Education News.

]]>New research from Dr. Nina Kraus at Northwestern University suggests that musical training can improve reading skills in children.

The research, being presented to the American Psychological Association, involved hundreds of children in poor areas of Chicago and Los Angeles, all areas with dropout rates of around 50%. All children in the study had similar reading levels and IQs.

One-half of the children were given music lessons for at least five hours each week. The other half were given no musical training. Those that took part in the lessons held constant in their reading skills, while the same skills of those with no training declined.

A decline in reading skills is typically seen among children in impoverished areas, furthering the educational gap, reports Samantha Abramowitz for PBS.

“While more affluent students do better in school than children from lower income backgrounds, we are finding that musical training can alter the nervous system to create a better learner and help offset this academic gap,” said Dr. Kraus.

A second grouping belonging to the Harmony Project, a group that provides instruments and free music tuition to deprived children in urban settings, participated in band or choir lessons at school each day.

After two years of researchers recording their brainwaves in order to discover how the children responded to speech sounds, Dr. Kraus found that those who participated in the music lessons had faster and more accurate responses when distinguishing between sounds in noisy environments such as a classroom, than did the group who had no such musical training.

“Research has shown that there are differences in the brains of children raised in impoverished environments that affect their ability to learn,” Dr. Kraus said.

According to Dr. Kraus, “Music automatically sharpens the nervous system’s response to sounds.” This “remodel” of the brain allows for a stronger connection between sounds and their meanings.

A separate paper from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and the University of Maryland, College Park reports that music aids in the development of language skills.

The paper looked into infants and the way they learn language. Co-author Anthony Brandt said “infants listen first to sounds of language and only later to its meaning.” He refers to those sounds as “the most musical aspects of speech.”

“As adults, people focus primarily on the meaning of speech. But babies begin by hearing language as “an intentional and often repetitive vocal performance,” Brandt said. “They listen to it not only for its emotional content but also for its rhythmic and phonemic patterns and consistencies. The meaning of words comes later.”

The paper was published online in this month’s issue of *Frontiers in Cognitive Auditory Neuroscience*.

“We’re spending millions of dollars on drugs to help kids focus and here we have a non-pharmacologic intervention that thousands of disadvantaged kids devote themselves to in their non-school hours — that works,” Harmony Project founder Margaret Martin said.

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]]>The post Montgomery County, Maryland Students Fail Math Exam in Record Numbers appeared first on Education News.

]]>Over one-half of the students in Montgomery County, Maryland failed their math final this year, leaving school officials baffled.

According to state figures, 61% of high school students failed the algebra exam, and 67% failed the geometry final. The statistics are not much better in the honors level, with about one-third of students failing.

Middle-school students, who have in the past done extremely well on tests, did not fair much better with 23% failing. That percentage is almost double last semester.

Out of 19,000 students, 11,000 in total failed their math exams.

These pass/fail rates are not normally released, but an exception was made after parents began comparing scores, causing the Rockville Parent-Teacher-Student Association to ask school officials to investigate the issue.

Parents are concerned their children are not being taught well enough to pass the exams.

“That’s where these kids are being short-shifted, because if they didn’t learn what they needed to learn, they don’t have a base,” Catalina Schrader, whose daughter took the Algebra 1 exam in June as a middle school student, said.

According to Superintendent Joshua Starr, a group will meet this summer to look into the issue, examining teaching, student support, and how well the exams coordinate with the curriculum.

School officials also offered to add 15 percentage points to scores for the Algebra 1 exam, as well as offering free summer sessions and retesting.

“I don’t know what other choice we had than to curve those grades,” said School Board Vice President Patricia O’Neill. She and others said they did not want Montgomery students penalized for problems not of their making. “We can’t hold children accountable for adult problems.”

One teacher at Silver Spring International Middle School went so far as to post the scores without student names. The highest grade was 65%, with only four students earning a passing grade.

Middle school students must pass the exam, worth 25% of their final grade, in order to gain high school credit for the course. Those extra 15 percentage points meant that 758 students throughout the district were able to earn a passing score on the exam.

However, worries continue that the students did not get the support they needed to succeed in Algebra 2 next year.

“Is the problem that they are not getting the content, or is it that the testing is not aligned with what they learned?” asked Schrader. “By adding 15 points, do you really get to the problems or are you glossing over whatever the problem might be?”

Officials are placing the blame on spending more time in preparing students for the state tests that were necessary for graduation and less time on course content. Schools also closed due to the weather, causing classes to lose even more study time. Between the two issues, classes lost two to three weeks of time.

“We have a new curriculum we’re implementing, and that curriculum is not completely aligned,” Erick Lang, Montgomery’s associate superintendent for curriculum and instructional programs, said.

This year marks the first for the curriculum of the Algebra 1 class to have been based on Common Core standards.

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]]>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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