Sunday, November 13, 2005

Math-challenged child does CMP

Fuzzy math is being rammed down people's throat and reasonable requests to provide an alternative are being denied.

From the NYT's Penfield article:

By last spring, these parents had discovered one another and their common exasperation with constructivist math. Jim Munch's father, Bill, a software developer at Kodak, drew up a petition asking the Penfield schools to offer pupils the option of taking traditional math. Nearly 700 residents signed it. Last June, the Board of Education turned down the request.
Giving parents a choice between fuzzy and real math is the democratic thing to do and is also a good political strategy. It should satisfy everyone. It's an inoffensive offensive. But I doubt that zealous educationists in a position of power will go along (and don't as the example above shows). Being responsive to reasonable popular wishes is not their thing. I also suspect that many parents are not conversant with the real vs. fuzzy math issues and won't know what to do with choice.

Just yesterday I talked to a parent of a sixth grader I am tutoring in math who had no clue of fuzzy math. (I tutor disadvantaged kids after hours in addition to my regular classes.)

I was helping the kid do homework. Part of the homework required the young girl to cut a sheet of paper into strips to make various fractions. The parent was aghast and thought it was a time-waster. I had to explain the purpose of the exercise. It was all news to her.

The school the kid is in uses the fuzzy math series Connected Math. The homework assignment was quite demanding and way beyond this pupil's abilities. She had neither a conceptual understanding of the task nor the requisite tools (computational skills, procedural knowledge, math facts) to accomplish the task had she had a conceptual understanding of the problem.

This is a key problem with fuzzy math. It is quite pretentious on the one hand, and refuses to teach the necessary skills on the other. The result: the kid was hopelessly drowning and getting straight F's.

Now what was the task? It was a real-world problem.

A class was holding a fundraiser to raise $300.00 in ten days. The progress was shown in the form of thermometers showing progress in two-day increments. The thermometers were all 8 1/2 inches long and showed the money raised so far on the various days in red. The fraction strips were to be used to determine the amount of money raised so far on the various days and then to plot the progress in a coordinate plane. The pupil was to make the strips and mark fractions from 1/2 to 1/12 on the various strips, and then use the strips for measurement.

Making fractions strips of 1/2, 1/4 and 1/8 is of course easy. It's not so easy to come up with 1/3, 1/5, 1/7, 1/9, 1/12. You could do time-consuming trial-and-error folding. Or you could divide 8 1/2 by the denominator of the various fractions if you know how (the child didn't know).

Even if you can get the numbers they don't work well with an inch ruler. You could approximate. Suppose you (meaning the kid) could accomplish all that. Then what?

The goal of the assignment is to come up with dollar amounts derived from the thermometers and then to plot these amounts over time (fundraising progress).

How are you going to derive dollar amounts if all you have is an 8 1/2 in long thermometer (representing $300) and a red bar on the thermometer without any numbers, marks or gradations (the length of the red bar represents the money raised so far)?

You could measure the red bar in inches, form a ratio (the red bar to total thermometer length ratio), calculate the decimal, multiply the decimal by 300.

However, the assignment calls for measuring the red bar with the "fraction ruler". Then you would know what fraction of 8 1/2 the red bar represents. You can then multiply the fraction by 300 to get the dollar amount. All this without instructions in CMP and without computational skills and procedural knowledge.

This is too complicated and frustrating for a math-challenged child who needs to learn at her level and make steady progress.

No wonder the kid is drowning. What a tragedy.


Dan Edwards said...

We recently held our early Fall Parent Teacher Conferences. As usual, I had several parents ask me why their child, who tests in the 98th + percentile in math, cannot take algebra as a 7th Grader. And, why GATE classes were limited to just language arts. As usual, I had to tell them to talk to the principal about it, encourage their child to ask for a higher level of work from their teachers and try not to get too bored with the basic math they teach 7th Graders (or as they call itl, Pre-Algebra). And, to use the internet to find algebra instruction their child can work on/practice at home.

Schools strive to teach to the loweest level of students. Guess they are not concerned about LEAVING BEHIND our best and brightest kids.

I have personally spoken to our local elem. school board about offering GATE classes at ALL of their elem. schools, not just at the lowest performing schools (and bussing the GATE kids to that school, partially in hopes of bringing up that schools dismail test scores.

Anonymous said...

I read your blog as a concerned parent. I'm also a school librarian. Look at this article from Edutopia:

I now read articles like this and cringe.