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TERC Investigations – New Elementary ‘Math’ Curriculum

February 8, 2010

Here are some parents expressing their concern over this curriculum being implemented in their district in NJ 2 years ago.

Here is a explanation of this new method for this confused parents created by TERC.

If you don’t want to read the whole thing, I’ve highlighted my favorite parts.

“Homework is an important means of communicating with families. Teachers can use it to share ideas about what math content is important, give families the chance to see their children working mathematically, and offer a glimpse of how the children are learning and doing mathematics in class. In Investigations there aren’t homework sheets filled with rows and rows of addition or multiplication problems. Instead, there are sheets with one, two, or several problems, with plenty of room for children to show their solution process. Other homework consists of game directions and a score sheet or a request that children collect and record some data in a way that makes sense to them.”

I have personally seen this with a few of my students who bring me homework they need help on. They have only 4 problems, but it will take 20 minutes to do the ‘investigation’ instead the 2 minutes it should take. They couldn’t give too many problems as the children would never get all the homework done. I should note that this is usually a single sheet of paper with no other text and usually no examples. Even as a former secondary math teacher myself, I have to think as to how to explain their strange drawn out methods. Resisting my urge to teach the standard algorithms we use in Gideon, I try to show a quicker way of doing their method knowing that is how to get a good grade in school which is what the student is wanting. I can show her how to get to the correct answer easily, but if she doesn’t write out the long explanation, she won’t receive any credit. One particular student I’m thinking of resists doing the problems any other way than shown at school or even short-cuts on that method. So much for deep, multi-method learning! Considering how different this is from most parents’ own schooling, I wonder how other students’ homework gets done in a timely manner if any help is needed.

The clusters way is taught for doing higher multiplication problems like 42 x 15. In this method the student had learned to write out ALL the multiples of 42 until she got to 42 x 15. How efficient. This may be useful in showing the students another way of looking at it, but how could this be used doing more than 1 problem? It takes FOREVER!

“Parents who expect nightly sheets of computational drill may worry that this curriculum is less rigorous. In fact, what Investigations is aiming for — in homework assignments and in classwork — is a much deeper understanding of mathematics. Children may be solving fewer problems, but those few problems require more thought. It is often not immediately obvious how to solve the problems, and there are usually several possible methods. Often these assignments require several solution attempts, the refining of strategies, and a picture or diagram showing the problem and solution. When children must find ways to clearly explain a strategy, they must articulate — and therefore further clarify — key math ideas.”

I’m all for challenging students to think for themselves and figure out difficult problems. However, if they are bogged down taking 10 minutes to do a basic computation, how will they ever get through enough problems to develop mastery and confidence? Most children do not master anything after 5 problems – even if they write out a long explanation of how they did it.

How does anyone get better at anything? Practice – plain and simple.

Instead of encouragement to memorize facts, long roundabout strategies are given below. This is fine when first learning facts, but you can’t rely on this when doing Algebra I.

“For parents who express concern about “basic facts,” teachers can highlight how the children will work on learning these number combinations. Across the grades, children are asked to think about which facts are hard for them and to develop strategies for remembering them. In second grade, that process might look like this: “8 + 9 is hard for me to remember. But 9 is almost 10, just 1 less, and I know 8 + 10 is 18. I added 1 too many, so take 1 away, and I have 17.” In fourth grade, the process may sound like this: “I have a hard time remembering 8 times 7. But I know 7 times 7 is 49, and 8 times 7 is 1 more 7, and 49 + 7 is 56.”

A mathematician talks about how necessary rigorous discipline is needed for math education to produce the BEST.

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