Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Why one school chose Investigations

...and why I'm glad my son has already graduated!

Excerpts from an article entitled "Investigating Math," published in the school's "Studies in Education," recently sent out to all parents and alumnae (bold face added).

The big decision:

After two years of working with particular math programs, coupled with deep examination of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, the lower school decided to use Investigations in Number, Data, and Spaces [sic], a math program that not only provides the most appropriate mathematics sequence for elementary-age students, but also is aligned closely with our school's academic culture. Having a mathematics program that promotes high levels of critical inquiry is important.
Back then, when I was considering sending my daughter to this school, I asked whether they had also considered Singapore Math. The then-head of the lower school told me that they had considered considering it. "I can't remember why we decided not to," she told me.

Indoctrinating the teachers:
The lengthy implementation process provided a vehicle for the faculty to engage in a cycle of collegial, intentional, and continuous professional development. There were three types of professional development offered. One was a workshop developed by the authors of the curriculum. It familiarized teachers with the content of the curriculum and focused on the teachers' [sic] being mathematical learners themselves, as well as being facilitators of collaborative learning.
...Understanding the implications of talking as a vehicle for learning, the leaders of the workshop focused on how to orchestrate conversations that have students discussing math content, debating strategies, deepening their individual knowledge, while also extending the knowledge of the class as a whole.
Overall, the various approaches to professional development have had a significant impact on our teaching practices.

All..of these professional development opportunities and approaches exemplify [sic] the lower-school faculty's commitment to be a reflective [sic] learning community and to provide the best possible cohesive and comprehensive math education for our students.
Not all teachers are happy, and some sneak in supplemental material. A few, though, are true believers. When a friend of mine who happens to be a math expert questioned one of them, she become defensive and nasty.

Managing the parents
Once the new math curriculum was implemented in all the grades, we thought it time to formally share the excitement with all the lower-school parents. The first Math Night for Parents was organized to help parents learn more about our lower-school approach to teaching mathematics and to suggest ways that they could help their children at home.
Parents had the chance to actually experience the math curriculum by doing math themselves in order to see how it is taught in their children's classrooms and to experience how different (or not) it is from the way most of them learned math (often quite different from how the parents were taught!)

They then went off to classrooms to play some of the games that are a key component of our math curriculum. A group of teachers and teaching assistants was stationed in each classroom to teach the games, and after the parents played the games, to facilitate parents' discussion of the math content in the games and of the ways that they can support their children's math learning. ...

On Math Night parents played a variety of games, but they all played "Close to 1,000" [see here]. Afterwards the parents gathered together to process the experiences of playing that game...

"I was surprised that I enjoyed Math Night," said one parent. "When I found out that the parents would be doing the math games, I was a little nervous--math has never been my strength--but I had a blast playing with the other parents! The games are challenging, but not frustrating, and the process is social and fun. It was amazing to see that the school has found a way to teach math that actually makes it fun for the kids. I wish I had been taught math in this way."
Such sentiments aren't shared by the parents I happen to be acquainted with, but perhaps they are more mathematically capable (and/or appreciative of actual math) than this particular parent--who was the only parent whose reaction was cited.

Faculty reactions to Math Night
"The Math Night was great; it was fun to see the adults play with numbers and be surprised by the complexity of the underlying concepts. This has been a thoughtful, cooperative venture that has united the faculty and benefited our students."
[The only faculty reaction cited]

Faculty impressions of students:
"For me, the biggest change has been that children now speak about their math understandings in the same way that they might express their thoughts about a character in a story or the ideas uncovered in a poem. They describe their various paths to solution with enthusiasm, smiling as they say, 'This is the way the numbers make sense to me...' [They have developed an] ability to problem solve in a way that is not rote, but is based in number sense and their own exploration. It's a pleasure to support and guide them in their journey."

[From a veteran 2nd grade teacher.]
Fourth grade students seem ever so slightly less enthusiastic:
"The students are comfortable with their own thinking and ideas. They understand that a problem may have a specific answer, but they know that there are multiple ways to reach it. The children are able to dissect their thought processes using more specific math vocabulary. Although they groan at times when asked to write down their thinking, they are becoming much more fluent at expressing the ins and outs of their work. Most importantly, they realize that we (the teachers) value their methods and ideas. On so many occasions I have been amazed at the creative thinking of my students." 
The 5th grader who, as her mother tells me, keeps crying "I hate Investigations!" gets no mention.

This is one of the top private schools in the Philadelphia area, and it's striking how even it hasn't been immune to the math-dumbing effects of NCTM Standards--or from the mind-numbing double-speak they engender. We'll see how the private math tutoring industry fares when these students reach high school and parents start panicking. My math-expert friend, in fact, has already reworked her whole career around after-school remediation for Investigations victims. Business is booming and she's opening up satellite branches as Investigations proliferates around the greater Philly area.

"I love Investigations," she privately admits.


Anonymous said...

she privately admits...

Too bad she won't admit it publicly. It could make a good article.

Wayne Bishop said...

I am reminded of an experience with Sidwell Friends, DC's best (think Chelsea Clinton, Al Gore III, Obama's kids) with Everyday Math (and eventually went even worse to Investigations)…

A senior writer for U.S. News & World Report contacted me as a naysayer because she had convinced her editor to do an article on how many students, including her own daughter, were compensating - Sylvan Learning, Kumon, at home with Saxon Math, whatever - mad as hell and she wasn't gonna take it anymore. Seems that complaining was not taken well by the administration, "Perhaps your child would be more comfortable in a less challenging environment?" Underscored with a long waiting list of eager parents in spite of outrageous tuition. "Hanging the bell on the cat" was a serious risk but she was determined.

Several long phone calls and supplied evidence later the article appeared. Very positive for EM with me as the dismissible naysayer. She and/or her editor (his own kids?) had had a complete change of heart.

Wayne Bishop, PhD
Professor of Mathematics
California State University LA

Anonymous said...

So is TERC Investigations a cult?

momof4 said...

Several years ago, the Scarsdale NY (highly affluent Westchester County, commuting distance to NYC) schools switched to Singapore Math, starting in K or first grade. The change was driven by parent pressure; the same parents who had been sending kids to Kumon or tutors. It's a one-HS town system, so was more responsive than large systems. The article in the local newspaper included an interview with the director of the local Kumon, who admitted that he was going to need to change his marketing strategy.

Auntie Ann said...

Our kids' private school had the same "our way or the highway" approach to parent complaints as well. Nevertheless, they are slowly converting to SM--it's just the change comes to late for our kids.