Weekly Math Updates

October 20, 2005

Topics this week: (actually this is a two week issue as I'll be gone next week)
  • Mythmatical Battles
  • October School Board Meeting in ASD (Alpine School District)
  • Great Article--Saxon observations in CA
  • Multiple Curricula Reviewed
  • Principals need to hear from you--so they say
  • Bulk Mailout

Hi all,

    I'll get to the progress report in a minute, but let me just thank those of you making the effort to spread the word.  Every petition signature helps.  Many people just don't even know we're doing a petition and sometimes one of you mentions it to someone and we pick up someone full of steam to help sign people up.  So thank you for your efforts.  Please keep it up, you are doing good passing the word on to others and it truly helps put pressure on the school board to know we're not giving up in our drive to fix this math problem (it's actually a pretty easy problem even though it's a word problem..."Investigations").

Mythmatical Battles

OK, remember when I said I had a special offer for you?  I've negotiated a special deal with the publisher on this card game for everyone interested.  For the next 30 days, you can purchase this $15 game and $5 S&H and get your S&H for free.  A 25% savings.  All you have to do is type my name, "Oak" into the special instructions box when you check out.  Below is my review of the game and a link to this company's store.  You'll have to pay full price when you checkout, but then with my name in the box after the initial checkout screen, they'll refund your S&H charge.  If someone from the school is reading this, they also have a bulk discount for larger quantities.  This offers expires November 20th.

My Review:

If you've got children in grade school, I highly recommend this game.  The other night I played a game with my 5th grader (who wasn't excited at all about playing a math card game).  By the end of the game I think she had done somewhere between 200-300 multiplication problems and didn't complain about it once.  In fact, when it was over, she wanted to play again.

The game takes an ancient culture's myths and create cards for each of the gods, monsters, heros, and "minions" from that set of lore.  The set we purchased was the Egyptian and Norse set and there's also a Greek/Celtic set.  Each card has it's own attack and defense scores as shown by multiplication problems at the bottom of the card.  A player lays out their character cards on the table and they stay there until defeated.  You also have bonus cards like weapons that modify the attack or defense scores so on a particular turn, a player may announce Thor is attacking Isis with a strength of 40(doing 5x8 in their head), and the other player says they're defending with a rating of 36 (9x4), so the attacking player captures Isis.  The game is further enhanced by special abilities on the cards much like the popular trading card games kids are playing like Pokemon and Harry Potter.  So if you lay down Loki and one of his children, the "child" gets a +10 bonus to attacking when Loki is on the field, thus prompting additional math calculations.

If you've got younger children that haven't mastered (or been taught) multiplication facts, you can either use the enclosed math grid to look up answers (which would mean slower playing), or convert the multiplication signs to addition and work on those skills.  It's a brilliant game that reinforces math in a fun way where the kids don't realize they're drilling problems.  An added benefit is the children are learning about ancient cultures and learning some tricky names like Hatshepsut and Neferkaptah.  So if you can't tell, I give the game an A+.

Purchase Mythmatical Battles here: http://www.mythmaticalbattles.com/

October School Board Meeting in ASD (Alpine School District)

    Last week I went and spoke at the School Board meeting along with three other people that have signed the petition.  One of them was a high school student that did a great job explaining why he was a “victim of Investigations math” and why it ought to be removed.

    I had two main purposes for speaking to the board.

    The first was to let the board know we had almost 4% of the district on the petition representing 700 families and 2000 children.  I said I didn’t believe we’d reached more than 10-15% of the district yet and if we multiply by a factor of say 10, that would be 40% of the population on a petition to remove these math programs.  So I asked how many names we needed to get before they’d change.  I don’t know that I’ll get an answer on this one.

    Then I brought up the fact that many teachers are fearful for their jobs if they teach non-investigations math.  Many are keenly aware of the initial pressure the district brought on teachers to do this program and nothing else.  Some people were let go and it’s got current teachers nervous.  I asked if the board could put out a statement just reassuring the teachers that no one is in any danger of losing their job for teaching the children non-investigations math.

    When I sat down, the board made a statement (which they don’t normally do—they tell you they’ll get back to you later—In this case they made an exception).  They gave the same old answer about the math program that they are committed to a “balanced math” program (which at this time means 90% Investigations and 10% traditional math fact drilling).  Then the superintendent and board president took turns chewing me out for suggesting teachers had lost their jobs over teaching non-investigations math and stated I’d better be careful reporting such erroneous things.  After their monolog, one board member, asked if the board couldn’t make a statement that no teacher was in danger of losing their job.  The superintendent immediately responded with a strong “absolutely” and continued to state that no one should be in any fear of reprisal or reprimand for teaching the children what they feel is necessary to the student learning.

    I must say I was a little taken aback by their comments.  I personally know one person, and have the names of a few others that left employment in ASD either by being pushed out or having differences with administration and leaving of their own choice.  I chose not to stand up and announce that I had names, because the bigger issue for me was just getting the board to calm current teachers’ nerves that they are in no danger of being fired and in that respect they really gave me just the response I wanted.  Hopefully the board will be making a district wide statement, but in the absence of that, yesterday I got permission from my local principal to put a letter and a flyer in the mail box of every teacher at my children's elementary school letting them know they are in no danger of losing their job over the math program and that numerous parents don't like Investigations.

    One funny thing at the board meeting was a wonderful 48-year veteran teacher was being honored with a plaque and while I was in the hall speaking with a few people that showed up and shared their experiences on the math issue, she quietly left the meeting hall and came out to tell me that on more than one occasion she had closed her classroom door to teach traditional math concepts like the times tables, and she felt fear of reprisal if people knew she was doing it.  I have personally heard from teachers that live in fear even now that if they break rank they will get in trouble.  Please spread the word.

Great Article-Saxon observations in CA

This morning I received a great article which I'm attaching where a Cal State math professor tracked school progress from 1998 to 2002 when California went off the disastrous Mathland program (almost identical to Investigations--removes times tables, discovery learning, etc...) and many of the schools switched to Saxon math.  A study was done to see the grade effects of the curriculum change.  The low SES (socio-economic status) schools AND the high SES schools both showed major improvement after switching from Mathland with low SES schools TRIPPLING in scores and the high SES schools increasing over 20%.

For example, in a low SES school, follow the colors as specific groups progress from the time of the switch to Saxon.  2nd graders went from 19,29,36,46, to 59%.

Baldwin Park USD  SAT-9 Math Ave NPR

Grade 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002

   2       19     30     43     48     57

   3       22     29     49     53     59

   4       23     24     36     45     50

   5       25     29     34     46     51

   6       38     42     48     52     59          

Then in a high SES school:

Manhattan Beach USD  SAT-9 Math Ave NPR

Grade 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002

   2       74     82     89     93     92

   3       79     81     87     92     93

   4       81     82     82     87     92

   5       83     85     88     87     92

This is a pretty remarkable achievement and it was repeated all over the state.  Check out the attachment for more schools and scores. 

Curricula Reviewed

For anyone interested, this page has a summary of reviews of various math curricula for grades 2, 5, and 7.  Not surprisingly is the Dale Seymore programs all got an F grade.  The top program is SRA direct instruction.  When used in Wesley Elementary in Houston, this program produced shocking results taking a 99% low-income minority school to the 80th percentile for both math and reading.  Here's a clip from the study and a link if you want to read more about it:

 "The package, implemented systematically in grades K-3, proved so potent that even when it was abandoned after the third grade it still had measurable, statistically significant effects on high-school graduation and college acceptance - an advantage of at least 10 percentiles." http://www.jefflindsay.com/EducData.shtml

Principals need to hear from you

I just heard from a parent that spoke with their principal (Freedom Elementary) that the principal hasn't moved the school off of Investigations math because he hasn't heard complaints from any parents.  Well I don't need to tell you what to do here.  Last week at Highland elementary where my kids go, I spoke at length with the principal and took in the Singapore math workbooks my kids use to show how much better they are than the Investigations math assignments.  He even agreed that some of the homework his children bring home from school has been pretty weak and he's somewhat open to change IF HIS TEACHERS WANT TO CHANGE.  So I got his permission to give the attached letter to all the teachers which I did this week since next week they make curriculum decisions for the school.  You can do the same at your school.  Teachers need to know they're empowered and can bring changes about.

Bulk Mailout

I've emailed before that our radio campaign went well.  We paid $450 for the ads and signed up over 100 people resulting in a cost per petition of under $5.  Now we're going to try a bulk mailout of our flyer and a pointed letter specifically targeting homes in the district where there are children under 18.  We'll start with homes where we know there are children in 5th grade or less since that's the Investigations math range and then move up to older kids in the home.  To do this we need your help.  Some of you helped pay for the radio ads, some couldn't, and some didn't.  It is important that we bring news of this petition to as many people as possible to bring pressure on the district right now, and then if we can't effect change with the current board, to have a petition list as big as possible to vote next year to throw out 4 of the 7 board members that are up for re-election next year.  With 4 new people on the board that want a math curriculum change, it WILL happen.  We need those votes.  Please make as generous a contribution as possible to TeachUtahKids.com.  Go to their website and help pay for this mailout.  If we received $5,000 we could actually do a mailout to almost every home in the entire school district after the generous discount I've negotiated with a marketing company willing to help out in this cause.  That means each of you would need to contribute just $10 and we could do it.  Since only a tiny fraction of you will actually put money toward this, we need those of you willing to contribute to do as much as you can.  I'll pledge another $100.  If we could reach the entire district, the noise we generate would be huge.  Please donate today at http://www.teachutahkids.com/radioad.asp.  Please do not send me money directly, it needs to go to Teach Utah Kids.  We are working on getting it approved as a 501c3 so all donations will be tax deductible!!!

Till next time,

Oak Norton

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