Weekly Math Updates

September 20, 2006


  • Focal Points
  • Miracle Math by Barry Garelick
  • Former CA Governor's Wilson and Davis Comment on California's Standards
  • Kids' Math Help: The Story of Mathino
  • Age based tracking versus ability grouping in elementary school mathematics.
  • Media Articles
  • Can't get enough of me? (ha ha)
  • Weekly Comic

Hi all,

Another week has passed and it never ceases to amaze me how each weekly update always seems to be packed with so much stuff. What you do need to know this week is that with the NCTM caving to the realities of the rest of the world passing us by, there is still a lot of work left to do to ensure we have a solid system in ASD and Utah. I hope those of you in ASD are donating to Tim Osborne's campaign. Next month we will be looking for volunteers to go out to his precinct and stump for him (very natural for me). Here's a link to his address if you missed it last week:


I also just have to comment on how well done the Star Trek edit job was (if you're clueless at this point, follow that link to last week's update). They updated models and effects digitally but made them look almost identical to how they looked in the real episode right down to the swiss brand cheese of exploding ovals for the "proximity phasers." Nice touch. The Romulan plasma torpedo had some nice fluid glow effects. The best thing about watching it was my 3 and 6 year old both saying how much they enjoyed the show. I can now check-off that goal in life.

Focal Points

Last week we got the news that the Focal Points were "about-facing" the NCTM. Here's a link to them should any of you care to peruse them. I'll preface your adventure with, they're not perfect, but if you think some of them are bad or not clear, you should have seen them before.


"Miracle Math" by Barry Garelick


More goodness on the Singapore method of teaching math and the worthlessness of NCTM standards.

But the belief that the difference between Singapore Math and American math is just in the teaching or, as some suggest, the culture, is a rationalization, says David Klein, a mathematician at California State University, Northridge.“ Math reformers assume that math education is bad in the United States because the NCTM reforms were not properly implemented nor understood by teachers,” he continues. “They never consider the possibility that the NCTM standards themselves and the textbooks written for those standards are one of the causes of poor math education in this country.”

Former CA Governor's Wilson and Davis Comment on California's Standards


In a wonderfully bi-partisan effort, two political opposites agree. California has the best standards. This 8 page document starts with the former governor's warning the current "Governator" not to mess with the excellent California math standards.

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:
It has come to our attention that Sacramento is awash in misinformation about the recent history and intentions of California’s school reform strategy. While across the country many look to California’s standards as the best, confusion in Sacramento threatens the core of California’s program of school reform.

Then they address numerous assertions being floated in the community. I have picked two very relevant and timely ones. It's certainly refreshing to have some heavy hitters that were in charge of the world's 6th largest economic entity weigh in on the state of math in California.

Assertion: The instructional programs preferred by the State Board force teachers to follow a script that relies on “drills” to teach children or are too heavily reliant on books to guide instruction.

Facts: The best research available tells us that while a very few students may learn to master subjects with little guidance, most students require direct teaching and guided skill development to learn the building blocks of reading. (Just as most children won’t learn the piano unless they take lessons.) The instructional programs used in California to teach foundation skills such as reading and math provide teachers with teacher manuals, pacing plans, and other tools to help manage classrooms. This approach recognizes that students must build a robust foundation of skills and knowledge in order to seriously engage in critical and analytical thinking or experimentation and these instructional materials are critical tools in this process.

Assertion: California standards are too high and, by requiring topics such as Algebra, unfairly biased against students who have no interest in college.

Facts: While it was once true that Algebra was only needed for the college-bound, in today’s economy, Algebra is the gateway to not only college but to most vocational and technical-training programs that prepare students to earn a professional wage. Of course, there are ample jobs that don’t require Algebra, but few such jobs that would support a family. All students should be prepared for the full array of choices ahead of them; those choices should not be made for them by a school system that doesn’t ensure that all students are prepared.

Kids' Math Help: The Story of Mathino

This is one of those really cool stories you run across from time to time. In fact, it's odd because I got emailed the text of this story through the WMD comics site out of the blue this week and when I contacted the author of the article, he had no idea how it got to me. All I can say is, I'm glad it did and I'm trying to obtain the rules to the game this fellow developed. They're not on the web and only in available in printed form but I haven't yet received instructions on how to get the printed form. I'll keep you posted. Anyway, check out this fascinating story about the importance of playing with numbers.


Age based tracking versus ability grouping in elementary school mathematics

I found this interesting study on line that isn't too long and I think some of you are probably interested in this topic since many of the charter schools do this ability grouping. The article was written by an MSU professor, Mike Robison, in 1998. If you want the whole paper go here: http://www.msu.edu/user/robiso12/Grouping.htm. I have copied the conclusion here for those of you just wanting the story spoiled for you. :)


As indicated above, children learn at widely varying rates. Obviously, not all six year olds are at the same level in learning, but most schools continue to act as though they are, or insist that they should be. The literature clearly demonstrates the educational advantages of ability grouping for gifted students, and strongly suggests that students in other categories also benefit, given appropriate curriculum. I suggest a model of elementary mathematics education that moves rapidly away from age grouping, to grouping students by ability. Initially, students with less outside enrichment, for a given level of ability, might start at a more basic level. The elimination of provisions restricting access to material to certain age groups would allow highly capable disadvantaged youngsters to move up, based on ability, as illustrated by the Salt Lake example of Daniel and Cox.

All students would pass through a similar curriculum, with some allowances for enrichment. The primary difference would be pace. While some writers argue the need to keep gifted students around as "good examples" and others argue that this is both pointless and unfair (NECTL, Kulik, Silverman, Rogers, etc.) Bacharach, Hasslen and Anderson argue that older children in mixed age groups tend to take on leadership roles. It seems clearly unfair and unjustified to limit a child's opportunity to learn for adult's political goals, and to serve as some sort of example for other students. Since the groups consist of students at similar levels, this process counteracts the tendency for the outgoing gifted child to dominate cooperative group arrangements. Quoting M. Hunter (1964) from Daniel and Cox "Expecting all children the same age to learn from the same materials is like expecting all children the same age to wear the same size clothing."

Media Articles

Teacher training faulty, study says

Key recommendations from 'Educating School Teachers' (this one's so short I'm just pasting it below)

Recommendations from "Educating School Teachers," a report on how teacher training could be improved at colleges and universities:

      • Transform education schools from "ivory towers" into professional schools focused on school practice. Their fundamental purpose should be the education of teachers.

      • Make student achievement the primary way to judge teacher education programs. This would require each state to have data systems to track student progress over time.

      • Make five-year teacher education programs the norm. Teachers would need to complete a traditional major and then advanced study on how to communicate that subject to students.

      • Improve quality control. Accreditation standards should be rooted in student achievement. States should establish common standards for traditional and alternative teaching programs.

      • Close failing programs and strengthen promising ones. The report suggests top universities have a disproportionately large number of the good programs and that those should expand.

Can't get enough of me? (ha ha)

If over the course of time your brain has become sufficiently accustomed to my brand of humor and politics and you'd like an occasional item that's just for the heck of it, I send out maybe 1-2 other emails a week to friends and family regarding whatever the latest funny thing is I get sent as well as thing that fascinate me in the world of science and computers. If you'd like to get those emails, you can do it by following these directions:

Send an email to signmeup@oaknorton.com and on the subject line just put one of the following lines of text depending on if you want to get LDS tidbits forwarded on occasion or just be on the regular list.  You can quit anytime you choose.

join lds@oaknorton.com
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Click for LDS popup template. Click for regular list template.

Weekly Comic

Archive: http://www.oaknorton.com/weaponsofmathdestruction.cfm

Till next week,

Oak Norton


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