Weekly Math Updates

October 25, 2006


  • Legislature and Milgram, Part 2
  • Alpine Bond Information
  • Utah's Remedial Math Rates (Horror Story)
  • Homework, the Aftermath
  • Dual-Enrollment Story
  • Media Articles
  • Funniest Soccer Video (non-math)
  • Weekly Comic

Legislature and Milgram, Part 2

Last week after reporting on the committee meeting, I forgot to share a funny story that occurred while I was at the meeting. Not wanting to miss anything, I sat on the front row of the chamber. As people started filling in, I found people directly on each side of me. To the left I had the three individuals from West Ed (who if you remember last week's update got their tails handed to them on a warm platter). To my right was a member of the state school board in attendance.

During David Wright's presentation, one of the West Ed fellows, obviously not happy about being shown to be so wrong, thought he'd take a dig at Senator Mark Madsen who had just commented that he has used both Singapore and Saxon math in his home to teach his children. The West Ed guy leaned over to me without a clue who I was, probably thinking I was an impressionable young mind affiliated with the state school board and said, "there's no evidence Saxon math works."  (quick pause while I pushed down a laugh) I quietly replied back, "actually there's a study that was done in California that showed Saxon math trippled the scores of schools that left the Mathland curriculum."  I don't think he expected that reply from someone and a little indignantly said, "was the study conducted with a proper random sample?"  I replied, "actually it was a 100% sample study of all schools that left Mathland and adopted Saxon." He then sat up straight and began listening to the presentation again. I don't pretend to know a lot about a variety of studies and curriculum, but that was the wrong curriculum to pick on sitting next to me. :)

Another thing I forgot to mention last week was during Dr. Milgram's presentation at BYU, he brought up something very interesting. He talked a little about how kids get to college and don't excel. He asked the question why that was and I thought his answer was insightful. He said kids are battered in grade school by being forced along at the same speed. They've lost their curiosity and interest in math. It's another reason the dumbed-down curricula the NSF and NCTM have endorsed and pushed for so long have destroyed our nation's tech culture. We teach for the bottom 20% of students so we "leave no child behind." (The other 80% of the kids who are bored to tears in class we diagnose with ADHD and medicate them because they've got a problem with sitting still)

Alpine Bond Information

Alpine School District has broken the law in promoting the bond instead of just informing about it by having school employees promote the bond on school time with school equipment. This article in the Deseret News details the action:


Two more points. First, the Friends of Orem School District (FOSD) are opposing the bond and are looking for someone in the following cities to help: Alpine, Cedar Hills, American Fork and Pleasant Grove. If you live in one of these cities and are willing to help, please email them immediately at the address just below.

Second from the FOSD, an anonymous donor will match individual contributions up to $300 for lawn signs for the Bond issue. This will allow them to purchase 100 lawn signs which are needed to place in high traffic areas around Orem this weekend. If you are able to help place signs or to purchase signs, please contact FOSD ASAP.

Thank You,

The Friends of Orem School District

contact FOSD by emailing: oremschooldistrict@mac.com

Utah's Remedial Math Rates (Horror Story)

We've all heard remedial math rates are on the rise in Utah's colleges, but I had no idea just how high they were even though I've kept my eyes peeled for such information. Last week I got the scoop. It appears UVSC and SLCC have remedial math rates at 66% and 69% respectively. California in its heyday of mathmatical illiteracy reached 54% (though some accounts say localized numbers were over 80%) and then dropped to the bottom of the country in math skills. Utah is on the edge of the precipice and leaning over to get a better look at the bottom of the gorge. It is critical that the state take immediate action if we are to avoid even further economic costs by non-action. Heads should roll. The state department of education and state school board should have those responsible for this removed from their positions immediately and have better qualified people put into their positions.

This document is a quick summary of how California's standards were weakened, parents got involved with professionals, standards were raised, the state is moving up and in time will regain it's place as one of our top mathematical states.

Homework, the Aftermath

The last couple week's I have mentioned Orson Scott Card's story on why kids shouldn't have needless homework and they should have a chance to be kids. I got an email from Steve Whitehouse taking me to task for promoting kids shouldn't have homework. I'm going to include Steve's letter here and my comments back to him below it.

Hi Oak,

I read Orson Scott Card's articles on homework and I was actually surprised that you promoted them on your mailing list.  I agree that some schools and teachers may be assigning useless homework or excessive homework. I agree that five hours a night for a high school student is excessive.

However, to conclude that there should be NO homework before middle school and very little after is wrong. After studying Saxon Math, I would think that you would see the value of homework when it has a specific purpose.

There is a plethora of research that shows that homework is indeed effective and extremely beneficial when it is used appropriately and reasonably.  In fact the majority of research shows that homework is indeed valuable.

I frankly feel that Card's articles were irresponsible. It seemed like he was venting. I understand that. I have done that before! However, they were quite one sided and not balanced. Here is an excellent summary of the research on homework:

"Research indicates that homework in general is extremely beneficial for students.  The supporting research is somewhat dichotomous indicating (1) objective benefits ascertained from standardized test scores, and (2) subjective benefits ascertained from parents, teachers, and the students themselves.

"…[H]omework's effect on achievement can be described most accurately as above average," claims Harris Cooper in "Homework Research and Policy: A Review of Literature." (March 2000)  Cooper indicates that, of twenty studies completed since 1962, fourteen are pro-homework.  Of fifty studies correlating the time on homework with student achievement, Cooper states that forty-three of the studies showed students who did homework had better achievement.  A typical homework-completing high school student, according to Cooper's research, will outperform students who do not do homework by 69% on standardized tests.

Here are recommendations given about homework, which, if followed would resolve Card's concerns.


  • Schools in which homework is routinely assigned and graded tend to have higher achieving students.
  • Traditional homework assignments (pencil/paper work, preparatory reading assignments, etc.) in the early school years are not very effective and should be given sparingly, possibly not at all in primary grades.
  • Elementary grade homework should focus on establishing study habits and learning skills.
  • There is general agreement that the amount of homework increases significantly as a student progresses through school.
  • Homework should be necessary and useful, appropriate to the ability and maturity level of students, well explained and motivational, and clearly understood by students and parents.
  • Students complete more homework when teachers make it central to course work, collect it routinely and spend class time reviewing it.
  • Homework should be tied to current subject matter, assigned in amounts and levels of difficulty which students can complete successfully and should be checked quickly, with feedback to students.

Giving homework on a regular basis may increase achievement and improve attitudes toward learning.

I am attaching the reference to this and also another excellent article on homework.  I hope you will print this information in your newsletter in order to be fair to parents, students, and teachers.

http://www.nwrel.org/scpd/sirs/1/cu1.html Homework, November 1987, Jocelyn A. Butler

I am personally against useless homework. I feel that this is a symptom of our failing educational system. However to say no to homework is not the answer.  A reasonable approach is what is necessary.

-Steve Whitehouse

I replied back to Steve that I was posting those articles more as "something to think about" rather than "when the math fight's done, we're going after homework!!!" I also mentioned to him how I do appreciate the Saxon homework our children in charter school have as it's very short and specifically targeted to their topic. Generally I feel that K-6, kids should have next to no homework. They should have parental involvement and read a lot and master their basic math skills. Those are the things that will carry them through the rest of their education.

Dual-Enrollment Story

Here's a parent that tried the dual-enrollment plan and has had a very positive experience and wanted to share it with us.

Hello, Oak!
I realize how important it is for the schools to pull their heads out of the quick sand and open their minds to the idea that they've made a grievous mistake with Investigations math, but in the meanwhile, my 5th grader in Alpine Dist. is not suffering thanks to your suggestion about dual-enrollment.  It isn't a solution to the bigger problem, but can I share how simple and successful our experience has been so far?  Perhaps it would give support to those parents who believe that dual-enrollment would be hard or time-consuming, or a difficult experience to do.  It hasn't been any of those for us.  I figure I spend 1/2 hour every two weeks with "long term" planning and prep, another 1/2 hour once or twice a week making flashcards or worksheets, and usually 5-15 at the most minutes daily, discussing math with my daughter after school.  Most of the time it is only 5-10 minutes.  Children really do learn more quickly when they are taught one-on-one.  My daughter is a straight A student and has been getting top scores in math at school.  The first two very simple multiplication table worksheets I gave her, had scores of 60% and 64%!  TERRIBLE!  Two weeks later, she was scoring 100% and high 90's.  DO NOT ASSUME your children are good at math if they are getting good Investigations Math scores!!!  They NEED your help!
Step one:  Where do you get curriculum materials? 
Oak has posted info. on Singapore math.  I checked it out and it looks reasonably priced.  I use Math-U-See (a manipulative based math) in conjunction with lots of drill sheets.  Check the home school web sites. There are lots of curriculums offered.  For a little more money, K12 has a math curriculum that looks like the math we had as kids, but you have to buy a year long set, I think. 
I get free drill sheets from the coolest web site:

It is the best FREE online worksheet generator I've found, and I am completely happy with it.  I have full control over format, numerical ranges and how many problems, etc.  They are generated instantly as well as answer keys.  It saves LOADS of time!

Step two:  Run over to the district office and ask for a dual-enrollment form and fill it out.  They don't even give you a snotty look.  It was really fast!  You just state that you'll only be dual-enrolling for math only.

Step three:  Call the school and see if they have any rules about where your child must be during math time.  I was told that it was up to the teacher's discretion.  I assume the four options are: 1) allow the child to go to the library during math time, 2) allow the child to remain in class, but have separate work and not participate w/the class during that time, 3) remove the child from school and teach them during that time only, or 4) go yourself to the school and do math with your child somewhere on school grounds.

My child's teacher was happy to let my daughter go to the library and work on math assignments that I send with her.  I also have her do her reading homework at that time which frees up 1/2 an hour of homework time at home to go over her math assignments. 

This is how I make it quick and easy for her and MYSELF: 

1) Every couple of weeks I look at the prepared curriculum material manuals and select the lessons that I think she needs next.  I copy the corresponding worksheets and answer keys, three hole punch them, and put them in her math binder.  That takes the longest. (1/2 an hour).  For now, I have put her progress in understanding new math concepts on the slow burner, and am working to improve her multiplication and division abilities until they are really sharp. 
2) Usually once, or twice a week, I give her new multiplication flashcards (make your own, or buy) and make up corresponding drill sheets (online at the above web site).  I print them out and add them to her binder. (1/2 hour, maybe)  As her ability and speed improve, the problems get harder.
3) What does she do at school in the library during math time?   I assign ten minutes of flashcard practice and 20 minutes of corresponding worksheets.  When she's mastered her multiplication and division work, I'll ask her to review them for 5 minutes and move on with more math concepts.  She then does her reading homework the rest of the time so she doesn't have to do it at home.
4) When she comes home, I ask to see her work and ask how the flashcards are coming.  When she's ready, I give her a new set of flashcards.  I briefly look at her already corrected work and identify what problems she may be having.  We talk about it, and if she hasn't had several consecutive worksheets aced, I give her more.  If there is a new concept being introduced, we build it with manipulatives and talk about it.  DONE!

It really isn't hard.  The hardest part is deciding to do it.  I really can't say enough about the online worksheet generator!!!  It saves tons of time and money!  It is fast, easy to use and accurate.

Wendy Swain

Next email:

I just sent you a letter about our dual-enrollment experience.  I just read it again and realized I didn't make it clear enough that I send answer keys with my daughter and have her correct her own work.  She likes to do that, and it saves me time.

Also, I should add, that she's delighted with this plan.  She hates Investigations math, and very much appreciates learning at her own pace.  She feels a real sense of accomplishment as she progresses so quickly.

I had the most interesting chuckle yesterday, as I envisioned school libraries crowded with dual-enrollment math students.  Probably wouldn't happen, but MAYBE that would get ASD's attention.  It surely would get the school principal's attention!  Just think, a new twist on a sit in strike!  :)

That may be the next wave of protestors. Kids doing their own homework and grading in the school library. :)

Media Articles

This first article is fascinating. I suppose it's a sign that parents of girls really need to reinforce the idea that there's no "math barrier" and they can succeed in math as well as anyone.

Women Can't Do Math...Or Can They?
"Strange but true: Women score much lower on math tests if they are first asked unrelated questions about gender issues. The phenomenon is known as "stereotype threat" -- a kind of performance anxiety discovered in 1995 when psychologists found that black students at Stanford University did significantly worse on intelligence tests if they were first asked to identify their race on the test form."

Another article I can't resist commenting on which is directly related to math (and Star Trek) is this next one where scientists have actually created the first invisibility cloak that actually works.

Scientists create cloak of invisibility

Students decline at 5 Utah colleges

      When 13,000 students failed to re-enroll this fall at Salt Lake Community College, President Cynthia Bioteau decided she couldn't just let it go.
      Instead, Bioteau got on the phone and started calling each of the students with one simple question: "What can I do to get you back in school?"
      Thirteen thousand phone calls later, Bioteau and many other administrators had lured almost 40 percent of those students back to the classroom.
      "Students thinking the president of the college would call them were blown away. Some thought it was as joke," she said. "The bottom line was, we do care that you're a person first and student second."

I have to applaud the efforts by the SLCC president to keep students in school, but I have to think that our K-12 system of appeasing students and giving them feel-good math is one of the underlying problems that causes students to feel incapable and then drop out.

Funniest Soccer Video (non-math)

After last week's bonus on soccer, someone sent me this 4 second video of a penalty kick that is too funny to not pass on.


Weekly Comic

Archive: http://www.weaponsofmathdestruction.com

Till next week,

Oak Norton


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