Weekly Math Updates

May 16, 2007


  • WMD Comics & this Newsletter
  • Creativity
  • A Tragic Soccer Game
  • Media Articles

WMD Comics & this Newsletter

Hi all,

In anticipation of fewer newsletters I am going to move all your email addresses to the WMD Comic's list and stop including comics in this newsletter. That way if some of you just don't care to read my blogging you're welcome to unsubscribe from this list and get the comic or if you don't want the comic (say it isn't so) and just love my blog, you can unsubscribe from the comic.

As for this newsletter, I'm going to go back to what I said a few months ago and slow down. I'll send out important stuff as it happens, but there will be less for me to report on. I'm still watching the state standards, and issues surrounding splitting districts, and when I get news I'll pass it on (which some is definitely coming). I still need your help and I need you to look for ways to make a difference in your local schools. Get on the community council and PTA and make a contribution to your children's education. I think the next priority is getting onto middle and high school councils and effecting changes there in connected and interactive math.


A while ago someone pointed me toward a book that was based around the premise that the future belongs to right-brain creative thinkers and that left-brain only people will be left behind. I can see the point of those comments, but as I've thought about it I have to disagree. There's a role for left, right, or balanced thinkers, just as some people learn better from a left, right, or "balanced" approach. However, there are things that cannot be approached from different angles as well as from one side just because of the nature of the thing. For example:

Creative spelling: NO
Creative writing: YES

Discovery math facts: NO
Discovery of math application methods: YES (within the proper setting)

There's a place and time for everything. Math should be about getting the foundation. Physics should be about the creative application of math. Spelling should be an exact science using phonics and the best methods of learning. Writing is the creative application of that science in putting words together.

The problem with Investigations, Connected, and Interactive math type programs is they remove the core and try to teach those core items from a right-brain approach. It works for a few students, but far more would grasp those concepts from a left-brain approach at a much faster rate because they are fact based. Those right-brain kids need left-brain instruction too or THEY will be the unbalanced ones.

What's the goal of creativity? It's to allow for exploration. An appropriate math exploration activity would be to teach the facts to automaticity, and then ask children to be creative with them in a way such as "using the numbers 8, 2, and 6, write a formula that will arrive at the number 50." The goal of deeper thinking is to get kids to stretch their minds and find an answer they haven't ever contemplated. Life is all about that.

So the ultimate question: Is Saxon the very best program to induce creativity? I suggest that you cannot have creativity without a mastery of the basics. Rembrant couldn't have made masterpieces without a complete mastery of the primary colors and all the subtle "art-fact" techniques to produce truly creative masterpieces. You cannot skip the hard work that puts the entire spectrum of math within your grasp to use in a way that becomes creative and finds new solutions to problems. From the research I've done, Saxon is one of the very best. It's only downside from what I can see (and it's in all but one program I've seen), happens to be the greatest strength of the Singapore math program. Hard, deep problems. Nobody else does it like Singapore math...teach concrete facts in a balanced approach of visual examples, and then ask students to reach deep in multi-step problems for the answers. However, Saxon lays the foundation better to pave the way for those deeper thoughts. Complete mastery of facts and their application to getting correct answers on hard problems is what makes math fun and engages the learning areas of the mind even more.

If a student can reach calculus in high school, and take physics to apply that knowledge, I think the student has reached the pinnacle of educational thought available in high school. That's application of math facts to knowledge about how the world really works. That should be the goal of math programs, to pave the way to the sciences for application of the knowledge.

A Tragic Soccer Game

Every once in a while you have an experience in life that makes you sit back and reflect on life. Last Saturday I had one of those moments. I coach my 9 year old daughter's soccer team and we played a really good team and we were losing the game. At one point during the game, we broke through their defenses and scored and their goalie went down on the ground and started crying. Immediately several of the parents and I called attention to the situation to the other coach that he had a player hurt on the field. As he walked toward us he said, "she's not hurt, it's just that we've never been scored on." In an instant, the compassion and pity that parents had on the sideline for that player turned to disbelief and a few other emotions. Mostly they wanted their kids to get after the ball and score again. :)

As I thought about this after the game, I had to think that there were some parallels in this game to the education community.

1) I can understand the disappointment of the girl in goal the same way children feel when they've been made to believe they are invincible and then encounter their first "awakening". The dumbing down of American curriculum is a case in point. Rather than providing a challenge to the kids at the top, we teach to the "lowest common denominator" and it makes those kids that "get" math feel like they must really understand it when in reality they haven't been challenged...yet.

2) There's no competition in education and so there's no incentive to excel. Everyone's the same and nobody loses (just the opposite of "real world experiences" educators keep talking about being so valuable to our children).

3) Now I mean absolutely no offense to any of the parents on the other team or the coach. For all I know he's just a superior coach that trained his team really well and the girls were just really disappointed that they got scored on. But in education, if parents don't take the lead in teaching their children sportsmanship and winning and losing, and being challenged and corrected, it's really indicative of the parents more than the coach/teacher. Parents are first and foremost responsible for their children's "real world" education. That means when the education isn't up to your quality standards, you take "real world" action and put your children where they will get it whether that's charter, private, or home schooling. That's what being a responsible parent means. The tragedy is when coaches tell parents their kid is one of the best and needs no help at home and in fact if you try to teach them skills at home you might mess up your child (our little parallel).

Media Articles

Hundreds Rally for Voucher Law by Tiffany Erickson

Greenwood gets grant for math education

I'd be really interested to know how Greenwood's grant to use HP tablet PC's to receive math-teacher training will actually work...especially since the training is going to come from BYU (probably Damon Bahr--meaning 100% constructivism and little math knowledge content)

Till next week,

Oak Norton


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