TEACHERS TEACH MATH
This edition of TeacherTalk is taken from the body of a letter that I recently wrote to parent leaders in our community. The very positive responses I have received suggested that I share it more broadly. MR
The school community is buzzing about math.
Should we keep Investigations? Should
we purchase a traditional math program? Should
we go to the Singapore Math Program in that students in
The PCT believes that to a very real extent the math discussion in our
community is wrongly focused on math programs.
We believe that our focus should be on what we believe children have to
know and how well they learn what they are taught.
In our view, teachers have been asked to spend too much of their time and
energy talking about how we teach math instead of what we teach our students
about the subject.
There is absolutely no question that there are substantial gaps in our
current elementary and middle school math curriculum.
There is also no question as to why the gap exists.
The Investigations program while it has a number of worthwhile elements,
does not support the development of basic math facts and methodologies that
parents of young children expect them to know and which their peers throughout
the world do know to a greater degree. Well
aware of these gaps and having few other math materials, often lacking support
from their building administrator, teachers have been forced to individually
supplement the program, expending considerable time and effort in the process
and in the end often being left to feel that they could have done a better job
if they had the tools and support they needed.
The present situation in math is not acceptable to the PCT members.
It is not acceptable to a very large segment of the parent community who
are very publicly demanding change. What
needs to be done?
The PCT is proposing a four pronged approach to getting our elementary
and middle school math instruction to align with New York State requirements
and, more importantly, with common sense. This
approach was developed by the PCT Math Committee made up of the teacher
representatives of the District Math Committee plus additional teacher
representatives from each building. Our
approach was also approved by the PCT Executive Board, two thirds of whom are
teachers in our elementary and middle schools.
Here’s what we propose:
1 - Clearly written curricula be
developed, aligned with
Students in a particular grade should be exposed to the same mathematical
facts and concepts regardless
of the school they attend. This has
not been the case and must be corrected.
Parents have a right to be aware of what their children are expected to
learn and to know that the same
expectations exist for all children in the district.
This work can begin immediately and be completed over the summer and ready for implementation in September. Much of this work has already been done in the recent mapping project, although there clearly needs to be revisions and refinements.
2 - Retain the current edition of Investigations. While
we do not support a complete “Investigations” approach to the teaching of
mathematics, that does not mean that there
aren’t some very useful things in this program that teachers want to and
should be encouraged to continue to use.
In our view, the current edition of Investigations
should be retained. There is
no need, however, to purchase the new edition which while
it corrects some of the defects of the original is still not as useful as
other materials we believe to be
3- Immediately establish a
professional committee, with representatives from each
building, to recommend the purchase of traditional math materials and texts to
be supplied across the grades in each building.
Every teacher needs to have available materials to support instruction in
basic math facts and concepts. These
need to be the same throughout the district
to ensure that students are taught the same curriculum.
4- Purchase a test prep booklet for each student in each grade to provide
review materials to better prepare our students for the state assessments.
Experience at the Parkway school where this approach has been taken
suggests that it is an important step in
improving the district’s scores on state tests.
The PCT believes that if all of our recommendations are adopted, we will
be able to ensure that all children in a grade will be taught the same concepts
and that their teachers will have access to the same library of resources to
facilitate math instruction. Additionally,
each teacher, whether new or experienced, will know what they are minimally
expected to teach and will have the materials necessary to do so without having
to spend inordinate amounts of time searching for materials, often being
encouraged to pirate copyrighted materials.
Most importantly, they will be freed from the constraining grip of
“Investigations” orthodoxy and able to tailor their math instruction to meet
the needs of the students in front of them and their own skills and imagination
Parents will have the deserved comfort of knowing that their children
know basic math facts and processes and will be better able to appreciate some
of the more interesting aspects of the Investigations program. They will have
renewed confidence that their children are not falling behind so that they will
not do poorly at high school math and the SAT.
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