Wednesday, August 28, 2013


This may sound a little like venting but I truly don't mean it to.  We have recently adopted a national publisher for grades 3-5 mathematics.  I love the program because it provides us with strong number sense building blocks but force fluency.  This program does an excellent job with remediation but as with all programs, it does an OK job of enrichment and thinking mathematically.  

Therefore we are doing what anyone would do with a "program."  We are making it our own.  We are adding pieces such as Mathematical Thinking, true DOK 3 Enrichment and pieces called Writing to Learn.  This can be found under the Mathematical Tasks link on the right (it is a new page - there is not a lot there yet).  We are also reorganizing our assessments to be truly standards based and having the ability to determine if a student understands and can demonstrate understanding at the standard level (3) or above the standard level (4).

So, as we unveil these modifications I continually hear, "Why did we buy the program if it wasn't good enough?"  I just want to ask "What does it mean to be good enough?"  Does it mean that we cannot make it better?  Does it mean that we will accept a base level of understanding?  Does it mean that we will accept the results we get even though we know we can do better because we can customize to our own students?  

We are producing these options because they provide us with true differentiation in the classroom.  Teachers can choose how best to meet the needs of their different learners without having to create the resources.  Most of the enrichment in this program is decent - but too scaffolded.  We just tear it apart.  Nationally based programs serve as a foundational program.  They are something to build off of not something that should be the "holy grail" of math.  They are not designed for that.  They are designed to meet the needs of as many districts as possible making sure they hit all the "Hot words" that are in education at this time.  Our job is to turn these programs into something outstanding.  Basically, don't screw up what they have but make it better.

So for all those out there saying "why are we changing" the answer is "Why not!"  Its whats best for kids!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Calculator or not to Calculator...That is the Question

While training with Elementary teachers last week I brought up the idea of having no calculators in Elementary Grades.  This was met with depressed faces, shocked expressions, and a few smiles.  This just goes to show the varying feelings on such a simple tool.  
Here are my thoughts...A calculator is nothing more than a tool.  Tools, as with anything when used in the appropriate manner are useful.  If not, they inhibit the actual progress.  Both the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium and the PARCC have decided to not allow calculators up through grade 5.  In grade 6 they each allow a 4-function calculator on specific questions.  The TIMMS test bans calculators in grade 4 and the NAEP only allows calculators on specific questions.  So, if all those assessments that have been developed by massive consortium's with all the best minds working together don't allow calculators, why do we?
Here is why we might.  If we eliminate the calculator from the assessments, why would we allow one in the classroom?  This in turn will force our questions to involve lower numbers for easier calculations making the problems less rigorous and far less "real."  There is merit to this argument.  Real, honest merit.
The compromise...we use calculators only for those problems that involve realistic problems that the size of the numbers is inhibiting the learning.  For example, data analysis on a large set of numbers where the goal is the process of the analysis not the number crunching.  That is, if the standard you are assessing deals with calculator.  If the standard deals with a process of understanding...calculators may be allowed if the problem is in a real-world context.  Math Practice 5 states calculators as one of the tools of mathematics.  We cannot ignore the importance of a calculator.  However, the more calculator use we allow, the less fluency we will see.  This has to be a planned implementation of the tool.  

To sum everything up:

  • No calculators on elementary assessments except for the SBA Collaborative Question (that is the only question that is "real" enough.
  • No calculators for homework.
  • Calculators can be used on the Enrichment,  Projects, and the SBA Collaborative question.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

"The Standard Algorithm"

While presenting in Stoughton, one of the teachers mentioned that last week at a math conference they talked about "the standard algorithm" noted in the CCSS is not what is perceived as the traditional algorithm.

I am struggling with this interpretation in that the language specifically used by the CCSS (which they were VERY careful with their language) states "the" which means one and standard which would imply it is used by everyone. The WI DPI states that "the best clarification is 'efficient'. The point is that students understand number and place value, not just digit manipulation." While I agree 100% that the point is to understand the concept not just manipulate a procedure, it seems to arbitrary and hopeful that the traditional algorithm is not the standard algorithm.

Personally, I am a much larger fan of partial sums and partial products. However, those are by no means "standard."  That said, I would encourage teachers to teach both methods.  Students need to understand concepts and the method they most understand a concept through will not be consistent with all students.  Differentiation is the key.  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Starting to put it together

Finally, it seems that in the process of preparing PD for districts and setting up things for my own I have started to put together the summary sheet I have been trying to do for a year.  It can be found on this blog under Collection of Mathematical Tasks.

On the sheet are tasks, lesson enhancements, projects and other instructional tools that I have vetted.  It is organized by grade level and CCSS Standard.  Also, I am working on a rating system that all can view.  If you have something you want to add, feel free to send it my way.  Also, let me know your thoughts.  It has a long way to go.  Throughout the year more items will be added.