Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

It seems to be fashionable to bash Everyday Math these days. I can't figure it out. I have been teaching Title 1 kids since 1982 and I think that EDM is the best thing that's come down the pike in a long time. The traditional math textbooks were horrible in the 80s and 90s and I am thrilled to be rid of them.

Drill and kill didn’t work well in the old days. Many students failed to memorize those math facts despite daily quizzes and drills, despite parents going over “the tables” nightly. Maybe they just couldn’t learn that way, maybe they were incredibly bored, maybe their parents didn’t drill them at home. Whatever the cause, many students did not learn math concepts and instead learned to hate math. Some developed math phobias. I see this in the parents of the students I taught.

In the early 1990s, the faculty at my inner city school sat down and decided we needed a series with a different approach to math. Some of us were having better results not using a textbook at all, but most wanted a text because they were not confident without one. After trying out three different series, we decided that EDM was the best fit for us. A few years afterwards, the entire district adopted Everyday Math as the math series. That year and for three years afterwards, the school district provided monthly professional development for teachers. This professional development was the key to the success of the series. Unfortunately, with the decrease in funds for education and the severe budget cuts, our EDM staff development has been sorely lacking for the past 5 years. Teacher turnover has made it so only a third of our teachers remain who were originally trained. Luckily, another teacher and I were available to help out when new colleagues have questions, but we are aware this is inadequate. We did have to teach our own classes, however and could not do much in active support during a math lesson. And the school district has dropped the ball at this point, which is a shame.

What we found is that our students know more math concepts than they ever did in the old days. Teachers who follow the intent of the program and do a lot of games have the classes who do the best. We may not be making AYP at this point but we are way better off than we were with the traditional program. Sixty percent of our students are scoring proficient or better in math on our state test. This is amazing considering the school is in an area of such high poverty. We have no problem attributing this success to Everyday Math.

It is the parents who complain the most about it because the methods are not familiar to them. But they complain because they don’t know how to help their kids. Bring in the parents for lessons in your room or have several parent nights and teach them the games and different ways to get answers when computing. Most parents get on board after a few of these sessions. And for those that don’t? There’s no problem teaching their kids to compute the old-fashioned way, except for the “borrow a 1” thing in second grade. Once kids learn that, common sense about numbers seems to fly out of their heads. It doesn’t follow that I expect parents to like the new methods, just to accept that there are many ways to get an answer that do not involve “carrying” or “borrowing.” When in doubt, parents can drill the basic facts.

Our students perform much better than they used to on problem solving, geometry and data/probability. Those who have not mastered math facts and who may or may not be in Special Ed classes, are allowed to use calculators to solve problems. The more important thing is to know how to solve the problem, than to know the facts but have no clue about the problem. The beauty of Everyday Math is that children are offered many different ways to get a correct answer. Students learn by different modalities and EDM teaches to different modalities. What’s not to like? Mastery is expected after two years of practicing a concept. Sometimes people need to do something else while their brain is working on a problem subconsciously. Everyday Math keeps going back to the concept so you don’t forget it entirely like in the old days. I remember having to teach numeration and regrouping again in March for the CAT test because they were covered in the old math book in September and October and the kids totally forgot terms and procedures.

We need to teach problem solving first and foremost and include the procedural fluency within it. Calculators are useful here for those who cannot memorize the facts, but understand the concept. Everyday Math does just that. In fact, my only beef with them is not having more problem solving in the books!

No traditional textbook that teaches only one way to add, subtract, multiply and divide will succeed in these times. Not every child learns in the same way. They need to be taught in multiple ways and pick the one that works for them.

In reading, when a child can say every word on the paper but has no comprehension, are they really reading? The same question in Math – if a child can regurgitate all the math facts but doesn’t have any idea when or which ones to use, do they know math? The answer is the same for each – NO.

Still learning!

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