Sunday, November 28, 2010

Math Rocks Proves Connected Math is a Failure

The Plano Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday, November 2, 2010, proved that Connected Math is a failure. There was a presentation that night by a Plano Math teacher on the Math Rocks program that Plano has created as a "super honors" class. The students in the Math Rocks program were described as being years ahead of their grade level. The presentation also mentioned that the students in the Math Rocks program have received math instruction outside of the Plano schools. This is the key point!

One of the unspoken secrets to success in Plano is the need to hire tutors for your children. Besides private tutors, there are a number of programs that provide traditional math classes in the evenings or on the weekends. A traditional math class rests on two principles: instruction in solving specific types of math problems and homework to drill the students.

So students who receive traditional math instruction end up being years ahead of their classmates who are stuck with Connected Math and the "discovery learning" theory of teaching.

Instead of saying, "Wow! Traditional math instruction is much better than Connected Math, let's cancel Connected Math and let everyone have a good math education!", the PISD administration says, "Let's permit the clearly better trained students skip out of Connected Math, but let's give them more of the discovery method!"

What we were shown at the Board of Trustees' meeting were film clips of children in small groups debating how to solve the problems they were assigned. The teacher making the presentation was very excited by film of students talking. I would have been impressed by film of a teacher providing instruction. But alas, the parents need to continue paying for tutors to provide the instruction that the PISD refuses to provide.

It is sad to see that the Plano ISD administration is incapable of learning from its mistakes. It is sad to see our students stuck in a failed program year after year.

Robert Canright

Friday, October 15, 2010

Time to Think About the TAKS Test?

Is October too early to think about the TAKS tests? That depends on (1) how well you want your child to score and (2) what grade your child is in. When there is a writing test or a science test, then there is more testing and you need more time to prepare. Also, the writing tests are administered earlier because they take longer to grade.

Here is a link for the TAKS test schedule.

The Taks tests have different objectives and some are more difficult than others. Math usually has 6 objectives and 2 of them are more difficult. Objective 2 is "Patterns, Relationships & Algebraic Reasoning." Objective 6 is "Mathematical Processes & Tools." These are the more difficult objectives.

I just opened a Taks prep book for objective 6 and found a really goofy problem. Some of the problems given to the kids on the Math Taks are hardly math problems at all, they are puzzles using numbers.

Remember: large numbers of parents in Plano provide private tutoring for their children on Math. Be careful about relying on classroom instruction only for your child's math education. That holds true for the Taks tests as well!


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Das Rheingold in Plano

I had a choice of viewing Das Rheingold at either the Cinemark in Plano West or the Cinemark on Legacy today. The performance was part of The Met Live in HD series. We are lucky to have two theaters in Plano broadcasting the performance because otherwise patrons would be turned away for lack of seats.

If you can cultivate a love of opera in your children, their lives will be enriched. What worked for my daughter was being exposed to opera music in the house or in the car, just a nice song here and there. Puccini's arias are beautiful. Then in high school or senior high a trip to a good opera can be a great experience.

I loved the staging for this production of Das Rheingold. The set was unusual but brilliant. I found it effective, but impossible to describe. You have to see it to believe it. It allowed the Rhine maidens to swim, Donner to rise into the sky and create lightening with his hammer, and the Norse gods to walk over up the rainbow bridge to Valhalla.

There will be an encore performance Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010 6:30 p.m. local time, so if you missed today's live performance you can still watch a recorded performance later.

When I got home I told my son how much I enjoyed the opera and expressed my hope that he would someday enjoy opera as much as I do. I don't think he is old enough now to sit through 3 straight hours of Wagner.

What we did enjoy today as a family was a UIL band competition at Clark Stadium. If you haven't enjoyed one of these band competitions, I encourage you to go with your family. The competition is all day and all night, but you can go whenever you want. You just have to know the schedule to avoid going during a dinner break. It is a very pleasant experience to watch all the talented high school marching bands. James Bowie H.S. from Arlington played the Polovtsian Dance by Alexander Borodin among a sampling of Russian music.

Plano is a wonderful community with much to offer.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

What is Wrong with Connected Math?

If you as a parent are wondering what is wrong with Connected Math, then I would explain it as simplistic, dumbed-down mathematics.

In February 2, 2000 Susan Sarhady traveled from Plano, Texas to Washington, D.C., to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce. You can read her testimony here. She has an eloquent description of Plano's problem with Connected Math.

For now I will give just 2 examples from Connected Math. The 7th grade booklet on integers has illustrations of red stones and blue stones for negative and positive integers. At home we are working on writing and solving systems of algebraic equations out of a Singapore Math book, but on a school test the 7th grade Connected Math test is challenging the students to illustrate 18-6=12 with red and blue dots, except their pencil only writes in black. So the challenge is to represent red and blue dots in black and white. This is an utter waste of time.

Tonight we looked at the Connected Math book and the most challenging problems in the current section are like this: "Is +8 - (+8) equivalent to 8 - 8? Explain." What mindless tripe!

Connected Math is a good example of why mathematics abilities in America are plummeting while Korea and Singapore take turns leading the world in math.

Plano parents objected bitterly 10 years ago to Connected Math and we are still stuck with it. In April 1983, 27 years ago, the famous report A Nation at Risk was published. Why be surprised that Plano has been stuck with a bad math curriculum for 10 years when the entire nation has been saddled with poor education for over 27 years?

So if you have a low opinion of Plano's middle-school math curriculum, you are not alone.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Surviving Connected Math, 6th Grade, Plano, Texas

Survival Strategies

Connected Math starts in 5th grade. If you as a parent had already found the Plano math curriculum weak, you would have provided tutoring to your child already and 5th grade Connected Math would not have been too bad.

However, mathematics instruction is supposed to take a step up in middle-school and your tutoring program needs to take a step up. Here is what the Texas TEKS say about 6th grade math:

"Within a well-balanced mathematics curriculum, the primary focal points at Grade 6 are using ratios to describe proportional relationships involving number, geometry, measurement, and probability and adding and subtracting decimals and fractions."

Your tutoring program should provide good coverage of ratios and proportions. I found 6th grade Connected Math was inadequate in covering ratios and proportions. Spectrum Math for 6th Grade, a series I've used for years, was also light on ratios and proportions. I did not want to send my child to school on Saturday or Sunday for math like so many other parents do, so I looked around and found a Singapore Math program from Frank Schaffer Publications.

Singapore Math

The small city-state of Singapore made headlines when its students had the highest scores on earth in international math testing. There are a number of sources for math material in America that follow the Singapore model.

To avoid the deficiencies in Connected Math, I recommend a light use of Spectrum Math for computational problem sets and a heavier use of Singapore Math for ratios and proportions.

Singapore Math Practice Level 5A for 6th graders covers Whole Numbers, Fractions, Area of Triangles, and Ratios. Singapore Math Practice Level 5B for 6th graders covers Decimals, Metric Measurements, Averages, Percentages, Angles, Triangles and 4-sided Figures, Geometrical Construction, and Volume.

Excelling in Spite of Connected Math

Singapore Math Level 5, 70 Must-Know Word Problems is a gem but it is tough. If your child is good in Math but is stuck in Connected Math, then this might be a resource for you. Good word problems are hard to find, but this is a great collection of challenging word problems that are still not at a competitive level of difficulty.

Math Counts is a program aimed at middle-school math. It is a source for interesting problems to use as enrichment for your child even if you are not interested in joining the contests and clubs.

MOEMS is the Math Olympiads for Elementary and Middle Schools. They hold contests and sell training material. I purchased Math Olympiads Contest Problems, Vol. 2, edited by Richard Kalman. It is an excellent collection of interesting problems. Unfortunately, the Plano ISD does not do anything with the Math Olympiads. They'll talk about it occasionally, but I haven't seen them do anything with the Math Olympiads.

One advantage of Math Counts over the Math Olympiads is that you can download for free Math Counts problem sets from old competitions. They are both good sets of enrichment problems for above average math students. Another advantage of Math Counts is that some of the schools in Plano ISD have Math Counts clubs and enter competitions, if that is something you want.

The Math Rocks Program

For parents who send their children to private schools for math on the weekends, the Plano ISD has a separate math program called "Math Rocks." If your child is in Connected Math now and you do not like the program, then it is probably too late for your child to get on track to enter the Math Rocks program. You can read more about Math Rocks at this link.

There is Hope

I was at a Tea Party meeting where some parents wanted to talk about the problems with the Plano math curriculum. The Tea party organizer told them the meeting was only about taxes and education would not be discussed. I will always remember the lost and hurt look in their faces when they found no helping hand. I am sharing my experiences as a parent to offer a helping hand to parents who moved to Plano because it has a good reputation, but then discover the problems with the Plano math curriculum.

There is hope for your child to get a good math education in Plano, but I think you'll have to hire tutors or teach your child yourself. The Plano teachers do the best they can, but their curriculum is weak and you will have to fill in the gaps as best as you can.

The high school math curriculum is good. We just have to hope and pray they do not ruin the high school curriculum with another worthless innovation.

Robert Canright

Now it is a year later (2011). My son is in 7th grade and the Math Olympiads is in use in his 7th grade class. I think that is great. They are really neat problems!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fishing in Athens, Texas

Yesterday I took my boy to Athens, Texas to go fishing at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center. This is a beautiful facility. It will make you proud to be a Texan. The facility has museum quality aquariums, a nature trail, and a fishing pond.

You can rent a rod & reel and buy bait at the pavilion by the fishing pond, but you are better off bringing your own gear and bait. The catfish love hot dogs! Bring pliers in your gear. They ask you to flatten the barb on your hook because most people catch and release. Fishing is included in the modest cost of admission. You must pay extra if you want to take your catch home with you.

The gift shop is a hoot. Everything is about fish or fishing! There was a fish mail box, a bobber pillow, fishing-lure bookends, and Fish-opoly, a fishing oriented version of Monopoly.

The entrance to the Fisheries Center is on the right, just past the entrance to the public boat launch. When you leave, I recommend you enter the drive to the public boat launch and enjoy lunch at the Marina Restaurant. I recommend the Pecan Crusted Tilapia. The view of Lake Athens is wonderful.

It is an hour and a half drive to Athens down good roads and decent scenery. Going fishing in Athens is a great day trip for the family.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

What is Going on at the Plano ISD?

The Dallas Morning News has nice web link to find recent DMN articles about the Plano Independent School District:

It is a useful feature to keep track of what is going on at the Plano ISD.

Robert Canright

Sunday, March 7, 2010

TAKS Time: Watch Out for the Test Traps

TAKS testing is upon us again. The 4th grade writing test has already been administered March 3rd. The majority of the testing is in April. I like to know what tests my child will take and when they will be administered. I went to this TEA website and downloaded the 2009-2010 school year testing calendar.

You can administer previously released TAKS tests to your child if you wish. You go to this other TEA website for tests and answer keys. Whatever grade your child is in, there are four sets of tests available. Before you print a test, you might show the PDF file to your child and ask if those test questions have already been used in class. Why print something and end up throwing it away? The teachers use these tests in class but they usually don't have the time or need to use every test.

I like to administer an old TAKS test to my child because I want to know what my child is facing.

I break up the test into parts so it is not a burden. I exmine the problems that get marked wrong according to the answer key. Aside from mistakes in subject matter, it is important to coach a child on the art of test taking. There are traps in the TAKS tests. The most prevalent traps are the "false attractor" and the "most correct answer" traps.

The false attractor trap is an answer that is almost correct. It looks like the correct answer, but has a tiny mistake, usually at the very end of the answer. This trap is usually inserted before the correct answer to lure your child into a mistake on the test. It is sad to see your child correctly work a math problem and then get tricked into selecting the false attractor. My recollection is that math problems use the false attractor.

The most correct answer trap is very devious. There will be two correct answers. You will see this in verbal answers, usually not in math answers. The test writers will claim that one answer is more correct than the other. If there is a strategy for a most correct answer, perhaps it is the answer with more information. The test writers are sometimes wrong. Do not be surprised if you cannot understand why the test writers like their most correct answer better than the most correct answer you and your child both agree upon.

If you want to help your child with the TAKS testing, I hope this helps.

Robert Canright
Former Math Teacher
Candidate for PISD Board of Trustees, Place 1

PS: Here is a modestly entertaining video about the TAKS test from Irving High School
Here is I Failed the Science TAKS Test for some light humor.
The TAKS Ninjas is a bit long, but it humorously provides test taking advice.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Voting in the Primaries

Today was the only Saturday for early voting for the Republican and Democratic primaries. Sunday, 2/21, still has early voting available. Monday through Friday early voting hours are 7am to 7pm. Here is a link to the locations for early voting.

If you don't know who to vote for, you can go to this web site. At the bottom, below the voting locations, you will find a list of precinct numbers and a sample ballot for your precinct. (Your precinct number is printed on your voter registration card.) There are many important spots open for voting: the Governor, the Rail Road Commissioner, a couple of State Supreme Court spots, the County Judge, and many court judge positions. With this list of names I used Google and studied the available information. It took over an hour to select select the candidates I voted for.

Election day is Tuesday March 2 for the party primaries.

On March 27 there will be the run-off election for the Plano City Council. Here is a link to info for the City Council election. Early voting for this City Council election will be March 11 to March 23.

I hope you will take time to vote in these elections.

Robert Canright

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Plano, Chess, and Texas Tech

Small World!

I introduced myself to a gentleman giving a chess lesson at my neighborhood coffee shop and discovered he was from New Orleans. Alfred Carlin has been the Louisiana State Chess Champion 5 times. He is missed as a chess teacher in New Orleans, as mentioned in this article, in the section "Scholastic Drought".

Chess and Scholastic Achievement

If New Orleans had to lose Mr. Carlin, I'm glad he came here so our children can benefit from his chess instruction. The Plano schools require student participation in Choir or Band in 6th grade because studies show a connection between music and scholastic achievement. Similar studies have shown that playing chess improves scholastic achievement. Alfred Carlin was tutoring students at the coffee shop and I'll wager his students do well in school.

Chess at Texas Tech

Many students from Plano go to Texas Tech. You will be happy to hear that a chess team from Tech tied for 2nd place at the 2009 Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship held Dec. 27-30 on South Padre Island. A chess team from Tech tied with a team from UT Dallas, which has been a national powerhouse in chess for years. The Tech A team defeated Princeton, University of Texas at Austin and Stanford University. The Raiders B team defeated Yale University’s B team.

Texas Tech has Grandmaster Susan Polgar heading SPICE: the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence. Grandmaster Polgar, born in Budapest, Hungary, now lives in Lubbock. I'm happy to see a major Texas university like Texas Tech bringing world-class talent to Texas to help our students achieve at the highest levels.

It's great to see talented teachers like Alfred Carlin in the Dallas/Plano area and Susan Polgar in Lubbock helping our children compete at the highest levels.

Robert Canright

PS: I can help you contact Alfred Carlin if you so desire.