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.