Chariho School Parents’ Forum

April 4, 2007

Another Math Warning – 2005 Seekonk RI

Filed under: Uncategorized — Editor @ 12:39 pm
TERC Investigations is math nightmare for Seekonk parents
SEEKONK – Karyn Casey’s husband came home from a school meeting shaking his head. He had just heard a presentation about TERC, the new math program that was being introduced into the Seekonk elementary schools. That was three years ago, and many are still wondering if this program is really a good idea.TERC, Investigations in Number, Data, and Space (called “Investigations”) was thought to be the answer to the school’s declining math scores. Founded in 1965 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, TERC is used all over the country as an alternative way of teaching traditional mathematics. It aims to get the students to really understand the concepts of mathematics and figure out why the solutions are what they are.

In fact, the program has proved to be incredibly controversial, and although administrators are confident in its success, many parents are left scratching their heads.

Old ‘school’

Mrs. Casey recalls a few weeks back when she sat at her kitchen table with her son, a fifth grader at the Aitken School, and bribed him with Halloween candy if he could answer his multiplication tables.

He couldn’t.

For Mrs. Casey, this is just another example of how detrimental the Investigations program is.

“My son cannot multiply or divide to save his life,” said Mrs. Casey.

“I don’t know what is going to happen when he goes to middle school next year, I am afraid, I am really afraid.”

Principal of Martin Elementary School, Stephen A. Mendrzychowski, is one of the proponents of the math program and is still confident of its implementation into the schools.

“We looked at the data from tests and it was fairly apparent that the students did not understand mathematics,” said Mr. Mendrzychowski, speaking of several years ago when they were first confronted with a math problem.

He explained that the school administrators started to look at what other schools with higher math scores were doing and it boiled down to two programs; Investigations, and Everyday Mathematics, a University of Chicago School Mathematics Project.

Mr. Mendrzychowski said that they decided to pilot the Investigations program in the schools and, after meeting with teachers, it seemed to be the program that they needed to help them get over their ailing math scores.

Nancy Gagliardi, principal of the Aitken school, said that she doesn’t think that the teachers are having a hard time teaching Investigations. And she added that she has noticed a difference in her student’s approach to the subject.

“They enjoy it,” said Mrs. Gagliardi, speaking of Investigations.

“Kids don’t dread having math.”

But Bob Sweeny, a parent and member of the current Math Committee, doesn’t think that TERC is benefiting the kids that use it.

Mr. Sweeny explained that in 1997 he was on the Martin Elementary School Council and they were looking to put the University of Chicago math program into the curriculum. He said that he did a lot of research about different types of math programs used and that is when he heard Principal Gagliardi mention that a town in Northern Massachusetts, North Andover, was using a program called “TERC.”

‘Less advanced concepts’

Mr. Sweeny said that he called North Andover and they explained that they had used TERC for eight years and had seen their MCAS scores have gone down.

Said Mr. Sweeny, “TERC covers less advanced math concepts, leaving kids one to two grade levels behind.”

Mr. Sweeny also works for a technology group called “EMC” and has collaborated with other parents from his company who are from around the world and have also been facing similar math frustrations with their children. Mr. Sweeny along with co-workers from China, Thailand, Singapore, and India are going to compare TERC with another program called Singapore Math and a Houghton Mifflin math program.

“One of the benefits of working at a technology group is that you get experts from all over the world,” said Mr. Sweeny.

“As parents and folks that are computer scientists, we are going to do a comparison.”

Frustration and belief

“My kids can’t multiply, but they can write an essay about their favorite number,” said Mrs. Casey, adding that she has never seen such a lack of math homework in her life.

“I haven’t a clue what my son is doing in math,” said Mrs. Casey.

“Since school has started, I have only seen six assignments come home with him.”

Mr. Mendrzychowski explained that this is one of the ways that students can grasp math.

“(Investigations) is a lot of discussion to have children explain how they got their answer,” said Mr. Mendrzychowski.

He added that the transition from the elementary Investigations math to the “normal” math in the middle school has not been flawless, but he attributes this to the fact that the current seventh graders were the first year to have the Investigations curriculum implemented, so they went up to the fourth grade learning math “the normal way” and then were taught to learn it through Investigations.

Mrs. Casey’s daughter is in the seventh grade and was the first class to experience TERC when it was put into the curriculum. When she was in the fourth grade, pre-Investigations, she took the MCAS and the results showed that of all the fourth graders in Seekonk, five percent placed in the “warning” category. Last year, that same class of kids took the MCAS again, this time as sixth graders, and after having had two years of TERC. The “warning” number skyrocketed to 29 percent.

According to Mr. Mendrzychowski, the true test is when this year’s current second graders will go off to the middle school to learn math, because they are the first grade that has learned Investigations from the start.

Too early to prove the power of TERC

Although the program has only been in place for two full school years, and does not have nearly enough data to show how well Investigations is working, Principal of Martin Elementary School, Stephen A. Mendrzychowski, said that he feels assured in the direction that they are heading.

“I am feeling pretty confident right now,” he said, adding that he can walk into classrooms and see children holding conversations about math.

According to TERC’s Web site the goals are to offer kids “meaningful mathematical problems, and emphasize depth in mathematical thinking rather than exposure to a series of fragmented topics. Also to communicate mathematics content and pedagogy to teachers, and widely expand the pool of mathematically literate students.”

In addition to teaching the kids a new method to understanding and solving mathematical problems, teachers, administrators, and parents have also had to follow this new approach.

Mr. Mendrzychowski explained that one of the nice features with Investigations is that there is always a section titled, “Math Beyond the Math” to help both teachers and principals understand the lesson plan.

“(Investigations) does demand that the people teaching it do have a deeper understanding of math themselves,” said Mr. Mendrzychowski.

He does acknowledge, however, that some parents do have a hard time helping their children with their Investigations math homework.

“Children learn things in a variety of ways,” said Mr. Mendrzychowski.

“What works for you, might not work for me. (Investigations) shows that there are different ways to solve the problems.”

Here’s a sample Terc Investigations question: What does a second-grade child know about the number 20?

The question – culled from the program’s Web site – asked the kids to pretend that they were giving their explanations to a kindergartner.

Some of the various answers might include the following: It is a double of 10, it is a two digit number, it is an even number, it is a quadruple of five, the year 2000 has a 20 in it, it is the middle of 40, and it can be put together by 10 plus 10.

“(Investigations) is a lot of discussion to have children explain how they got their answer,” said Martin School Principal Stephen A. Mendrzychowski.

He said the transition from the elementary Investigations math to the “normal” math in the middle school has been not completely flawless, but he attributes this to the fact that the current seventh graders were the first year to have the Investigations curriculum implemented, so they went up to the fourth grade learning math “the normal way” and then were taught to learn it through Investigations. The true test, he said, will come when this year’s current second graders go off to the middle school to learn math, because they are the first grade that has learned Investigations from the start.

“It is too early to make a decision on whether (Investigations) is going to solve our problems,” said Mr. Mendrzychowski.

“We are doing everything we can.

BY CHLOE RANDALL

crandall@eastbaynewspapers.com

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2 Comments »

  1. […] Janine Cate wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptHe added that the transition from the elementary Investigations math to the “normal” math in the middle school has not been flawless, but he attributes this to the fact that the current seventh graders were the first year to have the … […]

    Pingback by east map » Another Math Warning - 2005 Seekonk RI — April 4, 2007 @ 4:38 pm | Reply

  2. Another school administrator defending TERC…I want to bang my head into a wall. This might solve the problem because I can only assume that’s what administrators did before approving TERC curriculum!

    These idiots, and sorry, but that’s what they are, have turned math into English. My child had Investigations math homework and he was told to answer the questions in complete sentences. Forget the math, just make sure you have the right sentence structure!

    This curriculum is a “feel good” cop out. Educators are pretending they are teaching match concepts, but really, they are allowing children to try and teach each other while teachers look on with a smile and a bit of praise. This isn’t the Oprah show, this is math! Without the foundation, these kids will be lost when faced with higher level math where talking is worthless and a calculator doesn’t think for itself.

    I cannot believe what we allowing the school system to do to children. If you are a parent with a child being taught using Investigations curriculum, you’d better start teaching your child yourself, or you are failing your child.

    Would someone please find out what is motivating these teachers and administrators to continue to use and promote this failing curriuculum? Maybe if we find out the true reason, we can put a stop to it?

    Comment by Curious Resident — April 4, 2007 @ 5:26 pm | Reply


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