Independent Common Core Math Curriculum Reviews

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015
EdReports.org graphic

Click on thumbnail to go to site

I’m pleased to report that an independent non-profit organization, EdReports.org, is reviewing new Common Core math curricula. I sometimes get asked about my opinion about the different options, but it’s hard to respond when there are so many new materials that I haven’t seen, and I am only one person. While the reviews don’t address every curriculum, they do address many of the available Common Core options. If your district is considering adopting a curriculum, please consider the detailed reports here.

They also have a graphic that shows the alignment in a visual format. Click the thumbnail to view it.

To toot my own horn a bit, Eureka Math (also available on engageny.org), of which I was on the second and fifth grade writing teams, is getting the highest praise of any of the curricula reviewed so far here, especially at the elementary level. I am no longer connected with the company, or any curriculum company, for that matter, so you can believe me when I say that I joined the teams because of the quality of their approach, pedagogy, and curriculum team excellence. While there are still kinks to work out, I think the curriculum is top quality.

In case you are interested in professional development, I do offer that to schools and other groups. Please feel free to contact me to inquire.

iPad Apps for Education: Part 1 – Stop Math

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012


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As an eager tech user as well as a teacher who likes to use any tools that are handy, I am always trying out new ways to engage students. I recently obtained an iPad and have been trying to fill it with the best educational tools possible.

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Imagine my delight when I found an interactive book app all about math! The book is called Stop Math, by Jeff Weigel. It is set in the future, when time travel is possible. A young boy dislikes math, thinking it’s a torture device for schoolchildren. He decides to find the person who invented it and stop them from inventing it.

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The book then takes you on an interactive journey back through time, where he meets various characters from history, like Einstein and Newton, all of whom contributed to our current understanding of math.

Even better, on each page, there is an interactive element the child can play with – which they love to do. There are even side journeys where a student can play with an interactive widget to learn, for example, about relativity.

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My one minor criticism is that the only computation children are asked to do involves a calculator. They are not even given the chance to try to figure out the answer mentally or on paper, but must rely on the calculator in the book until the final calculation, where they are expected to subtract with the algorithm but without the ability to regroup (borrow) on the screen, which is beyond some students.

Other than that, every student I have shown it to, from kindergarteners through middle schoolers, has enjoyed it and learned something. It appeals to any age – I didn’t get too tired of it even after reading it with so many students time and time again – and has a good message about math in the end. I highly recommend it! $3.99 on the iTunes App Store.

Book Review: The Absolute Value of Mike (and Dyscalculia)

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011


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absolutemikeWhen I saw this book at the library, I was drawn directly to it. Why? For one thing, my post on dyscalculia and teaching math is one of my most popular posts ever. For another, I am always seeking good children’s books with mathematics themes to enhance my teaching or recommend to students. Finally, given that the theme of dyscalculia is such a hot topic, I thought I might be able to learn more about it, as I have done with books about people on the autistic spectrum, such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

So it was with great eagerness that I devoured this book. And it is with mixed feelings that I write this review. Therefore, I thought it would be best to write it in two parts, the first about its literary value, and the second about its value in understanding what dyscalculia means.

Part 1: Literary Value
This book has a lot going for it. For one thing, the characters are all unique and unconventional. While some other reviewers have criticized them as being too strange, I liked them because such people do exist, and reading about characters like these portrayed in positive ways can help promote tolerance and understanding.

Another strength is the plot, which compelled me to keep reading. I found it gripping, moving, and believable in its own world. It was also well written, which is only to be expected from a National Book Award winner. I enjoyed the story tremendously.

However

Part 2: Representation of Dyscalculia
First of all, a disclaimer: I am not an expert in dyscalculia. I have done some reading, and I have worked in math for many years with a variety of students, some of whom struggle with math due to poor math teaching or different learning styles, and a few who genuinely could not work with numbers. Some had parents who hired me as a private tutor precisely because they had such a struggle with math.

That being said, I do understand some things about dyscalculia. I know that it can result in the inability to have number sense, to know how to do some calculations one day and forget the next, perhaps to have no sense of time or money, poor sense of direction, and/or not much working memory. You can read more about it in my entry titled “Dyscalculia and Teaching Math.

Therefore, I expected to see at least one of these struggles shown in the main character. Instead, Mike was able to multiply and divide large numbers in his head. For example, on p. 229:
Good luck getting twenty dollars in one week! Even I could do the math – that was almost three thousand a day.”
Mike was able to keep appointments on time, manipulated numbers in his head, and while he got lost in a new town a few times, who doesn’t? The inability to read maps does not necessarily imply dyscalculia, and he always managed to find his way in the end.

The central conflict of the story is Mike’s relationship with his father, who is a genius in the math and sciences, and who wants his son to succeed in these too. However, the father has a great deal of trouble empathizing, relating to his son, understanding people in general, and being able to converse outside of his own areas of expertise. In short, Erskine has done a beautiful job of characterizing a man with a recognizably typical autistic spectrum disorder, without ever naming it. Mike’s great-aunt Moo even describes oddities in the father’s childhood behavior to confirm to us that these strange behaviors aren’t only due to grief from Mike’s mother’s death, or some other lifetime trauma.

Conclusion
Rather than dyscalculia, Erskine has characterized a boy who can manage the basics of math, but for whom advanced math holds no interest or appeal. That is true for a much larger segment of the population than those with dyscalculia! If the character did have dyscalculia, I wish she would have done as excellent a job in showing it in the character as she did with the father’s autistic behaviors. Granted, dyscalculia isn’t as well understood or “popular,” but I really think the book would have benefitted from an expert’s review before publication. I think marketing it as a book that addresses the topic of dyscalculia is misleading and could lead to a lot of popular misdiagnosis or self diagnosis.

Recommended Resources:
Since I can’t recommend this book for learning about dyscalculia, here are a few resources I can recommend. Please add yours below in the comments. Also, if you disagree with my assessment, I would love to hear your point of view; I want to learn as much as I can about this topic.

My Thirteenth Winter: A Memoir
http://www.dyscalculiaforum.com/

Review: Number Bonds Software for Singapore Math

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011


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Number bonds software

Crystal Springs Books recently produced a new software program for number bonds practice. This concept is foundational to Singapore Math. Number bonds can be used for everything from addition and subtraction to understanding fractions, and Singapore Math makes great use of them in its teaching.

The software, intended for grades K-2, is a simple Flash-based program. The CD comes with installers for both Mac OS and Windows. The program is small and snappy, even on older or slower computers; I have tried it on a first-generation Macbook Pro as well as two netbooks. I have used the software with young students and demonstrated it in front of a group of teachers, and this is what we found.

The program comes with four different games, ranging from very basic to more advanced. In the first game, Pond Bonds, children must move frogs to the appropriate lily pad to form correct number bonds. In the second game, Bird Bonds, the purpose is to move the appropriate bird to the right hole in the birdhouse. In this one, each bird is labeled with a number. The third game, Which Number, shows number bonds with one of the numbers missing; students must click on the correct number to complete the bond. The final game, Which Bond, gives students a number at the top of the screen, with two number bonds below. The student must click on the correct question mark where the top number should go.

The games follow the progression of Concrete > Pictorial > Abstract, which is known to lead to student success. Picking up a kicking frog and dropping it on the lily pad, or hearing it splash in the water, triggers concrete sensory feedback, especially when used with a touch screen or interactive white board. Moving birds with numbers on them starts to combine the concrete with the abstract, and the shapes of the holes in the birdhouse mirror the shapes of the number bonds in the next levels. The final two levels use the pictorial and abstract levels to good effect.

The software has several options for customization. For each game, you can set a numerical range, a time limit, and a number of players. Be aware, though, that if you go with the defaults, it may be a recipe for failure; the time limit is set to lowest, and the numbers are set to the highest range, meaning even a very fast adult can’t get a very high score. I wish the defaults had been reversed. On the other hand, if you need to move students quickly through stations, the fast pace can be good. The fastest time may not allow adequate time for learning, though. Once you set the settings for a game, they stay that way until you change them.

One area where this software is lacking is educational feedback for the player. On the early games, if you miss a question, you can go back and try again, but you don’t receive any clues about what went wrong. On the higher games, if you miss one, too bad; you can’t even try again. I would like to see some sort of helpful feedback when mistakes are made.

When you have one player set, the score for the player is displayed at the end of the game. For more players, the others have to sit through each entire set until the scores are displayed at the end. I think more interactive game play would be nice. There is no way to save scores in the software, either. I would recommend that teachers create individual score sheets for students to keep track of their scores and how they improve over time, so they compete against themselves, not against others.

Since the software is Flash-based, it cannot run on iOS devices. I hope they develop a version for that platform soon.

UPDATE: As of March 2013, an iOS version is available! Read the review here.

Conclusion: Highly Recommended
Number Bonds is a simple, inexpensive software package that can provide extra addition and subtraction practice in the classroom or at home. Children find it fun and engaging, and it provides good composing and decomposing practice, as well as mental addition and subtraction. I would use it for a wider age range of children; it can be helpful for differentiating, like with more advanced preschoolers and upper elementary students who need foundational number bond practice. It would be nice if the software had a few more features, but I’m sure those features would take away from the software’s speedy response on older hardware. For best results, it should be run on a touch device, so it would be great if it could be installed on iOS or Android in the future.

Pros:
Not expensive
Site license available
Small and fast
Good educational design (concrete > pictorial > abstract)
Fun for children
Range of levels and challenges
Compatible with a wide range of desktops and laptops
Singapore math-based!

Cons:
Not enough feedback on mistakes
Can’t save score data
Settings need to be reset when first played
Not a true multiplayer game
Needs teacher introduction to be most effective (not stand-alone)
Teachers need training to make the most of it, but program-based help is minimal

        
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