Friday, September 12, 2014

The Common Core High School Math Standards — a closer look

From Henri Picciotto (26 January 2014):

I have recently retired from teaching high school math in an independent school, and now work largely with public schools, as a freelance math education consultant and curriculum developer. If I were still in the classroom, I could have ignored the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM) for a while, because their impact on private schools would take some time to kick in. However in my new career, the CCSSM affect everything I do, so I decided to take a close look at the standards for grades 9-12.
The views I articulate in this paper are based on my own experience as a teacher (42 years in the classroom, K-12), curriculum developer (author of a dozen books, a dozen articles, and a large math education Web site), and department chair (30 years or so at the Urban School of San Francisco.) I realize that this does not guarantee that I am right about any of the questions I'll be addressing. On the other hand, I am confident that my experience is at least as valid as that of any one of the authors of the CCSSM.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

NCTM Regional Conferences Dan Meyer Doubleheader

Dan Meyer
No, it was not a web page error as I first thought, but Dan Meyer is indeed giving the keynote presentation at two of the three Regional NCTM meetings this fall: Indianapolis October 29-31 and Richmond November 12-14. Here are the details.

Opening Session
Wednesday, October 29 - Indianapolis
Dan Meyer, Stanford University; Stanford, California
Fake World Math: Why Modeling Goes Wrong (And How to Get It Right) 
Meyer works with thousands of math educators every year and finds more disagreement about the CCSS modeling standard than any other. So he has set out to answer the questions, What is modeling, How do we get our students to do it, and How do we get our students to like it?

Opening Session
Wednesday,  November 12 - Richmond
Dan Meyer, Stanford University; Stanford, California
Beyond Relevance & Real World: Stronger Strategies for Student Engagement
Highlighting relevance and real-world connections are often seen as the most effective strategies for engaging students in difficult mathematics, but both strategies are limited and can fail in crucial ways. We'll add strategies to our repertoire, looking at research-based methods for creating need and developing questions instead.

The reason I'm bringing this up besides the fact that Im thrilled for Dan and the NCTM committees that chose him is that he brings his potent message about how math should be taught to the forefront of the math communities in those cities. In Indianapolis he focuses on modeling as something that the common core folks didn't get right which begs the question for me: what else didn't they get right? Since NCTM is supporting CCSS 100% its good to hear that they allow for some introspection via their keynoters.

For more information about this fall's regional NCTM conference programs see:


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

NCTM Conference in Boston 2015 Announcement

I'll be speaking at the annual NCTM conference in Boston next April. Also as has been my custom for the last 10 years I'm planning to preview all the technology related sessions in Boston. (See last year's tech preview of the New Orleans NCTM conference.)

Here's a description of my session:

Title: Inside a Dynamic Math 2.0 Classroom
Description: The Internet, cloud computing and portable devices are making inroads into the classroom. What does a Web 2.0 based classroom involving dynamic math software that produces active learning look like? Examples of collaborative math 2.0 activities will be shared. (These activities are highlighted in my forthcoming - November, 2014 - book "The Wannado Curriculum: Scenes from a Dynamic Math 2.0 Classroom.")

If you are speaking at the NCTM conference next April on a technology theme, please let me know so I can highlight your talk in my preview listing.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

NEW! NCTM's Journal Blogs

NCTM has joined the blogosphere with three entries: one corresponding to each journal. Here's how NCTM describes them.
Each of NCTM’s three teacher journal blogs has been developed to expand on a theme or topic:

1. Math Tasks to Talk About in Teaching Children Mathematics
2. Blogarithm: Standards of Mathematical Practice in the Middle Grades in Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, and
3. Joy and Inspiration in the Mathematics Classroom in Mathematics Teacher  
Blog posts are contributed by guest bloggers from within the mathematics education community, and all three invite comments from the field.  Access your journal blog above and join the conversation now.
These blogs are independent of the actual articles in the Journals. The only way to comment about an article is to send an email to the editorial staff of the Journals ( I had a comment about an article in Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School (MTMS) entitled Tasks to Develop Language for Ratio Relationships. (You have to be a member of NCTM to read it.)

I have a problem with young children focusing on such language distinctions as “the blue ribbon is 5 times longer than the red ribbon” and “the blue ribbon is five times as long as the red ribbon”. The important thing is that students understand multiplicative reasoning using whatever language makes sense to them, rather than confuse with language that I as math educator have trouble making sense of.

Is there a public forum for comments about MTMS articles? If not, there should be.

Thanks in advance for a response.


Ihor Charischak
White Plains, NY

Waiting to hear back.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Diane Briar's Core Truth

Diane Briars
At the last NCTM conference in New Orleans (2014) Diane Briars officially became the 48th president of NCTM. One of her mandates as president is to support the roll out of the CCSSM and look at it as a cup half full rather than half empty. In her first president's message entitled "Core Truths" she does an excellent job of presenting the CCSSM as an opportunity for the math community to build on and create curriculums for their districts that empower students and teacher to learn and teach math. About the backlash to the Standards she writes:
"With respect to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM), what I find most troubling is that much of the rhetoric is based on false or incomplete knowledge about the standards and their development, or it confuses the standards with implementation activities, issues, and policies, including testing policies. Such arguments have little potential to improve mathematics education. Distinguishing CCSSM facts from fallacy is essential both for implementing the standards effectively and for engaging in thoughtful, reasoned critique of them for future refinements."
This is true. In its purest form who could argue that a coherent set of standards would not benefit math education. However, the opponents have some relevant points to make and these are not addressed in her message. It's also not in her role as president, which is too bad. It would have been nice if she had acknowledged the concerns that more than half of the teachers polled in the study Diane mentions have about the standards and how these concerns can be addressed. My main concern is that the standards will be perceived as merely a list of objectives. Unlike the Standards of 2000 which had some spirit and lots of good examples this latest version is more like a set of to dos which teachers in their busy lives will complete in a more rote manner. The Principles to Actions does a little to help, but the examples in that book are not all that interesting. The chapter on technology is excellent in that it appeals to the power of Web 2.0 to transform math education. None of this powerful trend in technology is mentioned in the standards. I'm sure that Diane is aware of this being a long time supporter of technology in math education, but her main purpose in her Core Truth message is to address the negative spin as indicated in her closing remarks that describe the three pronged approach to support CCSSM which I quote below. (It's times like this that I miss the possibilities that Steve Leinwand might have brought to the table as president.)

Here is Diane's closing comments.
"The Common Core State Standards represent too important an opportunity to squander because of rhetoric based on incorrect and incomplete information and public confusion of the Common Core State Standards themselves with shortcomings in their implementation. NCTM has developed a three-pronged approach to support the CCSSM: 
1. Clearly describe and publicize the practices, policies, programs, and actions required for successful implementation of CCSSM through wide dissemination of Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All. NCTM cannot do this alone. Our Affiliates and their members are important partners in this effort. 
2. Enhance and expand our professional learning opportunities related to Principles to Actions and implementation of CCSSM at our conferences and institutes and in our journals, and continue to build our collection of relevant professional learning resources. This spring, each NCTM committee developed specific plans for this work. 
3. Actively advocate for the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, correcting misconceptions, clarifying confusion, and highlighting ways in which CCSSM supports students in learning more and better mathematics. Most important, we need to help parents and the broader public become aware that the conceptual understanding and habits of mind—for example, problem solving, reasoning, and perseverance—that CCSSM calls for are essential for students’ preparation for their futures 
This third prong requires all of us, especially teachers and parents, to personalize CCSSM by describing its benefits for their students and children. I strongly urge you to get involved in the dialogue. Correct misconceptions. Separate standards from implementation issues. And highlight the benefits and opportunities that the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics afford to increase the mathematics learning of all students."
I'm an optimist at heart and I wish Diane a successful term as president.

You will find the Diane's entire message here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

When Am I Ever Going to Need This?

Jordan Enberg writes in “How Not To Be Wrong - the Power of Mathematical Thinking”  that the best answer to the age old “When am I ever going to need this” question is: tennis. If you want to play tennis you have to do a lot of boring practice to get good. The implication being that you should practice math because it builds up your thinking muscles. That is probably true. For those that play a lot of tennis and work at the skills needed to get better I assume that they really WANT TO play tennis. Enberg’s analogy to math flops because most students once they reach their teenage years would rather take out the garbage than do math.* The problem with it is that there are other more interesting ways to build the same muscles especially for those students more interested in the softer sciences. Children will build their math power if they see a reason to do it. Just because math is cool to people like Jordan Enberg and many others (including me) who want students to really, really like math, It isn’t going to work unless the students see a need for math. 

My favorite example for this is Green Globs (see my blog about it.)  Green Globs is terrific at motivating students to learn how functions work. But the joys of learning functions is not the main reason they want to learn about them. I always tell my students that the reason they should learn about functions is because in two weeks they will be involved in the Great Green Globs Contest and will need to learn to play Globs well enough to help their team win the contest. Since the math in Globs is intrinsically interesting for most students, they are willing to learn what it takes to do well - just like in tennis. In that blog entry I told you the story of Guillermo the failing math student who managed to get a perfect score of 8191 points by knocking down all thirteen globs with one function. What I didn’t tell you is how many students were inspired by Guillermo to improve their scores because they really wanted to learn the math needed to score higher. Now winning the Green Globs contest is a small incentive compared to how we want math to inspire students to really want to do something significant in the world. What is it that inspires kids to want to learn important math that will help them to achieve their personal goals? By creating real world projects as the central goal of curriculums! The math curriculum that almost everyone uses was set up in 1892 by a group of academics known as the Committee of Ten and hasn’t really changed in over a hundred years. Isn’t it time that something new, that students WANT TO buy into becomes the default curriculum? A curriculum that will encourage areas of study that students are passionate about.

At the college level, Roger Schank has “built story-centered curriculums meant to teach practical business by creating simulated experiences. The idea is to deliver it online around the world, using mentors who speak the students’ language. No classes. no lectures. No tests. Graduates get an MBA degree […] The idea is to help people launch their own business or go to work.” (page 58 - Teaching Minds.)

This doesn’t mean that the conventional curriculum doesn’t work. My Columbia Prep teaching days made me realize that there were plenty of students who wanted to take on the Royal Road to Calculus and I say more power to them! What I’m suggesting is what Ronald Wolk writes about in "Wasting Minds: Our Education System is Failing and What we Can do About It." We should develop an alternative curriculum that empowers students to really take advantage of math in ways that are appropriate for them.

*Karim Ani of said this during his presentation at the NCTM conference in New Orleans last April.

Roger Schank. Teaching Minds: How Cognitive Science can Save our Schools
See also Roger’s blog about how to redesign high schools. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Mathman Retires

"How can I motivate my students to get more interested in doing math?" was the question I posed to Don Cohen back in 1972 at a Saturday morning math workshop in NYC.  "The problem is that your kids are not really doing math," Don replied as we strolled down a picturesque Greenwich Village street. "What you need to do is get your students to create their own math. But first the teacher needs to do the same. That's the purpose of the workshop I am leading here." That one comment has stayed with me ever since as I continue my effort to inspire teachers to aim for that vision for themselves and with their students.

After 38 years of math tutoring, Don Cohen will hang up his hat as "The Math Man" at the end of this month. (Read more)

You can hear Don interviewed by Maria Droujkova at a Math 2.0 Webinar back in 2010 where he talks about his experiences with Calculus by and for Young People.