What Investigations teachers really think…..

about our children.

The following is an exert of a dissertation which appears on the TERC web site, entitled “Tidy Math Fan”. It was written in 2001 by Susan James, Grade 5 teacher, Winston-Salem, NC. I think the piece speaks for itself.

What is tidy math? Worksheets containing orderly rows of computation problems, all essentially the same problem, but with different numbers. Textbooks or teachers that cleanly demonstrate a method step by step and then ask students to do thirty problems using that same method. These are examples of tidy math.

Who are tidy math fans? Students who are neat and well-organized. Students who may not be too creative, but who pay attention and follow directions well. Students who are satisfied with knowing how and who are not bothered by not knowing why. Students who grow up, meet math teachers like myself at parties, and say “Oh, I’ve always liked math. I love how there’s always one right answer to a problem.” These are tidy math fans.

Tidy math fans do well in what we now call “traditional” math programs. But as some schools adopt new programs like Investigations, some of these students face a sudden drop in status, from one of the best math students in the class to an average, sometimes struggling student. Their self-esteem about their math ability plummets. It’s no wonder that some of their parents (who themselves grew up with tidy math) put up a fuss about the new program and teaching style that is causing their children’s loss of confidence.

Certainly not all students who enjoy tidy math are less successful with Investigations or similar programs. Some of them rise to the challenge and find that they are able to generate their own strategies instead of just following the teacher’s strategy, and that they actually feel better about what they are doing now that they understand why it works. But there are still some tidy math fans who do not adapt well. The rules for success and the very definition of what it means to do math have changed on them. Math is much harder now.

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3 Responses to “What Investigations teachers really think…..”

  1. Fred Says:

    Susan James sounds like a pompous ass. I’m willing to bet that if she were taught TERC as a child, she would have ended up working at McD’s, not teaching children. Perhaps she shouldn’t even be allowed to teach……

  2. Old Fashion Liberal Says:

    Tidy Math Fans. What a “neat” way to call your opponents a denigrating name! This is the sort of argument used by someone who does not want to deal with the issue itself. How does it work? You begin with the assumption (not bothering with proof) that you are right. Instead of dealing with your opponents’ logical arguments, you “politely” and smugly call them a cute name. Then you justify the appropriateness of this name with psychobabble.

    If Susan James does not understand how to teach math, what are the odds she understands psychology? Has it occurred to this lady that neat and well-organized students just don’t like being bored by Investigations?

  3. marni Says:

    I do understand where these TERC like programs come from but they are misguided for the following reasons:

    1. Programs like TERC belabor the obvious in elementary school. Rather than teach long division, methods like partial quotients are taught, not in addition, which would be fine, but instead of.

    2. In general elementary school teachers are not schooled in any form of advanced math and so, even if, as the supporters claim, TERC like methods will some day help with Number Theory, the typical elementary teacher has never taken Number Theory.

    3. An enormous amount of time is spent urging children NOT to memorize tables or learn algorithms, however, in high school those same students ARE taught to memorize the quadratic formula.

    4. I have taught math at several colleges and most colleges seem to be requiring that their student NOT use a calculator. Colleges observe that way too many students are unable to multiply a number by 10. They never learned about adding a zero. I really do cringe when I ask someone what 10 times 5 is and I get 48. Giving a calculator out in elementary school and taking it away in college is the reverse of what it should be.

    5. Probably the number one problem is teaching too much rather than too little. We have silly programs in elementary school that teach understanding but NO programs in middle school and beyond that bother. Students memorize geometric facts and then quickly forget them. If students were made to prove theorems, then they would remember those facts. Student’s memorize the various laws of exponents, the quadratic and distance formula, etc., etc.

    6. Back in the good old days, the bad math student could multiply by 10 and do basic addition and multiplication and the better students went on to be engineers. Now, the bad student is a math illiterate, and proud of it and engineering students have many holes in their math knowledge. Specifically, since most have never really learned long division, they find doing polynomial division difficult if not impossible.


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