Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"Guided Math" rant

Guided Math by Prentice Hall

Ashley is in 6th grade GT Math, which basically means that she's doing the 7th grade math curriculum. She has always done very well in Math, and before this year had only ever received one "B" on any report card ever in Math. Since beginning this new curriculum, she has struggled to learn the material. Her grade this 9 weeks was not bad, an 88 (her second ever "B"), but after doing homework with her time and time again, I'm not convinced that she's learning what she needs in order to be a successful Algebra student in the coming years and that is primarily because of this new "Guided Math" curriculum. She brings home work that Mark and I struggle to help her with. And it's not necessarily the simple math problems, it's the way the questions are asked, and lack of instruction within the text. Like I said, we've been struggling with this text since August. I've talked with her teacher briefly about it and she dislikes the curriculum as much as we do. She told me that a conference wouldn't be much benefit because she has no idea what to tell me. She's just as put out with the curriculum as I am.

So last night I get to digging. I'm trying to find something that can help guide me through instruction, maybe a teachers guide for the text, something. What I found has me more up in arms than I can even begin to describe. Here is a quote from the material I found that comes to the teachers with the curriculum. This is a block of text that stands alone:

“Connected Mathematics may be very different from curricula with which you are familiar. Because important concepts are embedded within problems rather than explicitly stated and demonstrated in the student text, you play a critical role in helping students develop appropriate understanding, strategies, and skills. It is your thoughtful engagement with the curriculum and your reflections on student learning that will create a productive classroom environment.”

I read this paragraph probably 5 times in hopes that somehow I could wrap my mind around why important concepts are NOT explicitly stated and demonstrated for the students. While I do understand that there is a "bigger picture" that the students need to see, why on earth do they need to DECODE! These are middle schoolers. These are not adults taking a math class because they have an overwhelming desire to learn. They're trying to learn what they NEED to learn. TELL THEM WHAT THEY NEED TO KNOW! Tell them HOW to do a problem! This text is designed so that students can NOT miss a day of school, can NOT be anything but an auditory learner, and can NOT have parents at home that are uneducated. The role of math teacher has now become ours. And don't get me wrong, I WANT to help my child learn, but without a text that expicitly states and demonstrates important concepts, how can I fill that role? We have questions that are extremely difficult to decipher and decode, with NO examples given. These questions that have "embedded" concepts. GRRRRRR! I can research all I want on how to an algebra problem, but with this text it's not as simple as that. Most of the time spent on homework is trying to understand WHAT type of answer this text is looking for. It's extremely frustrating.

For example, here is a snippit from the guide I found online:

The role of the teacher in a problem-centered
curriculum is different from the curriculum in
which the teacher explains ideas clearly and
demonstrates procedures so students can quickly
and accurately duplicate these procedures.A
problem-centered curriculum such as Connected
Mathematics is best suited to an inquiry model
of instruction.

What this means is that instruction is reverse. The students are assigned problems for homework, (GRADED homework I might add) and it is not until the homework is being graded in class that the students are taught how to work through the problems. I have confirmed that this IS ACTUALLY the way it's done. So, now we have this "guided math" that "best suited to an inquiry model of instruction", yet the inquiry begins at home, where there is a terrible lack of material provided for instruction.

My negative interpretation of this curriculum is that little time was spent on developing the text, and the justification is that this is "guided math". This leaves way too much ambiguity. Lets hope our teachers are all well trained in Connected Mathmatics and that they are supporters of this curriculum (which so far, from what I'm hearing they are NOT). With this curriculum, expect big problems, HUGE problems. including complete frustration and disinterest in mathmatics from even the sharpest students.

This will NOT be our classrooms next year, and I will make sure of that.