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Steve Piazza

May 15, 2009, 6:46:23 AM5/15/09
to Parents for Quality Math Education
One thing I have noticed at "math night", the coffees at Corl Street,
and the comments at the May 4 Board meeting is that just about all the
teachers and administrators who prefer Investigations justify it by
saying that this approach "makes math fun".

I have two reactions to this. The first is that this sort of
justification implies that math is inherently not fun. Nobody would
marvel at a new invention that "makes amusement parks fun", but
something that "makes haircuts fun" would be a real innovation. It is
certainly possible to make math boring, and maybe a very long time ago
educators did that by drilling kids without any attention to concepts,
but that is no longer the case. The alternatives to Investigations
that I hope we eventually consider, like Singapore and Saxon, build
conceptual understanding, are far from mindless drilling, and kids
like them.

My second reaction was summed up by a parent at the last Corl Street
coffee, who said something like "It's okay if my kids have a little
less fun if it means that they gain a better understanding of the
math." (Sorry if I have garbled this; maybe that parent can correct
me if I am misquoting him). I couldn't agree with this more; if my
kids have to slog their way through a dozen practice problems
occasionally to make sure they have mastery of a concept or an
algorithm, they can take it. I doubt that any of us would say that
our kids aren't getting enough fun.

There is a good article in this week's New Yorker about how delaying
self-gratification correlates with academic achievement. Here's a key

Angela Lee Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the
University of Pennsylvania, is leading the program. She first grew
interested in the subject after working as a high-school math teacher.
“For the most part, it was an incredibly frustrating experience,” she
says. “I gradually became convinced that trying to teach a teen-ager
algebra when they don’t have self-control is a pretty futile
exercise.” And so, at the age of thirty-two, Duckworth decided to
become a psychologist. One of her main research projects looked at the
relationship between self-control and grade-point average. She found
that the ability to delay gratification—eighth graders were given a
choice between a dollar right away or two dollars the following week—
was a far better predictor of academic performance than I.Q. She said
that her study shows that “intelligence is really important, but it’s
still not as important as self-control.”

( Full article at


May 15, 2009, 9:42:18 AM5/15/09
to Parents for Quality Math Education
Yet as a result of lack of challenges, a lot of kids find math at
school boring (instead of fun).

Nikki P.

May 15, 2009, 9:52:23 AM5/15/09
to Parents for Quality Math Education
Very interesting research! I completely agree. Kids don't need
everything packaged in fancy paper and padded with promises of bliss.
My 1st grader knows that "math games" are not really games at all.
They are work, and he complains about them. It makes me laugh to
think that some math curriculum writer said, "Gee, let's create these
math games and kids will go crazy having fun playing them and not even
realizing they are learning because they'll be having so much fun!"
How many of you have ever seen your child spontaneously choose to
repeat a 'math game' in his or her free time? Don't hold your breath
for it.

Oak Norton

May 16, 2009, 3:29:03 PM5/16/09
to Parents for Quality Math Education
Again, Benchmark Elementary in Arizona uses Singapore math, is the #1
school in the state on test scores and 94% of the kids say math is
their favorite class. The math lead there also says the state test is
too easy for their students otherwise it would show the true gap in
learning between the Singapore math method and anything else.

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