Friday, September 25, 2015

Advanced Math - Or Not

I'm haunted by recent reader comments about which is the best 3rd grade math book to use with 1st grade kids.   The small issue is which book to get.  The bigger issue is whether your 1st grader should be doing any math at all.  I say this as a parent who put kids through advanced math - because they are perfectly capable of doing it - and watched them completely lose interest in math altogether.

First, which book?  At least one reader recommended Challenging Word Problems published by Marshall Cavendish.   This book includes 2 types of material: standard math, on par with the Every Day math program that our school used to teach, and word problems which have 2 parts.   The word problems are good, and I think it's doable by advanced second graders and super advanced first graders.  It's better than the other workbooks I've seen.  If I home schooled math, I might use this book.  I'm a fan of Every Day math with supplemental material.  It's a toss up.

The problem with advanced math is that a kid will gradually get to the point where the concepts like fractions and decimals are understandable, as well as the extra calculation required by 3 digit problems, become time consuming, tedious, and irrelevant to a 7 year old.  From that point forward, the child is learning to dislike math.  Then the 4th grade train wreck happens.

Now the big problem.

Our school just switched to the Connected Math Project (CMP) from Michigan State for 5th grade on.  (It's an accelerated program so the kids in 5th grade use the 6th grade text.)  The approach is to assign homework every night, which the kids hopefully get most of it done, but wrong, which they discuss the next day.   It is problem centered, and no help, examples, or text book is provided.  Just problems introducing new math concepts.  This program is the cutting edge of math education research (aka Jo Boaler) and I was stunned to hear it presented.  This is how I think math should be taught.

For 1st to 4th grade, there is still the need to introduce math concepts and computational skills.  There is nothing out there like CMP below the 6th grade level.  The best research, including Boaler's, appears to be at the middle school level.

Before I spent 2 years reverse engineering the GAT test, I did a lot of research on early math.  I put together a summer math camp for 5 and 6 year olds (which was a blast for all of us).  We did stacks of workbooks and flashcards at home.  But post GAT test, I have a completely different attitude.  If this test is a good predictor of academic success, and it is based on measuring academic and thinking skills, why not just teach these skills to kids and let them teach themselves math?  If they have the skill set, they can just walk in to math at any age and master it on the spot as their interest dictates.  This is the same skills set that kids can use to walk into a test completely unprepared and do really well because they can think through the questions.

We're now working through Test Prep Math Level 3 which I'm going to release on Amazon.  I've been crafting problems using fairly simple math (by my standards) that are designed to exercise the skill set I see in the tests.   The first problem is doable if you can keep 3 equations in your brain at the same time, but by the middle of the book I expect an advanced child to spend 10 minutes just trying to figure out the question and will most likely take more than one try to get it right.  All with basic math.

If GAT tests required a certain level of concentration and skills, I think a good way to prepare is to spend a few months struggling through material that requires 2 or 3 times the thinking.  That is what we did.  The biggest disappointment in the test prep industry is the lack of challenging material.  I speculate that if a test prep book requires the 97th percentile of thinking the book would not have much sales.  That is why my first printing run is going to be about 20 copies, and it will therefore probably have a high price.  Nonetheless, you can check it out soon to see where all of this has led me.



 





21 comments:

  1. Looking forward to your book!

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  2. I am buying your book! What grade child should use it? First (working 2 years ahead)?

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    1. Thanks for the vote of confidence. It's going to have to wait a week because I need to move my logo. If your child is a new second grader, a year ahead in math, and at the 95%, they will get most questions in Level 3 wrong, even though the arithmetic is simple. I'm working on Level 2 now, and I expect a second grader to be highly challenged. Give me a few months to complete it.

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  3. Can't wait to buy your book!!

    One question for you - I have a kindergartener who can read level 1 through 4 books with some help (which means, she will find some words she needs help to read but overall she reads books smoothly). She is probably bored at school (they're working on letters or simple words that she already learned when she was three) so I try to read a lot with her. I know you posted a few things on reading program but I still want to ask you this question. There are tons of level 1 through 4 books you can get so I do get some every other week. I do want to see her reading and vocabulary improved significantly (advanced in 2 grade levels) so I am doing vocabulary workshop right now besides reading. Should I keep getting those books or move onto chapter books like magic tree? I guess my question is should I get more books with challenging vocabulary and let her struggle or pull more books that are right at her level (she can build her confidence and make reading more fun)?

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    1. I think I have answers to this in articles from a few years ago. The answer is both. Move to Magic Tree House, Flat Stanley, and any series she likes as soon as possible, but also get lots of books at levels 1-4 as well, and well done picture books that won a Caldecot. Always keep a mix. Let her take as long as she wants with the first MTH. My kids decided on their own pace, and it went faster than expected. But they still read everything at all levels just because they like to, and that is OK with me..

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    2. Thanks so much!!!

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  4. Wow!! What fun!! I am so looking forward to it.

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    1. If you are referring to Test Prep Math Level 3 by me, it just became available on Amazon.com 20 minutes ago but it doesn't come up with any search including "insane guy wrote ridiculously hard math book". I'm simultaneously nervous that it will be too hard and not hard enough but the results so far in testing have be way better than expected..

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    2. Super ! I see it there. Have it on order. I thought that was an assumed name since your math prep sheets had the same name too. Nicely priced !
      Regardless, it will be fun working through it.

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    3. Feel free to post questions and comments, even negative ones. I have a lot of marketing to do. Right now, the cover looks like a graduate text book, and my description is pretty bland relative to the content which gets pretty goofy as the plot slowly unfolds. Yes, I said plot. I was really tempted to write a math workbook novel, and I think Level 2 is going to be one.

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  5. The books says for Grades 2 and 3. Do you think it's too early for K and Grade 1?

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    1. As I wrote this book, I handed the questions to a soon to be 2nd grader who is in the 99 percentile. It took him more than 2 or 3 tries to get the easier questions right and he was spending 45 minutes on the difficult questions. Here's the great part - he hasn't gotten a single question wrong since on a math test or quiz and his class is doing 3rd grade math. Nonetheless, I recommend you wait for Level 2. I'm disappointed you can't see in the book on Amazon. I'll post some sample questions in an article soon so you can see for yourself.

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  6. I see an uncanny resemblance in appearance between the book cover and your blog :). I am sure it is going to be fun working our way through it.

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    1. No one has commented on my brand logo. My wife hates it.

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    2. Logo...good name. Overly simplistic look.

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    3. I'm going for the graduate school look.

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  7. I bought it! I have a set of twins that just entered first grade and one more that just entered fourth. It may not work right away with the younger ones but by this summer maybe...just for fun ;)

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  8. Just to make sure I am purchasing your book, it it the one with the "Test Crusher" on the top?

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    1. Yes, that is my new brand. Is it too subtle?

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    2. Great. I like it. That will do!!! :) I can see it selling like crazy. Totally getting it. When do we see level 2 coming out?

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    3. See the article from last night.

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