Update 9/8/07: Here’s a great article on the state of K-12 math education in the U.S. and how any constructive debate on math instruction gets squelched by politics.
Last year Hubby and I attended a math orientation to learn about the differences between two types of math instruction offered at our local high school: CPM (College Preparatory Math) vs. “traditional” math.
They passed out a flier which I have transcribed below. I’ve also added my initial, uninformed, I-Was-An-English-Major opinion:
How to Choose Math
|Traditional||CPM||Bonnie’s Uninformed Initial Opinion|
|Students take notes, receive direction, and repeat new skills as modeled by the teacher.||Students work in groups to discover new ideas through carefully directed problems.||CPM learning sounds dynamic and fun! But that traditional math sounds BORING.|
|Students solve problems that are usually more skills oriented||Students develop strong problem-solving skills.||Students don’t develop strong problem-solving skills in traditional math? Wow! Who knew?|
|Students usually work independently answering questions posed in the textbook||Students work in groups exchanging ideas, making comparisons, drawing conclusions and justifying their work||The CPM classroom sounds like a heckuva lot more fun! (Those poor traditional students.)|
|Students ask questions of the teacher and use the texbook as the main source of information||Students have access to group members when questions arise and seek teacher’s help as needed||CPM students don’t really need a textbook—heck, even the teacher sounds secondary|
|Student assessment usually reflects only individual achievement||Student assessment reflects both individual and group achievement||Traditional testing seems kind of inadequate|
|Quiet, structured classroom||Active, involved classroom||Quiet, structured learning—that’s bad, right? I mean, there seemed to be a pattern here…|
I raised my hand and asked how CPM students did in SATs in comparison to traditional math students. The CPM rep said, “Great question! CPM students do as well or better than traditional students! Any other questions?”
It all sounded good, but I was having a problem with a CPM concept that sounded like my kid’s individual achievement wasn’t as an important marker as his group’s achievement. Maybe aiming for higher group achievement is a more noble goal, but how on earth were they going to manage parent-teacher conferences?
TEACHER: Mrs. Brown, the entire class has improved significantly!
PARENT: But what about my Johnny? Has he improved?
TEACHER: Hmmm, not really. But the class as a whole has significantly improved! Significantly!
I decided to leave it up to Hubby, an engineer who obviously took a lot more math than I ever did and therefore was better qualified to judge. Turns out he had quite a bit to say about CPM, namely:
- The creators of CPM math obviously never earned paychecks Out In The Real World, and
- CPM sounded like a huge crock of you-know-what.
So we enrolled Tiger in a “traditional” geometry class. Surprisingly, some elements of CPM still managed to creep into Tiger’s “traditional” math class. Twice he got to take a group test, which (in case you don’t know) is conducted as follows:
- The classroom is divided into groups of four
- Every student is given a test
- The four students in each group work on the test together and come up with a consensus for each answer
- The group finishes and turns in their tests
- The teacher collects the four tests, staples them together, and then grades only the page on the top and the page on the bottom and gives every member of the group that one grade.
I called up a math professor friend of mine and asked her to explain the general educational theory behind group testing. She said, “There’s a lot of theory behind group testing, but honestly? It boils down to this: the teacher only has to grade the equivalent of one test instead of four.”
This year I did a little more research and no longer have to rely soley on Hubby’s judgement. But in my humble, I-Was-An-English-Major opinion, CPM is a very large crock of educational you-know-what. At least for my kids.