Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Opinion of Everyday Mathematics

Jason Buell writes:
If you find the time, I'm curious about your opinion of Everyday Math. Everybody that encounters it seems to either love it or hate it. It is amazing how polarizing. But I guess, I'm often amazed at how strongly people feel about how math should be taught. (Full disclosure, my oldest is off to kinder next year and EDM is their series)
Well, it's not called the Math Wars for nothing.  In fact, the Sears household is a bit divided over Everyday Mathematics ourselves.

First, I should offer a disclaimer, I am only familiar with Everyday Mathematics from a parent's perspective.  I see the worksheets that my son brings home, but I have not reviewed any of the other materials.  I don't work with my son much with math, as he does pretty well without me.  (We spend most of our time on spelling.  That's my boy.)
A worksheet from Everyday Mathematics, Second Grade
My wife, an elementary school teacher most years, does not like Everyday Mathematics as much as other mathematics series.  She thinks that it introduces too many topics during each grade, and does not give enough time for mastery of topics.  That does not mean that she hates Everyday Mathematics.

I like the applications.  One worksheet had Connor looking around the house for objects that were approximately the size of his arm span.  I have warmed up to a spiral curriculum, where topics are repeated from one grade to the next with increasing depth.  I know that there are some topics in mathematics that you don't grasp the first time through.  Infinite series is one topic that I needed to see twice before I understood it.  Also, I think that the spiral curriculum can fill in some gaps in the students knowledge that would be propagated throughout the student's educations.

I think the polarization caused by Everyday Mathematics comes from the fact that it was one of the first reform series (as far as I can tell), and thus was subject to all of the misconceptions of mathematics reform.  I found this video early on in my YouTube explorations.

If you watch this video, you will see that the woman speaking has a limited understanding of what is mathematics and how people do mathematics in "real life".  If you see mathematics as little more than arithmetic performed by strict algorithms, then you will agree with this speaker.  (By the way, I really like the method of multiplication of whole numbers that the speaker criticizes.  I'm glad that she showed it to us.)

The response that I liked was from fellow Kentuckian James Blackburn-Lynch.  He got a copy of two of the books from Everyday Mathematics, and he gives a good explanation of what the series is trying to accomplish.

I have no reservations about Everyday Mathematics at all.  I know that my son will do well with the program.