One particular Step Ahead of the Daily Math Train Wreck


by Barry Garelick

The very first math tutoring session with my daughter and her good friend Laura had ended.  I sat in the dining room, slumped in my chair.  “You seem sick,” my wife stated.

“I am,” I mentioned.

My daughter—subjected to the vagaries of Everyday Mathematics (one), a math program her college had selected and place in result when she was in the third grade—was obtaining problems with key ideas and computations.  She was now in sixth grade, and with fractional division, percentages and decimals on the agenda, I wanted to make certain she mastered these items. So, near the beginning of 6th grade, I made the decision to start tutoring her employing the textbooks utilized in Singapore’s schools.  I was acquainted with the books to know they are effective (2). To make the prospect far more palatable, I advised tutoring her good friend at the identical time, considering that Laura’s mom had described to me that her daughter was also having troubles in math.

I figured I would commence with the fourth grade unit on fractions which was all about including and subtracting fractions, which they had already completed, and then move rapidly into fifth grade, and commence on the rudiments of multiplication. “This’ll be effortless,” I imagined. “They’ve had all this before in 4th and 5th grades.”

We only produced it into two pages of text in the fourth grade guide.  I came to discover out that regardless of their being in 6th grade, the notion of equivalent fractions (one/2 = 2/4 = 3/6 and so on) was new to them.  This was the beginning of my try to educate my daughter what she required to know about fractions even though striving to keep 1 phase ahead of the train wreck of Every day Math (EM).

Train Wreck Defined

To recognize why I refer to Daily Math as a train wreck, I want to give some context.  First of all, some information about me: I majored in mathematics and have been operating in the area of environmental safety for 36 years.  I not only use mathematics myself, but I work with engineers and scientists which requires a reasonably great proficiency in it.

Every day Mathematics was created at the University of Chicago through a grant from the Schooling and Human Sources Division of the National Science Foundation in the early 90’s.  It has been implemented in a lot of public colleges in the U.S.   Dad and mom have typically protested its adoption and in some situations have prevented it from currently being employed, or succeeded in receiving the program halted.  For illustration, after a local parent group put pressure on the Bridgewater-Raritan Schools in New Jersey,  a very comprehensive program evaluation was carried out ( which resulted in a 9- college Board vote to replace Everyday Mathematics with a more balanced and classic program, HSP Math by Harcourt College Publishers.  In other situations (such as in Palo Alto, California most recently), it has been adopted in spite of protests from dad and mom.

The Singapore math texts are portion of the Principal Mathematics curriculum, created in 1981 by Curriculum Planning &amp Improvement Institute of Singapore. Singapore’s math texts have been distributed in the U.S. by a personal venture in Oregon,, formed following the benefits of the global check TIMSS spurred the curiosity of homeschoolers and prominent mathematicians alike.

As I pointed out, my daughter’s school in Fairfax County, Virginia commenced employing the system when she was in third grade.  By fourth grade, I was seeing some of the confusion induced by EM’s different algorithms.  This factor of EM has been written about extensively so I will not dwell on it here [i, ii, iii] except to say I wanted to make confident my daughter understood the normal algorithms for two-digit multiplication and for long division. Her teacher insisted they use the option algorithms supplied by EM she did not educate the common algorithm for extended division. Some of the teachers at her college presented tutoring companies, so we employed 1 of them to teach her the common algorithms.

The teacher/tutor did as we instructed and following four sessions, my daughter was thrilled to display me how she could do long division.  She wrote out a extended division problem but received caught along the way when she didn’t know the solution to 28 divided by 7.  Long division is predicated on students realizing their multiplication details.  My daughter was not alone in this numerous of the students in her class did not know them. Possibly her tutor had mentioned what to do in such cases.  It was apparent that whatever she advised her was not to brush up on her information, but rather go back to very first principles, given that my daughter was now drawing 28 little lines on the sheet of paper and grouping them by 7’s.  I made the decision to inquire.

“WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU Carrying out?” I asked.  My daughter started to cry.

I felt bad about yelling.  Later, my wife, daughter and I sat down and reached an

agreement. It was as well expensive to keep on having her tutored– I had invested $ 200 so far on tutoring and genuinely could not afford any far more.  We would as a result halt her tutoring and I would get over presented that I would not yell.

I helped her on an ad hoc basis.  If she needed assist, I would step in.  The difficulty is that when she necessary aid, it was usually as well late, and I would finish up obtaining to do harm control.  One difficulty I was getting was that EM does not use a textbook.  Students do worksheets every single day from their “math journal” a paperbound guide that they carry house.  Without a textbook, nevertheless, it is not usually apparent what was taught—particularly when the pupil does not remember.  Any explanation that a pupil has acquired about how to remedy this kind of troubles is accomplished in class. The method is contained in the Teacher’s Guide, but that is one thing neither students nor mother and father have. There is a student’s reference guide, a hardbound book containing topics in alphabetical buy and which can provide some advice, but does not necessarily cover what was said in class. Thus, there is no textbook a pupil (or mother or father) can refer to go in excess of a worked instance of the variety of issue being worked. Worse, sometimes problems are given for which students have no prior knowledge or preparation.  They seem to be sensible problems—it is just not evident to the parent who steps in to support the struggling kid that they have had tiny or no planning for such issues.  Then there is the concern of sequencing, or lack thereof—which I will talk about later.

By the time my daughter was in fifth grade, she would get a problem like 8÷0.three. They had not had fractional division, and restricted work with decimals—certainly absolutely nothing like this issue prior to.  A common dialogue would then proceed as follows:

Me: What did the instructor say about how to remedy this?

Daughter: I really don’t know.

Me: Whattya indicate you do not know? You were there weren’t you?

Daughter: I really do not know what he stated he just said do the problems.

Me: Well, how do they expect you to do this? You have never had anything at all like this prior to. SO OF Program THEY GIVE YOU Anything THAT YOU Can’t DO AND You’re SUPPOSED TO FIGURE IT OUT?

Wife: (offstage) what’s the yelling about?

Daughter: It is Ok, he’s not yelling at me.

Me: I’m not yelling at her.

Wife: (offstage) I heard yelling.  Are you receiving mad at her?

Daughter: He’s not getting mad at me he’s mad at the guide.

My daughter’s fifth grade instructor shared my disdain for EM and supplemented it heavily with photocopies of pages from an older textbook.  I informed him once in an email that I was not happy with EM and asked him his viewpoint. I’ve asked other teachers this query and they usually chose not to answer—perhaps out of worry for their jobs. I was surprised for that reason when he responded: “I totally agree with you on everything you stated about Everyday Math.  It has been quite difficult for me to use the book.”

Regardless of his information and great educating, there was nonetheless lack of a textbook and he was even now consigned to the pacing and sequence of EM. I think these factors contributed to the lack of information about fractions exhibited by my daughter and Laura.

The Lengthy March to Fractional Division

Realizing that in sixth grade, they would understand fractional division, as well as decimals and percents, I feared a train wreck if I didn’t get to my daughter first. Given how little they knew about fractions throughout the very first lesson, I felt that my fears had been justified.

Luckily, issues progressed nicely with the two women right after that 1st lesson.  But I only had about four weeks prior to they hit fractional division—not a whole lot of time. Therefore, I made the decision to teach each chapter on fraction in the Singapore Math, from 4th grade to sixth grade textbooks in a concentrated burst. Even though I truly ought to have started out all this back in 4th grade, undertaking it this way had an unexpected benefit: they noticed virtually immediately the connections between multiplication and division of fractions. This was no coincidence—the curriculum is really very carefully sequenced.  And whilst fractional division isn’t presented formally until finally the sixth grade, students are working on elements of fraction division prolonged before they reach the 6th grade.  By the time college students attain the sixth grade unit on fraction division, they have completed hundreds of these troubles major to an comprehending of the which means of and connection amongst fraction multiplication and division.

The heavy lifting with Singapore worked well when they got to EM, it was a review. It was virtually anticlimactic. It was a one particular page worksheet asking questions such as “How numerous ¾ inch segments are there in three inches?”  After 4 such queries, the text presented a formula in a box in the middle of the web page, titled “Division of Fractions Algorithm”. The algorithm was stated as a/b÷ c/d = a/b * d/c.  Unlike in Singapore Math, there was absolutely nothing to connect any invert and multiply relationships to prior materials.  In fact there was nothing that appeared to lead up to this—just a rule to be memorized in spite of EM’s pledge to educate “deep understanding”.  As I and numerous other mothers and fathers I’ve spoken with have located, EM lacks the sequencing to pull it off and that is the crux of the train wrecks that have been to come.

The Spiraling Train Wreck: Numbers with Points in Them

In spite of the victory with fractional division, the following week’s tutoring session left me slouched in my chair with my hand more than my eyes.

“You search sick,” my wife said.

“I am,” I explained.  “Just when you think everything is going excellent, it isn’t.”

I had planned to focus on word difficulties in fractional division to cement in the idea, but apparently the day’s math lesson at college had puzzled Laura, and before my lesson could begin, she asked me the following question:

“I’m confused about some thing,” she said.  “How do you get from a number on best and number on the bottom of a line into a number that has a level in it?”

I had her repeat the question a handful of instances before I understood she was asking how you convert a fraction to a decimal.  Now, Laura was vivid and she knew what a numerator and denominator were, and what a fraction was, but apparently the EM lesson they were operating on sprung this on them with out warning

I wasn’t preparing on teaching decimals that day, but seeing that the train wreck of conversion of fraction to decimal was on us, I took this as a cue.  Singapore presents conversions for the very first time in the 4th grade text [iv] showing  six dimes divided into 3 groups yielding 2 dimes per group, which is expressed very first as 6 “tenths” divided by 3 is two “tenths”.   They then consider it to the next step:  0.6÷3 = .2.   After a few more similar issues, Singapore then introduces 2÷ 4 and displays a boy thinking “2 is twenty tenths.”

At the end of the unit they are solving problems like 2.4÷ six, 3 ÷ 5 and 4.2 ÷7 as properly as   non-terminating decimals such as 7 divided by 3.  What is striking about this lesson is that while its concentrate is decimal division, the lesson implicitly teaches how to convert fractions into decimal type by virtue of college students getting discovered earlier that fractions are the identical as division.  That is, they have realized earlier that 1÷ 4 is the very same as ¼.  The lesson on dividing decimals was located in the context of fractions—and treating fractions (i.e., tenths) as units—a unifying theme that extends during the Singapore series.

I’ve believed about why Laura could not comprehend the lesson at school, to the extent she could no longer acknowledge what a fraction was. I think it is due to the fact whilst Singapore situates decimals in the context of fractions, EM situates decimals in the context of the unfamiliar. The EM program is predicated on the theory recognized as the “spiral approach”:

“The Each day Mathematics curriculum incorporates the belief that folks seldom discover new ideas or expertise the very first time they knowledge them, but entirely recognize them only right after repeated exposures. Students in the plan study crucial concepts above consecutive years every grade degree builds on and extends conceptual comprehending.” [v]

This does in reality make sense thinking about that for most men and women a distinct notion or activity commences to make much more sense soon after they have moved on to the next level. But this phenomenon takes place when there is mastery at each and every preceding degree. For instance, I became relatively very good at arithmetic and developed a deeper understanding of it following I took algebra I totally understood analytic geometry soon after calculus and so on.  Each prior bit of studying looks that considerably much more apparent at the next level of knowing.

In EM, however, college students are exposed to subjects repeatedly, but mastery does not always arise. Subjects jump all around from day to day.  Singapore Math’s very powerful and successful sequencing of topics is missing in Each day Math.  While Singapore develops decimals by constructing on prior understanding of fractions, in Daily Math, students are presented with fractions and decimals at the identical time.  The subject of conversion of fractions to decimals takes place in the fourth grade in the context of equivalent fractions, and is known as “renaming a fraction as a decimal”.  The “Student Reference Manual presents fractions that can effortlessly be expressed as an equivalent fraction with a denominator of a energy of ten such as ½, or ¾.  For fractions that are not able to be directly expressed with power of 10 in the denominator, the Pupil Reference Guide offers the following instruction: “Another way to rename a fraction as a decimal is to divide the numerator by the denominator.  You can use a calculator for this division. … For 5/eight essential in: five ÷ 8 “enter” Response: .625.” [vi]

It is not surprising then that Laura would fail to see what was going on. With out being aware of what the connection was among fractions and decimals, the fraction ceased currently being a fraction in her thoughts and was just a variety on top and a amount on the bottom with a line in among.  And by some means that unusual hunting quantity got transformed into a amount with a level in it.

What the Casual Observer Doesn’t Know

A casual glance at Every day Math’s workbook pages does not reveal that there is anything amiss.  The troubles seem to be sensible, and in some situations they are specifically the exact same type given in Singapore Math. What the informal observer does not know is what sequencing has preceded that distinct lesson, nor how that lesson is conducted in class. What is supposed to occur is that college students are offered a series of troubles to operate (in small groups).  The Teacher’s Guide advises teachers to monitor students as they work through the worksheet and appear to see if college students can answer certain crucial concerns.  If a student cannot, it is an indication that the student demands more aid.  This implies “reteaching”.  Reteaching quantities to obtaining college students go through about the particular topic of concern in the Student Reference Manual.

If the lack of correct sequencing, lack of direct instruction, lack of textbook and lack of mastery of foundational material prevents a student from generating the required discoveries, he or she can be “pulled aside” and provided materials to go through.  So teachers are left with a 3 ring circus of little ones acquiring it, youngsters not getting it, and are expected to “adjust the activity” as necessary.

By the time EM gets to 6th grade, the workbooks are loaded with Math Boxes—the phrase for worksheet overview sessions that come in the midst of a specific unit and consist of a mixture of difficulties from past many years in the hope that the little ones will lastly master the materials. Students get ever rising amounts of Math Boxes.  The expectation is that the nth time by way of the spiral is the charm. With EM, each day is a new train wreck of repeated partial finding out.

Connecting Home with School

The danger of an “after schooling” system such as I was conducting is a tendency for the students to believe of the math discovered at home to be distinct or unconnected with the math realized at school.  My purpose of staying a single step ahead of train wrecks worked to get to the topics first, so that by the time they received to it in school, they had witnessed it before.  This was difficult considering that I was held hostage to EM’s topsy turvy sequencing and occasionally was forced to tackle factors like geometry that came out of nowhere.  All in all, the crash program that I cobbled with each other on fractions offered the suitable framework to then function with Singapore Math’s lessons on percents, ratios, proportions and charges.  The rest of the semester came with no undue difficulties and the two girls received A’s in the class I’m satisfied to say.

I’ve informed this story to many people given that it happened—mostly people who have asked me what to do when their college has a problematic math plan. My last retelling was to my wife it is a recurrent theme in our residence.  We were reminiscing about when I had our daughter’s toy blackboard set up in the dining area, and I was teaching her and Laura the math they weren’t finding out at college.

There was no want for me to finish the conversation, since the conclusion is constantly the identical: Poorly structured math plans are not fair to college students, mothers and fathers or teachers. It is unfair to college students because they are basically attending another class soon after a fully day in addition to finishing their homework for college. It is unfair to dad and mom who have to either educate their little ones or hire tutors—and are held hostage to the school’s math system whether they like it or not.  And it is not fair to teachers who are expected to educate students based mostly on an ineffective and unwell-structured program. By way of no fault of the teachers, math taught via EM is math taught poorly. It is by no means simple to educate math accurately. But it is even harder to undo the harm by math taught poorly.

Several teachers do not understand that they have been offered an unenviable and extremely hard process.  In truth, I have spoken with new teachers who talk of EM and other poorly conceived packages in glowing terms, speaking of them as leading to “deeper understandings of math.”  Some have mentioned “I never understood math until finally I had this program.”  But it is their grownup insight and encounter that is speaking and generating the illusion that the math is deep. Kids cannot make the connections the adults are making who already have the experience and knowledge of mathematics.

By means of my knowledge teaching my daughter and her buddy, I have come to think that an vital requirement of textbooks is that they teach the teachers. This might occur to some degree with EM, but primarily based on my expertise with the plan, not a lot gets transferred to the college students. With Singapore Math or any properly structured and authentic mathematics program, each teachers and college students tremendously benefit.

Shortly right after this experience, I started taking evening courses at a nearby university to get certification to educate math soon after retirement.  I have no illusions—I’m informed that it is not effortless.  I’m not out to conserve the world—just to educate 1 child at a time. That stated, I will remain permanently grateful to my daughter and Laura for obtaining taught me so much about fractions.


[i] Braams, B. (2003). The numerous techniques of arithmetic in UCSMP Each day Mathematics. NYC HOLD site. February.

[ii] Braams, B. (2003). Spiraling via UCSMP Daily Mathematics. NYC HOLD internet site, March.

[iii] Clavel, M. (2003). How not to educate math.  City Journal, March 7.

[iv] Singapore Math 4A

[v] Everyday math Schooling Growth Center Newton MA 2001.  Available at

[vi] University of Chicago School Mathematics Venture 2004. Each day mathematics. Student reference guide. 2002. SRA/McGraw-Hill Chicago (p. 59)

Barry Garelick has written extensively about math education in various publications like The Atlantic, Training Subsequent, Educational Leadership, and Schooling Information. He recently retired from the U.S. EPA and is teaching middle and substantial college math in California. He has written a book about his experiences in ed. college, pupil and substitute educating: “Letters from John Dewey/Letters from Huck Finn”.

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