Tuesday, November 10, 2009

APP Math

There has been a lot of discussion (and frustration) in the comments on previous posts about math in APP. One parent wrote:
Don't get me started on APP's failure to teach our kids math!

[The] frustrations I'm facing with my APP first-grader ... He was home-schooled last year and pick up all kinds of math basically by osmosis, but now that he's in school, his math learning has ground to a halt. His teacher seems too overwhelmed by teaching in general to even tackle the notion of differentiation.

When I asked Bob Vaughan himself if he thought it was fair for a child who had been working on multiplication and division and fractions at home to sit through endless lessons on two-digit addition and subtraction for the entire first grade, he actually told me that it might be a good chance for him to go back "and appreciate some of the nuance of all the math he had already learned." ... Maybe Bob Vaughan would rethink his satisfaction with the APP math curriculum and the unspoken no-differentiation rule if more parents made their frustrations known.
Another said:
The math issue is a continuing problem. For middle school math we were instructed to purchase the "Algebra To Go" textbook in order to assist with homework, if needed, in our child's 6HH (APP) class for 6th grade ... After sitting down with our child for a few minutes with the new book, he was working algebraic equations, understanding "isolating" the "x" variable etc. with ease. Something that they haven't even talked about yet in their CMP class.

We haven't supplemented our kids in math at all up to this point - but this makes us think that we really have done them a disservice - assuming that they were getting what they needed at school. Frustrating - but at least the instructor gave us a useful tool to teach at home.
Another wrote:
The irony about the math situation is that many kids are in APP because of their math abilities. Yet, in our experience, when they get into APP there is no differentiation. Being in APP is actually holding them back.
And a fourth worried ([1] [2]) that:
More and more I am becoming conviced that the Everyday Math curriculum is doing more harm than good ... It's enough to make me want to homeschool. Especially having a daughter who is capable, given the right instruction.

My main concern ... is what I perceive as a lack of differentiation. Is differentiation not really a part of the APP philosophy/pedagogy? More and more it seems that APP "accelerates" the child two grades from whatever point they enter and leaves it at that.

It seems that within the top few percent that there is a pretty wide range of abilities. My sense is that those kids that are outliers even within APP are barely getting their needs met ... It feels like the outliers in APP are having an experience similar to what most APP and Spectrum kids are having in General Ed. classrooms. Maybe it's the best we can hope for... I had expected something more.

At curriculum night, we asked our child's teacher about differentiation with regard to math. The response we received indicated that the teachers were pretty much sticking to the EDM curriculum and that if a child wanted to do additional worksheets during their free time they could. Unsatisfactory.
A lot of this appears to center around concerns over recent changes in the math curriculum and the level of individualized challenge children are getting in APP math.

Let's open up a thread on this topic. Are you happy with the current math instruction in APP? If so, what do you like? If not, what do you think should be done about it?

19 comments :

Robert said...

I echo the concern for more differentiation in APP especially as many of these kids are off the charts in some subjects. As for EDM I have been told that the teachers draw a lot from Singapore and turk(?) as well... One thing that is good about EDM is that it offers access to a website with additional lessons and games. I have yet to login but I think that would be great way to support the teachers activities in class as well as get a sense as to what they are doing.

Shannon said...

My question in regard to math is the role families play in the level of work their child is doing. My son has a strong aptitude for math and enjoys working through concepts he is shown. However, he doesn't ask me to show him new theorums or algorithms on Saturday and while there are opportunities for me to show him long division, I have not made this a focus.

Lets say I devote a few hours to this over the next few weeks, we do the math drills to catch up all the times tables we have neglected (being new to APP from an alternative school which preferred mud pies to math drills) and he is now ready for more advanced work. Should I expect the teacher to follow?

What if we get into physics (an interest of mine) and we develop fundamentals of projectile motion? Should his teacher include more applied math questions to meet this interest? Isn't my enthusiastic instruction contributing to boredom in class?

Couldn't I focus on something open ended like creative writing which does not have the laddering of concepts which makes lessons less applicable to a differentiated group.

Anonymous said...

We don't spend any time tutoring our child in math, physics, or anything else. Yet he's still not challenged in APP.
While we can't customize curriculum for every child, all children should be given the opportunity to work through challenging material. I want him to know what it is to work. There needs to be at least some differentiation in APP.

Anonymous said...

In some instances, children are self-directed and push themselves. My daughter happens to like math workbooks. For a time, she wanted to do a few pages every night before bed. And that was in Kindergarten. She asks if we can go to the math store as if it's a special treat. So yes, we do work at home, but it is at the request of my child.

My concern isn't about differentiation as much as setting a higher bar for the math instruction. This goes for the District as a whole, not just for APP.

Ben said...

Yes! I'm telling you, my 2nd grader is (maybe) just now catching up with where he was with math last year.

kanne said...

My Lowell 4th grader had a fabulous teacher last year who managed to teach standard algorithms as well as EDM. They covered 5th grade EDM and started on 6th-- she was ahead of the other teachers (I know because I was helping grade).

This year is Connected Math, and the teacher is also supplementing using traditional materials. I'm certainly not a math expert, but I actually don't have any complaints. Now regarding my younger child (also at Lowell)-- she's not very challenged.

Anonymous said...

So is APP worth doing? If a child isn't getting work that approaches their current academic level, it seems like they might as well stay at the local elementary rather than travel to sit bored in a classroom on the other side of town.

Just wondering,

Not an APP parent

hschinske said...

I think there are several problems here: one being the low math standards in Washington State (where one grade ahead is more or less what would be on grade level some other places), one being the math materials in use, and one being the lack of differentiation. It all adds up to the math being a bit on the easy side for a lot of the kids (like mine) and way too easy for the real math mavens in the class. But I will say it's *far* better than sitting through grade-level math classes, and at least you have the chance of some like-minded peers and some interesting discussions in class.

Robert said...

Yeah Anon, Helen is correct IMO.

Anonymous said...

I was in the APP program as a kid. Actually, I was in the program when it was still IPP, which stood for Individual Progress Program. It switched over to APP when I was in close to finishing middle school. One of the things my family loved about the program was the individualized nature of it. If I was in 1st grade but reading at a 4th grade level, then that's the textbook I had. Same for math and spelling. The idea was that students had different strengths in different subjects, so the program was designed to let us work to our maximum abilities. I don't recall ever being bored or unchallenged like many of you are describing.

I have no idea why they changed the program to the APP model, but if parents like the idea of the individualized model instead, you might want to talk to Marcy Shadow about it, since she's been with the program since its inception as IPP and through the transition to APP. She could probably give lots of insight about why that model worked or didn't and what led the district to change it.

Robert said...

I would say that is a very good question anon!

Anonymous said...

Anon at 6:13, were the classes any smaller? Were there fewer group activities? Any cross-grade groupings?

The reason why they changed the *name* is pretty evident, I think -- I've heard several times that IPP-ers thought the program being called "I pee pee" was a terrible idea :-)

Robert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert said...

haha! APP - AP I am certain was done to confuse folks as well as ALO - AOL.

Anonymous said...

Thank you to the former student for sharing past experiences. APP has clearly changed and not for the better. As far as academics go, we are not happy with the current program.

To those asking whether APP is worth it - well it depends on what you're leaving. If your child is happy in their neighborhood school, then you should think long and hard about giving that up. Especially with the new SAP. Once you leave the neighborhood school, you may not be able to go back.

hschinske said...

In the very beginning, IPP used to be for students who were at least four years ahead, who might well be candidates for the Early Entrance Program. See http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10022.aspx

"A kindergarten-through-high-school program for children and young people exhibiting extraordinary advancement in academic skills. This Individual Progress Program (IPP) is run by the Seattle Public Schools in collaboration with the Child Development Research Group. It is designed for students who are achieving at least four grade levels beyond the grade appropriate for their age. Some of these children are included in the longitudinal study. Begun in 1978, the IPP currently serves 75 children, balanced for sex and reflecting the racial makeup of the Seattle population. Developmental funds have been supplied by an ESEA, Title 4-C award, but the program will function with a non-supplemented allotment from the Seattle Public School District."

It's been gradually expanded because there was a crying need for a program for more moderately gifted students. As it got bigger, and the Robinson Center was no longer involved, it got more and more standardized.

I am not sure there was ever any one ideal time for IPP/APP. Depending on when you put your foot in the river, different groups were being served better or worse. The original "if you're not at least four grades ahead, you're out of luck" configuration was not ideal for all, either. (I don't mean that was the Robinsons' fault, of course.) My impression is that there have always been kids who were terrifically happy with the current incarnation of the program, some who were reasonably pleased but not ecstatic, and some who were unhappy and not well served.

Helen Schinske

Anonymous said...

Other annonymous: Yes, there were cross-grade groupings. A few classes were 1/2 or 3/4 splits, and if I remember right, my 5th grade class was a 4/5 split. In addition, for reading, they would send us to other classrooms to learn with kids who were reading on the same grade level that we were. So, kids of different grades would be in the same reading group.

When I was in I think 4th or 5th grade, we got a new principal (this was when the program was housed at Madrona). Her plan was to have the whole school do the change-classrooms-for-reading thing, not just the IPP kids. So, your 2nd grader who reads at a 6th grade level would be in a reading group with 6th graders reading at grade level. The IPP parents were very much opposed to this idea and I remember going to one very hostile PTSA meeting about it. If I remember right, one of the IPP parents was on the school board, and s/he put an end to the principal's plan.

I don't remember how big the classes were, that is a good question.

I'm not sure what you mean by group activities, you mean like collaborative projects? Yes, we had lots of those in subjects like science and social studies. But in reading, math and spelling, which were the key classes where you learned at your own pace, I don't remember group projects. Now that I think back on it, I really don't remember how the individually-paced learning worked at the middle school level. What I'm remembering most clearly is the elementary program. At the middle school level, one assignment that sticks out was that we had to read a book written before Shakespeare, but we got to choose the book. That was Marcy Shadow's class.

For another perspective on what IPP was like, you might want to read Mishna Wolff's book, "I'm Down: A Memoir." She was in the program around the same time I was (her description of our PE teacher was 100% accurate--he did look like a character from Roller Boogie). I think her depiction of what the IPP experience was like for poor kids is pretty spot-on from the time period I was in it. My older sister, who is 6 years older than me, had a totally different perspective: she said most of the kids in the program then were kids with behavior problems--scary smart. She said there were none of the kids summering in Provence that Mishna and I went to school with.

Yes, IPP was an unfortunate acronym. :)

Anonymous said...

Having gone completely through the APP program from elementary to high school with a child who was very talented in Math, I can tell you my experience with APP Math at all levels. In general, APP was conceived as a program for advanced learners in verbal skills. Math (and science) were added later. In general, the current approach to math is still somewhat lacking. Mostly we saw this because among the top performers there is a wide range of abilities and classroom math struggles with this. Occasionally we had an elementary teacher who understood this and had personal lessons to supplement the regular APP with a handful of outlier students. I think administration understood this and those students tended to be assigned to her class. Other years, not so lucky and we endured lots of "I hate school" wailing. In middle school, a few kids accelerated an additional year, but this isn't a panacea. Math classes are mixed with students from any program at that level, so a sixth grader might be alone in a class of eighth graders. It was better than nothing but very little math was learned (terrible classroom management issues). Eventually students might be lucky and get a good teacher (there were 2 at that time), and in the highest classes were guaranteed to get Mr Pounder. He is a gem. His afterschool math program was about the only thing enjoyable about sixth grade and in the classroom he is everything an advanced student (at any level) could want. Sadly, there is only one of him, so when middle school split at least half the cohort lost the opportunity to take classes with him. High School is problematic for advanced math students. The highest advanced class from Mr Pounder runs out of curriculum and generally are forced to take calculus twice (once as AB then as BC) which is not recommended by the makers of the curriculum, then fill in with a year of AP Stats or else skip taking math some years. It's pretty poor coordination between the middle school and high school classes. There was in some years a private tutor option with one of the physics teachers. This was not offered in any year we wanted to use it. There is also an option to use an EPGY self paced program, but this was never offered to us and was mostly kept secret. We found out about it only through other older students. Unfortunately it was not a good fit for personality, so we never did pursue it at high school level.

So, in summary: A few good (actually amazingly outstanding) teachers scattered throughout an entire 1-12 education were good with advanced math students. Most teachers were clueless and the official curriculum is not much help. We were repeatedly strongly discouraged from supplementing math beginning in elementary school and we heeded those warnings and never did any private classes or enrichment. In retrospect I deeply regret that. The primary argument was that students with private instruction would not fit in the sequence and be difficult to teach and bored in class. But that was almost always true despite our total cooperation with the school and total lack of enrichment based on their requests. It is probably the biggest parenting mistake I made. I should have encouraged my kid to excel in what interested him and provided opportunity to do so, rather than try to follow guidance from the school. In retrospect I believe their intention was to make my child fit in better in their existing plans and not necessarily to do the best educationally for any single child.

Anonymous said...

The "math" tells kids "math is hard and confusing". I know this because I'm an APP student! This is a bad influence.