Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Late Fall Math Thread

This is my annual thread for all things math related.  (or alternatively this is what happens when you have a math-junkie moderating the blog.)   (Last year's discussion)

In positive news I am aware of Math Clubs running at Hamilton, Jane Addams and Eagle Staff this year. I'm hoping this is the start of a trend.

Sixth grade placement is usually a popular topic. I never followed up on last year to see what happened in the various buildings if folks want to add some details.

I'm also willing to answer any math partial home schooling questions folks have based on my experiences trying it out for the first time. 

So how is Math going for you in your building?


Anonymous said...

My 4th grader at Decatur is getting a first dose of challenge with story problems that are not entirely simple. The problems actually seem like they’re not developmentally appropriate, but maybe I’m not giving my child enough credit. We shall see. It makes me wonder if we are on the right pathway, even though test scores two years ago indicated HCC should be a breeze. Thoughts from more experienced parents?

I’m also curious what the difference is between the math programs at JAMS, REMS, HIMS and Eckstein.

Thank you!


juicygoofy said...

Thanks for this thread Benjamin. Fun graphic.

I feel that SPS, and HCC more so, has not served my 8th grader well in math. Though she has always received high grades, Everyday Math, skipping ahead 2 years of instruction, and lackluster teachers has left some serious gaps in basic arithmetic skills (confusion with negatives, doesn't understand long division, can't make change, struggles with any conversions, etc.)

Rather than continue on into Algebra 2 in 9th grade, I am tempted to homeschool (or hire a tutor) for one year of high school to just practice what seems to be forgotten from 4th through 7th grade.

Does anyone have experience or advice with "filling in the gaps" and/or homeschooling in high school? Thanks!

Frustrated Parent said...

Cascadia has a new policy this year about "no regular homework", at the direction of the new principal. This is because "all the newest research shows homework is not helpful."

What this has meant for my two kids, is no math homework so far this year, with one or two exceptions.

So for example, Cascadia is expecting 5th graders, who are doing 7th-grade math, to master the content with no at home practice.

Generally, I have found Cascadia to do a poor job of providing complete math coverage. Many chapters of the math books are either skipped entirely or abridged because of "not enough time." The chapters related to Geometry, in particular, seem to suffer.

If they would simply cover all of the material in the books, assign the practice problems, and use the chapter tests from the book, instead of dumbed-down versions designed so the kids can pass given the lack of coverage, in my opinion, it would be far better.

Anonymous said...

Yes—I’ve noticed at Decatur that my child finishes in class and brings no homework home, then struggles on the unit test, then I hear student barely did problems in class because student wanted the Lilly pop and time to read comic book. They jump around and the test didn’t seem to reflect what they were learning based on email cover letter from teacher. There is a disconnect and lots of gaps! Plus, I hear middle school jumps into LOTS of homework starting in 6th, so are these kids in shock with that transition?


YesToHomework said...

I'm not really convinced by the whole "homework is not helpful research". The authors of the study said that what they found was that time spend on homework did not correlate with performance on tests for elementary kids but they also noted that kids who did not perform well often spend a very long time on their homework which skews the data. This is in part because of extra work they are assigned to help them catch up as well as possibly being more distracted and unfocused because the work is too hard.

I know some parents are happy when Cascadia did away with homework because it eliminates the stress and anxiety but I wonder if this just delays the problem of time/stress management to middle school when they have even more worries to juggle. If a child has problems with completing work, I would want to find that out now and work on it before the urgency really sets in (and I'd rather have one less thing to argue with a teen about).

I'm definitely not happy with the change policy of no homework. I would prefer if it was instituted as more targeted/focused homework where kids actually get feedback for their work instead of just worksheets that just get a completion check on it.

NoHomework said...

I'm anti-homework. The biggest claim I hear from parents who want homework is "I want to know what is going on in the classroom!" There are other ways for parents to learn what is going on that don't demand busy work from the whole class. Ask your child! Set the expectation that you will ask about school work and want to know how it's going. If they can't tell you what they did in the class or don't bring home classroom work, how is busy work at home going to be better?

Review math tests with your child, and have them talk through their reasoning or go through the four-step method. You can create your own busy work by having them write out the four steps for each problem and then solve the problem a different way. Ask them to bring home papers or workbooks on Friday so you can review them over the weekend and return on Monday. Make a routine out of it. Or is it just that you want to "know" what is going on without actually putting any work into it?

And yes, "ask your child" is hard. It takes time to build a relationship where your child will trust you to listen or will remember that you are doing to ask about school work. Getting your child to talk about their work (and to figure out if they need support) is a life skill that is better than completing a worksheet. Plus, if you can't figure out how to build a rapport with your child by the end of the elementary school years, how do you you think the teen years are going to go?

Michael Rice said...

AP Statistics at Ingraham is going great!!! :-)

Fremont Mama said...

My 6th grader at HIMS has had little to no math homework in 8th grade math and is doing well on all quizzes and tests. It's the same for my 8th grader in geometry too - little to no homework and doing well in quizzes and tests. We reinforce math concepts at home using Kahn Academy (they do about 20 minutes a night) and it has been a great way for them to practice skills.

Anonymous said...

Algebra1 at JAMS is also going great! The teacher does an amazing job and the homework amount seems reasonable.

I also want to add that we've found all the 6th grade teachers at JAMS to be wonderful.


Anonymous said...

I'm pro-homework. Not stupid busywork type homework, but homework that reinforces essential skills. If you don't practice your basic math skills until they are automatic, higher level math will be a problem. I know there's the "drill and kill" argument, but sometimes drilling is necessary. Our kids are shortchanged in the long run when we take the easy way out now.

No, @ Noomework, it's not because "I want to know what's going on in the classroom!" I don't care that much what exactly they are studying at any point in time, as long as they are studying it well and learning it well. It shouldn't be my job to try to figure out what it is so that I can supplement at home and quiz them and whatnot. Relying on parents to do that is incredibly inequitable.

Frustrated Parent said...

I’ve got a child that is supposedly learning about equations, probability, and inequalities at a 7th-grade level at Cascadia and yet is not assigned any independent problems to solve at home because “all the research shows it’s not helpful”.

The district goes through a yearlong review process to select a new math curriculum with parent input and board approval, and then a new principal comes in and bans all math homework because the “research shows it’s not helpful”, without providing a single piece of research to either the teaching staff or the parents to support the decision.

If the school goes through a public process to review the evidence, that involves parents and teachers and makes the decision to ban math homework, fine. But the idea that one person that is new to the school can make such a drastic decision that affects over 500 students without any public process or evidence is the height of dysfunction and absurdity. I say, one person because apparently, the teachers found out about the change just before the start of school.

Our oldest has been told for the last 4 years that she needed to do her math homework. This year she is told is was basically wasting her time for the last 4 years. And next year she’s going to be told she needs to do math homework again. If nothing else, the capriciousness is disrespectful and sends a terrible message to our kids.

Anonymous said...

No homework at Fairmount Park either. Just be grateful your kids get to use Math in Focus up in the north end. We’re using Envision and the PTA has to pay for it.

Ghost Mom said...

I have rarely found school math instruction to work on my student. Which is odd, because the kid is very good at math and picks it up fast and does extremely well on standardized tests. And yet most years the actual math instruction has happened at home, not at school. I don't know what they do in math class at school.

I love the new No Homework policy (we're at Cascadia) because I feel like it encourages the teacher to realize whether or not the classroom math instruction is working. This year's teacher is great.

We do still do some homework at home despite the policy, but it's only occasional when the teacher decides there's a real need. As opposed to the drudgery of homework when there is no need. For drudgery we make sure the kid unloads the dishwasher and takes out the trash and does laundry. And when we do math, we have fun doing it.

Anonymous said...

It's been interesting to read the discussion here. I am the 4th grade math teacher at Decatur. Our school is small, so I teach all the 4th graders in a triad. While I can't speak to the math programs in other schools, I can speak to the 4th grade math program here at Decatur.

@Pondering: based on your description of the math class (lolly pop after the test, assignments that can be completed in class or taken home to finish, recent math test that focused on word problems) I can tell your student is in my math class. And I am sorry you feel that there are disconnects and gaps. I would like to allay some of those concerns here.

In terms of how I designed the recent test, I pulled problems directly from the additional materials provided in the lessons I taught in class. There should not have been any surprises, as the problems given on the test were exactly like the ones on their recent assignments, quizzes, review materials, and in class practice work.

The recent test covered material from Chapters 1 and 5. There were several quizzes leading up to this test. The lessons in these chapters were taught in order. While I do mix up the order of the chapters, this is based on an effective scope and sequence developed over the last few years by the math teachers at Cascadia. Even though the chapters are not in numerical sequence, the chapters as taught in this order build off one another very nicely.

In terms of the connection between the tests and the lessons, I (and my colleagues in other grade levels) spend a lot of time calibrating the material we teach based on the data we are getting from students in tests and other assessments. In some of the weekly emails I send out, I provide snapshots of this data so parents can gauge their own student's performance compared to the anonymous data of the entire grade level. The recent test results showed that the average score (out of 67 students) was 80%. To me, this means the test was right in the range that I aim for in terms of it not being a cakewalk vs. not being too difficult.

After I grade the tests, I hand them back to the students to correct missed problems and reflect on why they got these problems wrong. This data helps me gauge whether missed problems were due to a misunderstanding of the concept, or rather from making simple mistakes (meaning the student can correct the problem and explain why they missed it because they understand the underlying concept). 4th graders are surprisingly honest about this type of self-reflection. This data is a goldmine for me in determining whether there are disconnects and gaps in my instructions vs. how the students perform on assessments.

If your student rushed through the test, it is very likely I sent them back to keep working on it. Some students will try to rush through things at the detriment of accuracy on the tests. When they do this I will typically go over their test quickly with them when they turn it in and point out where rushing has led to mistakes (or skipped problems) and send them back to their table to spend more time on the test.

In saying all this, if your student is feeling like there is a disconnect and their performance in math is suffering as a result, I would love to meet with you ASAP to figure this out and make whatever changes need to be made so your student can feel successful. Please feel free to email me directly to set something up.

-Mr. Wheeler

Anonymous said...

How about Algebra 2 at JAMS? My kid says the whole class is so bored people are openly playing chess in class. Maybe it's just an easy year for math?

Anonymous said...

My kid thought that class was an unusually difficult to manage class in 6th grade compared to her other classes, and is better but still...more rambunctious students now. The teacher is fine, drier than the Algebra or main geometry teacher, but fine.


Anonymous said...

My daughter is enjoying a challenging 8th grade geometry class at HIMS. The teacher is terrific. She has commented the level of discussion in the class is incredibly deep and engaging. The instructor takes time to give personal report card messages and feedback to all students. I am amazed as he probably has something like 160+ students.

I want to thank Mr Wheeler & Mr Rice for commenting on this thread as it demonstrates their dedication to their students. They both sound like wonderful teachers.
HIMS parent

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wheeler - thank you for commenting and reaching out.

Leslie Harris
President, Dir. 6
Seattle Public Schools

Benjamin Leis said...

I added a video I just saw that I found compelling.

Also I wanted to thank Mr. Wheeler and me. Rice for posting. It's brave enough to post under your own name by itself let alone when you are a teacher.

Anonymous said...

My daughter is in Mr. Rice's AP statistics class and she is going GREAT!


Anonymous said...

Re: geometry, unfortunately the kids don't know what they're missing. They may find it challenging and think it's great, and parents may be happy if they have a kid who feels appropriately challenged, but as far as I know SPS is still teaching geometry lite. We should have an honors or advanced geometry option that includes proofs.

Prove it!

Anonymous said...

We took geometry at the Robinson Center for precisely the reasons that you bring up.


Benjamin Leis said...


Proofs are not the sole domain of geometry and really should be emphasized in all classes beyond pre-algebra.

If you're looking for alternatives, I'd also recommend the online Geometry course at

In addition, is my favorite site for interesting problems.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wheeler,

You sound like a very dedicated, thoughtful teacher. Thank you for all that you do!


Anonymous said...

@Prove it-- This is definitely not geometry lite!! It includes proofs. My daughter has said students have in depth incredible discussions as well. The textbook is great and was also used at a well known prestigious private school in Seattle where the teacher used to teach.
HIMS parent

Anonymous said...

P.S This teacher left the very affluent Seattle private school in order to "reach more students" and has made comments about the stark differences in money, resources & class sizes between public and private.

It is quite the perspective. In this context, this teacher has made comments and recognized that HC students at HIMS are primarily middle class public school students and not the "wealthy privileged" they are often mistaken to be.
HIMS Parent

Anonymous said...

@HIMS Parent, that's great. Perhaps things have changed districtwide, although I suspect it's more likely that your student lucked out with a particular teacher who is going into greater depth.

For students or parents who want to be sure they are getting good coverage of material, I suggested trying some of the other resources that have been recommended. An interesting approach would be to try the final exams or section quizzes (or whatever is available) and see how they do. My student once sailed through a district algebra 1 class, then "re-took" an online honors version for gifted students and found the latter to be vastly superior both in breadth of coverage and in depth.

Anonymous said...

@anonymous-- That could be the case. The teacher shared the text with us on curriculum night, stressed it was "really good" and what he also used recently at the private school. I am no mathematician, but I took a look at it, and it was far beyond what I ever covered in geometry years ago. I feel she is getting an excellent education. He also stressed how they would be challenged, and it is the case. My child is learning proofs, has commented on the discussions they have and feels they go deep. This teacher really could have chosen to teach anywhere so we feel fortunate.
HIMS Parent

Anonymous said...

@HIMS Parent, which textbook are they using? I thought the official SPS high school math textbooks are the "Discovery" books, so I would be surprised to hear the teacher say it was "really good"...although I suppose if the teacher likes it and is familiar with it and enjoys teaching from it, that helps. My impression of the Discovery series books wasn't that great, but what do I know?

Here's a question for people: I do know that at the high school level in SPS, there are often both regular- and honors-level geometry classes. I'm curious if anyone knows whether the Geometry taught in middle schools--including the Geometry taught in HCC middle schools--is comparable to the regular or the honors class? Are these advanced students getting an advanced geometry class, or just a basic geometry class early?

Prove it!

Anonymous said...

When our child took Geometry at HIMS it was just basic geometry early (they used the Discovery text, so very basic geometry). When Mr. P was still teaching, it was an honors level math class.

Anonymous said...

I have the same question as Prove it! Are the courses at JAMS (or any HC MS) comparable to an honors or gen ed equivalent at Roosevelt or Garfield? Are they using any text for math at JAMS? We haven't seen one this year for Algebra and it would be great to have curriculum that would align with the high school math, especially Algebra 2, as the kids will directly feed into classes with kids having had honors pre-calc in a high school setting.


Anonymous said...

If math is not technically tied to HCC, as a student can take the same level math as an HC identified student without being identified as HC, then the question is how are Algebra and Geometry classes taught at each and every middle school? What is the highest level math course offered at each middle school?

Benjamin Leis said...

I actually know the answer to that question now:

Highest MS Math Class

Algebra 1:

Aki Kurose

Jane Addams

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I bet if Eckstein and Whitman offered Algebra 2 and one more year of science, we would see a significant drop in students switching to HCC in elementary to avoid Middle Schools that they think won’t help them prep for their HS plan.

Two classes

Benjamin Leis said...

@two classes - because the numbers of alg 2 students are already really small (1 section where available) diffusing them to more schools would actually probably result in insufficient numbers anywhere to offer them a class. This is one of the cases where concentration has high value.

Curious 5th Grade Parent said...

Do you have any sense for the percentage-wise breakdown among just HCC students for what the highest math class they take in middle school is? How many are completing Algebra 2 vs. Geometry vs. Algebra 1?

When I was a student many years ago, I took Algebra 2 at the community college over the summer and was then able to fit in AP Calc AB and BC junior and senior years. It was a wonderful option for me. I enjoyed the community college class (took it with a friend) and enjoyed all the calculus in my smaller, friendlier high school environment more than the rest of the math I took in massive lecture halls after I got to college.

You say there are 4 middle schools running an Algebra 2 course. Do you have a sense of how the students in these courses are fitting this in, because wouldn't this involve acceleration beyond the usual HCC standard?

Anonymous said...

My 8th grader is doing proofs in geometry at JAMS. It’s not labeled as an honors class but seems to be challenging.

Anonymous said...

I believe Mr P is still teaching but only P/T. His name is on the door and he shares the class with the new teacher who is also awesome. It is definitely an honors level class, but no classes that I am aware are labeled as such at HIMS. Several teachers at HIMS have spoken about adapting curriculum to fit needs of HC and gifted learners.
HIMS parent

Benjamin Leis said...

@Curious 5th grade parent

There is an option to skip up 1 year in 6th grade and go straight to Algebra. This is not the common choice and overall numbers are very small with a barely viable number of kids doing this at most of the sites. The vast majority of kids follow the normal pathway of Math8, Algebra, Geometry in M.S.

If you're interested this is something to talk with your teacher about.

Anonymous said...

To clarify, thnormal pathway Benjamin mentioned is for those coming from HCC elementary. Those joining HCC in middle school may enter at a lower math level depending on what was available at their elementary,

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