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Elementary Math

From the Head of School Blog

John DeMarchi

Is there anything all Americans agree on?  Not much.  Here is one thing:  math education here could be a whole lot better.

Much is wrong.  One the one hand, American children do not perform well on international tests of basic math reasoning. US scores were below average compared to 64 other countries on the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA.

On the other hand, American’s don’t really like math.  According to ChangeTheEquation.Org, 43% of women have said they “can’t do math.” Sixty-three percent of Americans report that they’ve had difficulty doing some type of math. And thirty percent say they would rather clean a bathroom than solve a math problem.

It is no surprise that Evergreen School, Montgomery County Public Schools and others want to provide a better experience for students. At Elementary Math Night, Evergreen parents discussed similarities and differences between Evergreen’s Montessori approach to math and the Everyday Math program in Montgomery County Public School’s Curriculum 2.0 initiative.

Montessori Math and Everyday Math have much in common, but there are some fundamental differences.

First the similarities: both programs emphasize conceptual understanding, follow the standards of the national Association of Math Teachers, and support lots of hands on, manipulative-based learning (although Montessori math is almost exclusively hands on through the middle of lower elementary).  And both programs emphasize higher order thinking skills at younger ages than is typical in other US programs.

Some key differences: first, Montessori Math is mastery based.  A child will work on a concept until he has mastered it. Then he moves on.  Everyday Math, on the other hand, has a spiral curriculum.  On one day, a new concept is introduced and old concepts are reviewed and practiced, but mastery is not expected until the curriculum ‘spirals’ around for several rounds of practice.  A child may not get the chance to really understand a topic at first.

A second difference is pacing.  Montessori math moves at each child’s individual pace.  A child moves from concept-to-concept, skill-to-skill at her own readiness. Children receive one-on-one lessons from a teacher and then practice with hands-on materials.   In Everyday Math, all children get the same lesson on the same day, leaving higher ability children bored and lower ability children confused and frustrated.

These differences are significant and directly lead to the problems noted above—dislike of math and–ultimately– lower achievement.  A child will not like math or feel capable if lessons aren’t tailored to her ability.  It is understandable that a child will grow to dislike math that isn’t aligned to her skill level or abilities.  An individualized math program best serves children and ensures their engagement and success.