As one would expect from a conference featuring three noted, mathematicians, there were no easy answers given during Tuesday’s Community Math Night in Pelham.
The forum, which took place inside the , was hosted by the Pelham Math Committee and attended by more then three dozen community members. The Pelham Math Committee is an organization dedicated to removing the Pelham school district’s controversial elementary school math curriculum, “Investigation in Numbers, Data and Space.”
Alan Siegel, a computer science professor at the New York University joined Stanley Ocken and Ethan Akin, both professors at City College of New York, gave their observations on the math curriculum and during the forum.
Jennifer Slattery, one of the members of the Pelham Math Committee, said the professors weren’t simply chosen because of their documented opposition to the Investigations. Slattery said the professors also have insight into the type of skills the district’s students will need in order to successfully take math courses at the college level and obtain math level careers.
“A math level career isn’t just being a mathematician or being physicist, it’s also science, engineering, medicine and finance,” Slattery said.
The district’s elementary school math curriculum, “Investigations in Number, Data and Space," has come under fire from a number of parents who believe and doesn’t place enough emphasis on a traditional, systematic algorithm-based learning and homework.
The concerns have been shared by parents and educators across the nation.
Last month, the Pelham school board agreed to to review the district’s math curriculum at a cost not to exceed $18,000. Their work is scheduled to begin this month.
Akin, who has studied concepts for teaching K-12 math during the past decade, said that Investigations didn’t do an adequate job of drilling the basics of math into students at an early enough age. This becomes problematic as those students move into more advanced levels of math, because processes that should come naturally to students are cumbersome and difficult.
Ocken said one major flaw with Investigations and similar curriculum is that it deals with special cases at the expense of general procedures. Although it’s important to be able t illustrate initial computations to students at times, Oken said Investigations fails to transition students from pictorial representations to abstract math concepts by the time they are in high school.
“Six divided by three has lots of real life interpretations,” Oken said. “Three divided by eight has fewer real life computations and when a student gets to high school and encounters the expression x divided by y, it’s extremely important to understand that expression has zero real life computations.”
Siegel recalled one student he had who was bright, but had learned math through Investigations.
“On the mid-term, he was 20 points below the next lowest performing student in my class and he was the only student to fail my course,” Siegel said. “He was smart enough to get into NYU, but with his background he was not going to be able to specialize in economics, computer science, business... I am here in part because I regret not being able to get him up to speed and students like him.”
During the session, one woman asked the panel if supplementing her child’s lessons with Singapore math, another curriculum, would be enough to make up for the deficiencies of Investigations.
Ocken said he didn’t believe that supplementation is effective.
“Skills have to be taught in a carefully sequenced way and part of the art of educating children is how to understand the sequence, the procedures that they are learning—the importance of difficulty,” Siegel said.
Claire Allen, a district parent, said the forum was informative.
“It made me realize that it is important process for us to evaluate other math programs outside of Investigations,” Allen said.
The Pelham Math Committee is expected to have a video stream of the forum up on their Web site this week.