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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Start Here Obama - Abominable Math Textbook!

If the book I'm referring to has anything to do with it, no wonder America is far behind in producing engineers!

A couple of years back Handyman Hubby asked me to find a math textbook to provide an outline of what he should cover when tutoring one of our kids on math. He kinda needed the scope and sequence. One of my friends very kindly supplied a 5th grade math textbook she'd picked up at our local free textbook store. Now, don't get me wrong, a free textbook store is a wonderful idea. They probably even had a ton of math books to choose from - I don't know because I saved gas and didn't make the trip there.

Anyway, with said textbook in hand I began to read how to teach math to a 5th grader. Half a page into reading I had to stop and think. Here was a book that was teaching math using English. Something didn't seem quite right. Here's an extract from the first lesson: "There are billions and billions of stars in our galaxy. How big is one billion? Work with your partner to find out how many sheets of grid paper it would take to draw one billion stars." On that two page spread there are more words than there are numbers. Maybe it's not clear yet what I'm talking about.

Let's take a look at the inside of some math textbooks. Boy, are these hard to track down. I just spent over 30 minutes trying to find inside views of math textbooks from major American textbook publishers. McDougal Littell are kind enough to show some inside pages for the middle school math textbook. For comparison, you can take a look at some sample pages from from a UK math textbook publisher. Scroll down until you see Year 6 pages 49-53 or Year 6 page 21 and page 128. Personally I think the non-color approach is least distracting. However, maybe you'll get an idea what I'm talking about.

I don't know, maybe I lost you somewhere. It seems to me there is something fundamentally different between math teaching in America and what I experienced in Scotland. Is it any accident that Scotland has a tradition of producing good engineers while America is importing engineers from around the world? Maybe someone who actually knows about math can explain this for me!

BTW I'm proud to report that yesterday both my kids told me that they are enjoying math this year. I don't know if either will be an engineer, but at least they are using decent textbooks.


Linda said...

Alison, I certainly don't know about Maths, being a lop-sided linguist, but my son is applying to study engineering at university next year. It's a popular choice at his (Scottish) school. He's doing Advanced Higher Maths this year and enjoying the new ways of thinking it's opening up. Did you encounter Advanced Highers when you were still in Scotland? There's information about them here:

If you want to see what's being examined at the various levels in Scottish schools (bearing in mind that Intermediate 2 is normally taken in S4 (age 16), Higher in S5 (age 17) and Advanced Higher in S6 (age 18), the 'Arrangements' documents are here:

Have fun with your Maths!

Alison said...

Hi Linda,
Thanks for visiting. I took a look at the SQA site and some of the documents. I liked the diagrams that explain how the different levels of qualification relate to each other - I was confused previously when family talked to me about the levels my nieces and nephew are doing.

It's certainly a lot more complex than it was when I went to school, but it also looks very well thought out and comprehensive.

I do get curious about what my kids would be doing if we were still in Scotland.

Thanks for sharing. Now we just have to ask the question of whether students are choosing engineering for college here, and if not, what is different!

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