Fuzzy math revisited

In her recent Star Tribune column, "Teachers group takes lint-remover to 'fuzzy math,'" (a.k.a. "integrated math") Katherine Kersten reports that the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics is taking a second look at fuzzy math.

The "math wars" launched in 1989 are still playing out today. Now, probably thanks in part to fuzzy math, one in five college freshmen needs a remedial math course, according to the National Science Board. In 2003, U.S. eighth-graders ranked a humiliating 15th on an international math test, while kids from Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong swept the top three spots.

Last month, though, a new report on pre-K-8 math instruction announced a remarkable reversal in emphasis. The report, called Curriculum Focal Points, recommends that elementary students become fluent in math facts and focus on a few basic topics each year, in place of today's "mile-wide and inch-deep" curriculum.

Who wrote the new report? The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the very folks who gave us fuzzy math in 1989.

If you're not sure whether your child is being taught integrated math, as opposed to a traditional, sequential, mastery-based curriculum, he or she may be getting integrated math if:

  • You are having trouble helping with homework, even if you did well in math in school

  • Your child's in-class work or homework in math involves art projects that seem to have little to do with math

  • Your child does not have a math textbook

  • Your child is not learning basic math facts (addition, subtraction, and multiplication tables)

  • Your child is calculator-dependent, and cannot work out problems using paper and pencil (for example, long division)

  • Worksheets and workbooks come from curriculum such as Everyday Mathematics, Connected Math Project, or the Core-Plus Mathematics Project.
This is a timely topic for Minnesotans. The Department of Education is reviewing the state's Academic Standards in Mathematics. The public comment period is ongoing through next Tuesday, December 5. To get involved or to just check it out, see the Minnesota Department of Education's math standards home page.