The Debate about Everyday Math

Everyday Math is a curriculum that has sparked considerable debate among parents, educators, and mathematicians. Whether the curriculum is good or bad depends entirely on who you ask.

What is Everyday Math?

Everyday Math is a pre-k and elementary school math curriculum developed by the University of Chicago’s School Mathematics Project in the early ‘80s. It is important to understand the context of its development; this curriculum was created during the Cold War when America was losing on the education (specifically math/science) front. This led to the development of innovative ways to educate students in key subjects for the purpose of strengthening America’s ability to compete technologically.

The idea of Everyday Math is to make studying math as relevant to the real world as possible, as hinted by the name. The curriculum emphasizes concepts using practical problems such as sharing a bag of M&Ms to demonstrate division. The idea is to avoid a commitment to rote memorization and, instead, help students understand the way math is used each and every day in life. When students are introduced to new problems, they are encouraged to try to use what they know find solutions instead of simply being told the correct method.

Criticisms of Everyday Math

This might sound like a great way to make math relevant, fun, and interesting to students who may be averse to memorizing methods and formulas. Well, again, it depends who you ask. Critics argue that while the intentions of the program are good, the result is that students never learn concrete concepts and leave the curriculum without a solid foundation upon which to learn more advanced mathematics. Additionally, Everyday Math takes a much more methodical, slow approach to problem-solving, which can be problematic in today’s fast-paced world that rewards efficiency. For example, Everyday Math’s technique for long division uses a method called “partial-quotient division” where students break up the dividend (number being divided) into big chunks, or partial quotients, until the answer is found. For an example, see the video.

Proponents of Everyday Math

In 1999, the U.S. Department of Education called Everyday Math a promising new math curriculum. Although a group of mathematicians, scientists, and educators signed a letter of protest, demanding that the department withdraw the report, the Department of Education has refused to denounce the curriculum. A later report sanctioned by the department gave Everyday Math the rating of “potentially positive.” While this may not sound very good, it was the highest rating received of the five curricula examined in the study. Additionally, this demonstrates that of the studies examined when determining this rating, there was little or no evidence that Everyday Math had an adverse effect on student achievement.

So Is Everyday Math Good or Bad?

Everyday Math, like any curriculum, has its critics and its proponents. While some teaching methods are widely considered to be effective (using phonics in reading, for example), the heated debate surrounding Everyday Math proves that most curricula work for some students but not others. Since students learn so many different ways, it is difficult to argue that a curriculum is absolutely wrong or absolutely right. As more and more studies are published about the effectiveness of Everyday Math, parents and educators will need to make a decision about which side of the fence they fall when it comes to educating their students.

Studying with ExamTime

Study skills can be one of the hardest things for students to learn as they come through school. If a student doesn’t have someone working with them on improving study habits (teacher, tutor, parent, etc.), then they are likely to struggle from an early age. It is difficult for a 7th grader to know what to do with a binder full of notes if they are given no direction. Even if they are given direction, it can still be difficult for many students to visualize the big picture of what they need to know. If your student has a hard time studying, whether it’s because they are unorganized, unmotivated, or simply overwhelmed, then you should consider trying ExamTime.

ExamTime is a study-aid website designed to allow students to put all their thoughts, notes, and deadlines into one online database that is interactive, helpful, and fun. Here is an overview of the website’s features:

Mind Map
Mind map is a very interesting feature that allows students to create a visually appealing “map” of different topics covered in class. If a student is covering the Industrial Revolution in history, they can map out a timeline or general overview with different text bubbles surrounding different issues during that time. This feature is great for visual learners that struggle to see the big picture and need something a little more interesting than graphite on a piece of paper.

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Flash cards

Virtually everyone I knew during my time as a student found flashcards very useful. However, very few people actually used them. Many students find it to be too big of a time investment to have to write everything down on flashcards, either because they are too lazy or they put off studying until it is too late. Being able to type flashcards is a huge advantage because it can significantly cut down the time it takes to make flash cards. This feature also allows you to add images in case you want to add a picture of a math formula or diagram.

Customized Quizzes

Since you can share everything you do on ExamTime with your friends, this feature is great for study groups. Assign each member of the group to create a quiz on a certain topic for the rest of the group so everyone can practice on a quiz that they themselves did not create. Additionally, you can add explanations to the answers which helps when trying to understand why an answer is correct. This feature is also great if you have a class with a comprehensive exam: add questions with explanations to the quiz throughout the year/semester so that before the exam everything is already put together.

Note Taking

ExamTime has a note-taking feature similar to other note-taking programs (OneNote, etc), but it requires the internet to use. This feature is ideal for an online course or simply transcribing written notes if you prefer to see them on a screen or want to share them with friends. One unique aspect of this feature, though, is the ability to add images, videos, or links to websites directly into the page. This can be very useful if your student enjoys looking up how to work problems online.

Tracking Assignments

By adding “goals” on the website, you can put all your projects, due dates, exam dates, and assignments in one location that is accessible from anywhere you have internet access. Again, this is a great option for students who love using the computer or struggle with written planners. Additionally, there is a built-in timeline on the site that keeps track of when you added content and allows you to sort by type of content.

This tool can be a fantastic study aid for students who struggle to stay organized and study throughout a long school year. It offers a digital format to organize assignments and class work. Additionally, users have the option to share everything they add with friends which can be great if a friend misses class or struggles with note-taking. This could be particularly useful for college students who have access to the website during class. Oh, and did I mention it is free?

The Problem with IQ Tests

IQ (Intelligence Quotient) tests have been the litmus test for intelligence for the last century. There is no single “IQ test,” and each test only measures certain aspects of intelligence. Therein lies the problem with IQ tests: they are intended to act as a measure of intelligence, but how can you measure a person’s intelligence based on answers to a few questions in one test?problem with IQ tests

Why are IQ tests used

The goal of IQ tests is to predict someone’s academic potential, the likelihood of a learning disability, and general potential for success. IQ tests seek to evaluate an individual’s cognitive ability, or their ability to understand ideas. Specifically, they test a person’s reasoning and critical thinking skills. IQ tests can be helpful for identifying learning needs whether a student needs more help than others or whether they can handle more challenging work.

Limits of IQ tests

A recent study by Adam Hampshire of the Brain and Mind Institute confirmed what many people already believed: IQ tests are poor indicators of intelligence. They developed a test designed to evaluate 12 “pillars of wisdom” in order to obtain a comprehensive understanding of an individual’s cognitive skills, from memory to planning. The 12-part test was taken by over 100,000 people and the results proved that there was no single “quotient” that could measure intelligence. They identified at least three factors that were essential to predicting intelligence: “short-term memory; reasoning; and finally, a verbal component.”

Additionally, IQ tests are unable to measure variable aspects of intelligence like emotional and social intelligence. Both of these are crucial factors in assessing an individual’s potential for success, but they are not tested in IQ tests. Ultimately, IQ tests only really measure how well an individual takes an IQ test and little more. IQ tests have the potential to inaccurately measure an individual’s intelligence and cause problems including low confidence, unrealistic expectations, and just a generally flawed understanding of a person’s potential.

The moral of the story is this: every person is different, and while an IQ test can be useful for identifying certain strengths and weaknesses, you should be proactive when evaluating your student’s learning needs and look beyond their IQ score. Identifying your student’s ability level in areas not tested by an IQ test, such as creativity and is essential to maximizing their potential for success.

If you found this article helpful, click here for more tips and resources to help your child’s learning needs.

What is Singapore Math?

One of the most important statistics used to evaluate the education level of different nations on a global scale is each nation’s math skills. Every few years, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement gives assessment tests in singapore mathmath and science to approximately 500,000 students from across the world. In 2011, the United States ranked 11th and 9th for 4th grade and 8th grade math, respectively. Other studies have placed the United States as low as 32nd.

Interestingly, one country that consistently ranks in the top two for math proficiency is Singapore. This has led educators from many nations, including the United States, to seek out the reason for Singapore’s consistent success in the area of math. Singapore Math, in the United States, is a method of teaching math based on the textbooks and curriculum used in Singapore. In 2010, the New York Times reported that more and more school districts across the United States were adopting this curriculum in an attempt to strengthen their students’ ability to perform in math.

What Makes Singapore Math Different?

Singapore math takes an in-depth, methodical, and thorough approach to math instruction beginning in first grade. Traditionally, most math instruction in the United States begins each grade with an extensive review of topics covered during the previous year. In contrast, Singapore Math eliminates the need for review by taking extra time to cover each mathematical concept in significant depth. So, while it seems like students are moving more slowly, they ultimately save time and learn concepts faster by eliminating review time.

Additionally, Singapore Math focuses on mathematical concepts that build on each other and are therefore essential to progressing to higher levels. It also incorporates pictorial models more frequently than traditional US curriculums in order to connect concrete mathematical experiences and abstract written representations. It also places an emphasis on understanding word problems at an earlier age, in order to prepare students for more complex word problems they will encounter at higher levels.

The intended effect of these efforts is to leave each student more than prepared to enter the next year and be successful as they learn new concepts. In the US, schools are aligning the curriculum to match state and Common Core standards. While it is difficult to transition older students into Singapore Math because it relies so heavily on building foundations early on, review and supplementary materials are available to bring older students up to speed as much as possible.

Should My Student Learn Singapore Math?

It is too early to tell if Singapore Math is just a fad or if it is a wave of the future for math instruction across the country. However, it has caught the attention of many educators from all around the United States. If you are interested in pursuing Singapore Math instruction for your student, you should contact their school (or other schools in your area) to inquire if they incorporate it in their curriculum. Alternatively, independent instruction of Singapore Math is available through private tutoring. It might be just the thing your student needs to achieve their full potential in the area of math.

Teaching Kids to Code: Why It’s Important

The issue of schools offering classes in computer programming has received significant attention in recent years. From schools in Utah experimenting with programming workshops for students as young as nine to President Obama calling for programming requirements in schools, it seems inevitable that we will see an increase in programming options in schools in the coming years. But what are the benefits of teaching kids to code before college? Shouldn’t it only be taught to people who need that specialized knowledge to work with computers for the rest of their lives?

For those who may not be aware, programming is the process of writing an executable function for a computer to solve a problem or perform a task. Put simply, programming makes a computer do something you want it to do. Whether it is adding two numbers together, translating a sentence to another language, or turning a collection of family pictures into a slide show, programming makes it happen. Another term you might hear used interchangeably or in relation to programming is “coding.” Coding is the process of writing a program in the language a computer understands (aka, “code”) in order to implement the program.

Back to the point, though, the fact of the matter is that a majority of people in the workforce will work with computers for the rest of their lives. According to a 2012 study done by Forrester Research, 74% of workers use two or more devices at work (computer, iPhone, tablet, etc). Like it or not, we are living the era of the computer and students need to adapt to this reality if they are going to remain relevant when they decide to enter the workplace.

Why Should Kids Learn to Code?

You may be thinking, “But schools already require basic computer courses to prepare students for using computers in the workplace. So why teach programming?” Simply put, programming is an important skill that translates into a variety of options for each student. I am not saying that every student will use programming when they enter the workforce, because that is obviously not the case. However, schools require math classes and science classes knowing full well that not every student will use the content learned in those classes during the course of their careers. So, why teach students math and science? There are several reasons, of course, but one reason is to help teaching kids to codestudents understand the world around them and to build a solid foundation of knowledge while also exposing them to multiple avenues of learning. Given the explosion of computer usage in the workplace, adding programming to our students’ required course load would assure that they won’t simply know how to use programs like Word or Excel, but they will be able to understand how and why these programs work.

Learning Coding Creates More Opportunities

Another reason programming should be taught in schools is that it offers endless possibilities to those who learn the skill. One of the most valuable aspects of programming to those that have learned it is that the only thing that limits their potential is their creative power. In other words, for those that possess the ingenuity to come up with their own idea for a program, anything is possible. There are many examples of individuals using little more than their minds and their programming skills to create a revolution for internet users: Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook, Shawn Fanning with Napster, and Pierre Omidyar with Ebay, just to name a few.

Providing students with the understanding of how to use programs without providing them with the understanding of how they work would be like telling students in science class that plants need sunlight to survive but not telling them why. It is like telling students in social studies that America won its independence but not explaining when, why, or how. Computers will inevitably impact all students in one way or the other when they enter the workplace. Teaching them to understand the “why” and “how” of computers is essential to helping them better understand the world in which they live.

How to Teach Coding to Kids

Having said that, it may take some time for schools to adopt programming as part of their required curriculum. While there are some schools that offer programming or coding as an elective, there are a number of ways a student can learn programming outside of school. For students age 5-8, Daisy the Dinosaur is a fantastic iPad app that teaches the basics of programming. For students age 8-12, Scratch is a very popular website where students can learn to code. Finally, Codeacademy is an excellent online tutorial for older students who want to learn coding. However, if you want your student to learn programming/coding as thoroughly as possible, nothing beats the learning experience of working one-on-one with a private tutor.

Who Makes the Best Tutor?

Experience

The best tutors don’t begin their tutoring careers with formal tutoring experience already under their belt. So, what kind of experience is valuable? First, and perhaps most obviously, teaching experience is a huge plus for individuals looking to begin tutoring. Classroom tutorteaching experience helps to develop many valuable qualities that translate into successful tutoring. Those qualities can include the ability to differentiate instruction based on learning styles, time-management, content knowledge, and the ability to remain focused on the task at hand.

But what about those that aren’t teachers? Well, because tutoring involves working with students, any experience working with students is valuable. Maybe you were a camp counselor for two summers in college. Maybe you volunteer as a mentor at an after-school non-profit. Maybe you helped out some friends who were struggling in a subject in an informal setting. All of these things can help develop the most important skill for a great tutor: knowing how to work with students.

Relevant Knowledge

Perhaps you just graduated college and never really engaged in teaching/tutoring of any kind. While individuals like this are prone to struggle as a tutor initially, some of our best tutors made it through college without any significant experience working with students. Why? Because if someone recently experienced what a student is currently experiencing, it is easy for them to recognize and relate to any struggles a student may be facing. For example, recent college graduates typically make the best test prep tutors, because they were studying for the SAT or ACT very recently and can relate to students studying for those tests now.

To clarify, when I use the word “relevant,” I mean relevant to the student. For instance, individuals with advanced degrees in math/science subjects with little to no teaching experience typically do not make great tutors. If someone has 10+ years of experience applying calculus or physics to their full-time job, it will be incredibly difficult for them to communicate concepts on a basic enough level for someone who is experiencing them for the first time. So, maybe you have never tutored calculus before but you took a college calculus course last year and you are familiar with learning the concepts for the first time: you might make a great tutor.

Personality

Teaching experience and relevant knowledge are both things that, theoretically, anyone can get. However, the kind of personality that makes a great tutor cannot be taught or gained through practice. Great tutors typically have very similar personality traits: a passion for teaching, a positive attitude, and a high degree of patience. When a tutoring candidate comes in for an interview at Educational Connections, the first thing I try to evaluate is their personality. If someone takes themselves too seriously, can’t seem to crack a smile, or just doesn’t seem excited for the opportunity to tutor, then the rest of the interview is usually just a formality.

Whether you are interviewing with a tutoring company like ours or simply meeting a prospective client independently, it is important that you convey an enthusiasm for the opportunity you are being given. You might have the best understanding in the world of how to teach Spanish, but if you cannot engage a student who is struggling and maybe not motivated to learn the subject, you will accomplish nothing. If you are not passionate about either teaching in general or the subject you want to tutor, then tutoring probably isn’t for you.

Communication skills

Another quality that every great tutor possesses is communication skills. Because every student is different, great tutors are able to recognize the personality and learning style of their student and adapt their method of communication accordingly. For instance, approaching a subject in an overly energetic way might be great for a student who is also excited about the subject, but it might be tutoralienating to a student who is struggling in the subject or fails to see its relevance to their lives.

Another aspect of tutoring that makes communication skills vitally important is the relationship between a tutor and a parent. There are different types of parents, but all of them want their child to succeed. If they are going to pay for tutoring, they want to know that their child will benefit from the service. Sometimes parents may have unrealistic expectations for their student. Being able to effectively communicate with a parent through things like setting goals, frequent updates, and listening to a parent’s concerns is crucial. Without effective communication skills, tutors will struggle not only to reach the student, but also to convince the parents that their help is beneficial.

Location, Location, Location

One final variable to the equation for a great tutor is location. Some regions of the country are better for tutoring than others. For instance, in cities like Vienna, Great Falls, and Fairfax in Northern Virginia, there is a large demand for academic tutors. Alternatively, there is much less demand in places like Lynchburg, Virginia where I attended college or my hometown of Anderson, South Carolina. You could be the most qualified tutor in the world, but living in an area with little or no demand for academic tutors means that your skills won’t be utilized.

Even if you live near an area where there is a large demand, your specific location is very important. This is particularly true for in-home tutoring companies like Educational Connections. We will rarely assign a tutor to a student who lives 30+ minutes away. First, driving 30 minutes each way for a one hour session can take a toll on someone and they might ultimately decide that it’s not worth it, causing an interruption in the student’s tutoring. Also, especially in an area like Northern Virginia where cities like Arlington and Alexandria get very crowded during rush hour with people coming to and from D.C., a 30 minute drive can easily turn into an hour causing to delays or cancellations in tutoring sessions. These are risks that we do not like to take when placing a tutor with a student.

There are many more qualities that go into making a great tutor, but if you can master these then you are off to a great start.

How Educational Connections Hires Quality Tutors

For parents seeking a tutor, the quality of their child’s tutor is typically of the utmost importance. However, few parents are aware of what goes into the hiring process for a company that provides tutoring. Tutors are the face of any tutoring agency. Often times a tutor is the only in-person contact that a client has in dealing with an agency. Because of this, the hiring process for tutors is vitally important for any company that provides tutoring services. Here at Educational Connections, there is an extensive vetting process that all tutors must go through prior to being placed with a student.

The Tutor Application – Step 1

The first step to becoming a tutor with Educational Connections is filling out an application on our website. The number of applicants varies week to week, but on average we get around 35 applications every week. Once an application has been submitted, our staff thoroughly reviews the information provided, paying special attention to any past teaching/tutoring experience. At this point we might e-mail a candidate for clarification on parts of the application, ask to schedule a phone interview, or set up an in-person interview in our Fairfax office if we believe the candidate’s background and skill set would be a good addition to our pool of tutors. Only 15-20% of applicants make it to the next step.

The Tutor Interview – Step 2

This stage of the hiring process is used to get a sense of the personality and teaching style of each candidate. We evaluate how they approach both teaching in general and one-on-one tutoring, in particular, through asking targeted questions and conducting a mock tutoring session. We use the part of the process to evaluate what type of students we think the person might fit with. Are they outgoing? Patient? Structured? If a candidate is hired, the notes from their interview will guide us in determining which students to place them with. Finally, we take this time to get a better understanding of the candidate’s experience and what subjects they would be qualified to tutor. Approximately two-fifths of candidates interviewed are offered positions.

The Paperwork – Step 3

Although at this point a tutoring position has been offered, there is still a long way to go before we are ready to send a candidate to a client’s home. While reading about paperwork might seem boring, it should spark the interest of parents because this is the stage where we confirm that a candidate can be trusted to work safely with students. In addition to a complete background check, we get multiple references for every candidate and keep them on file in case a parent is ever interested in seeing them.

New Tutor Training – Step 4

This is the final step of the hiring process at Educational Connections. All candidates are required to attend an orientation prior to conducting a single tutoring session in our name. The orientation is used as a final evaluation for candidates. If an individual is late, inattentive, or does not contribute to discussions, we are unlikely to place that individual with a student. Additionally, the orientation is used to go over policies and procedures, troubleshooting various situations, and telling tutors what to expect leading up to their first session.

Customer satisfaction is the top priority for Educational Connections. Consequently, we do everything we can to make sure that our tutors are the best of the best. The hiring process typically takes 3-4 weeks because we want to make 100% sure that our client’s needs are met the first time they are placed with a tutor.

For more information about our company or to apply to become a tutor, visit ectutoring.com.