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About Catherine

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& Carolyn will forward to me...


in Studio City, circa 1997

2 of my books (& please scroll down for why I'm here)




My Kitchen Table Math story began in June 2004 when my fourth grader, Christopher, finished out the school year with a 39 on his Unit 6 test, Fractions and Decimals.

I was gobsmacked, to use a Carolyn word.

A 39?

On a 4th grade test?

I’d never even heard of a person getting a 39 in the 4th grade.

It wasn’t like he was being pushed. He wasn’t. He was in ‘Phase 3’ math, the regular track. ‘Phase 4’ is advanced.

Obviously, it was summer make-up time. I ordered a used copy of the textbook and sat the two of us down at the picnic table outside our kitchen to learn Fractions and Decimals.

This turned out to be harder than I thought.

Later on I discovered that fractions are the ‘bottleneck’ in elementary mathematics; lives are lost in the struggle to learn fractions.

I shouldn't say that like it's a joke, because it's not. Carolyn will tell you she’s seen young women in college wash out of their pre-nursing programs because they didn’t understand fractions & couldn’t do the algebra they needed to pass the entry tests for nursing school. They're spending their lives emptying bedpans instead of taking patient histories and giving shots, all because they didn't learn fractions in 4th grade.

The fraction situation has probably gotten worse in the years since Carolyn was teaching. Critics of constructivist math—most American textbooks today have constructivist elements—will tell you that constructivist texts gloss over the whole subject of fractions, especially the computation of fractions.

And Tom Loveless will tell you that the NAEP test, aka “Our Nation’s Report Card,” appears to have dropped test items requiring computation with fractions almost entirely:

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP as it is commonly known, assesses fourth, eighth, and twelfth grade students in math and reading. Scores on the math assessments have risen dramatically over the last 10 years, indicating that U.S. students are becoming more adept at mathematics.

But the Brown Center analysis shows that the NAEP math assessments rely on arithmetic skills that are far below the grade levels of the students being assessed. The analysis finds that almost all problem solving items use whole numbers and avoid fractions, decimals, and percentages – forms of numbers that students must know how to use to tackle higher order mathematics like algebra.

So there you have it. Scores are going up because they’ve stopped putting fractions on the test. (pdf file)


But I didn't know any of this at the time. So I had no idea Christopher and I were starting at the top.

I discovered pretty quickly that I couldn’t teach fractions and decimals using the school’s textbook, an opinion shared by most of the district’s teachers, it seems. So I started looking around for help.

One thing led to another, and within a couple of weeks I had discovered:

a) Saxon Math
b) Singapore Math
c) Fuzzy math


d) the news that my own school district would be adopting a fuzzy math curriculum in the fall—


as well as—

e) the revelation that our school's so-called advanced track, Phase 4, was only advanced for a child living in America. For a child living in France or Germany or Japan or Singapore, Phase 4 was average at best:

Regular, non-rich, non-privileged, average-IQ, everyday children in countries around the world study and master algebra in the 8th grade.

Which meant Christopher wasn’t just behind his friends, all but one of whom had now completed his second year in Phase 4 math, and he wasn’t just behind the rest of the kids in Phase 3. He was miles behind the entire civilized world.

If I wanted Christopher to be on par with the rest of the world’s grade-schoolers — and I did — I would have to get him into Phase 4 by 6th grade, because in our district only the Phase 4 kids master algebra in the 8th grade.

The rest of the kids in our middle school, I learned, used a book called Math Thematics, a fuzzy math text that had been awarded a grade of D+ by the California Board of Ed.*

Christopher's future as a '3' (that's what the guidance counselor called him: 'he's a 3') was now clear. While 6th graders in Singapore would be solving word problems like:

The number of Adam’s stamps was 5/6 of the number of Peter’s stamps at first. After Adam gave away 40 stamps, the ratio of the number of Adam’s stamps to that of Peter’s was 1:2. How many stamps did Adam have at first?

Christopher would be mastering lessons on:

(links may be broken

Mr. Short and Mr. Tall
Teamwork as a Tool
Paper Clip Products
The Perfect Pet


Go with the Flow

It should be self-evident that any 11 year old studying Math Lessons called Go with the Flow is not being groomed to compete in the Global World Economy. We had to get into Phase 4.

Christopher was 2 months away from turning 10.


So there we were, Christopher and I, on the wrong track, in the wrong Phase, and way behind the kids who were already way behind. In one year Christopher was going to have to re-learn a full third of 4th grade math (it turned out that while I was working under deadline he'd flunked Unit 5, too), all of 5th grade math, and one third of 6th grade math to boot.**

I ordered Saxon Home School 6/5, the 5th grade book, and had him take the online placement test for Singapore Math. When he placed into 2nd semester, grade 3, I ordered Primary Mathematics 3B.

The Singapore books looked great, but I didn’t trust myself to teach them.

So we opened up our 700-page Saxon book and started with Lesson One: Sequences • Digits.

A couple of weeks later, I decided to start teaching math to me, too.

* This book has been dropped as of fall 2005.

** This last is the advice given by my math guru, Wayne Wickelgren. Wickelgren's rule of thumb for parents wishing to accelerate their child's study of mathematics is to teach the child 30% of the advanced curriculum before he joins the class.



The Good News From Here
I'm Going to Playland
I Like Math

Good News Bad News
Outsmarting the Tests
Conversations With Kids

middle school
grievance inventory
chapter test & Bode Miller
Phase 4 math saga, grade 6
news from nowhere

middle school, year 2
edline surprise