Sunday, May 17, 2009

Investigating Investigations

Several bloggers I have discovered through posts about parenting (although they blog about many other things as well) and greatly respect have had a lot to say lately about the Investigations math series. Their comments have not been positive.

This has got me thinking about my evolution as a teacher of math. When I began teaching eleven years ago my school had a very traditional math textbook (I don't remember which one) and I used it for a year or two. But I quickly became frustrated with it. I began pulling together any and all resources I could find and taught based on my state and county standards rather than working our way straight through a textbook. After about a year my teammates were doing the same thing and it became a lot easier as we all collaborated to create lessons and assessments that were appropriate and effective.

After a few years of this my school adopted Everyday Mathematics. It took some time to adjust to having a textbook and to how different this series was from the traditional textbooks. I was so impressed with Everyday Mathematics. It helped me gain a much deeper understanding of math. However, a few years later I participated in some professional development in math with a fabulous consultant who continually referred to the Investigations series. I started doing some research into it and got really excited. One of our math coaches was familiar with it and ordered me a set.

I've used Investigations with a general education fifth grade, a gifted and talented fifth grade, and with my first graders this year. I don't believe it is a perfect series, but I don't think such a thing exists. I do believe that Investigations assists students in building deeper understandings of the math they are studying. Having worked with three different math series I believe that Investigations is the most challenging for students and teachers.

I know there is a lot of passion about the teaching of math, more than just about any other subject matter, but I'm still surprised by how strongly people feel against this specific series. I'd love to hear more about the reasons for this.


The Girl said...

I have no idea why people wouldn't like it. As you mentioned, it's not a perfect series, and one probably doesn't exist. I've used it for two years as a resource with my fifth graders who are mostly below grade level. I've enjoyed the lessons I've used and the way that they're presented both from the teaching side and the learning side. We have a "curriculum map" that tells us what standards we need to teach in a given month and it is difficult without a true curriculum (e.g. Everyday Math) to actually pull together cohesive units of instruction. Investigations has helped me introduce a lot of concepts and follow through with lessons that build on one another. I dunno...I like it. It's a good resource to have, I think!

MS said...

I have used Investigations at the 4th & 5th grade level for 8 years. I have my own critique of it, but I have noticed that students develop a greater number sense after going through these investigations.

However, our parents have not liked it. I think they don't understand it and are not able to help their children. The vocal parents in our town became quite good at rallying others and beginning next year we are switching to a different series--one that has more traditional math. We'll have to see how this plays out.

M said...

Although we don't use a series, almost all of the maths in my class has some investigative element. I know some of the other teachers at my school don't like that though because it doesn't have the predictability they like.

I love it because I teach G and T and it seems to gel with them. It also allows for really good differentiation.

kate said...

Hmm, this is quite interesting to me because I am doing an elementary ed degree and am now working on the Teaching Math class. Here in Spain offically the schools use a Constructivist approach (I say officially, because theory and practice do not often coincide) so this whole class is based on that perspective, and it sounds from the website that the Investigations approach is similar.

I am a convert, but I think that many parents are more comfortable with what they know, which is a more traditional approach. They don't see the need to do anything different. The other day I heard that parents were complaining that they don't like the methodology we use for teaching English because their third graders still haven't learned the present continuous tense (or something like that.) Of course, years of merely drilling grammar has lead to a generation of adults who know their grammar but can't speak a word of English, but hey, why mess with the good old way of doing things?

Jennifer said...

I'm not a classroom teacher, but I tutor math, so I've been exposed to some of the curriculum and to parents' reactions. Our local schools use something similar to the Investigations series (I don't have the exact series name at hand, but it is TERC math), and I know in our situation, part of the problem was that the district refused to allow teachers to deviate from the books. That meant no drill on math basics at all (even for kids who were struggling) and no supplementing the curriculum in the books.

Many kids in our area came out not having basic math skills (don't understand fractions or aren't able to multiply or divide without a calculator). I wonder if parents have the same concerns with Investigations?