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Parents, Professors Protest Pelham Math Program

PELHAM, N.Y. – Three professors, who are considered experts in math education, spoke to numerous parents of children in elementary and high school Tuesday night at the Daronco Town House about what they said were necessary skills for students to learn in order to prepare themselves for college level mathematics.

The first annual Pelham Community Math Night was hosted by the Pelham Math Committee and featured Alan Siegel of New York University and Stanley Ocken and Ethan Akin of City College of the City University of New York.

The Pelham Math Committee was founded in December by a group of Pelham parents looking to improve math education in Pelham schools because they consider the elementary education curriculum, called “Investigations,” to be inadequate. The group started a petition to have Investigations removed from the schools.

“We felt like it was really important to explain why this type of program is damaging to kids and isn’t teaching them what they need to know,” said Jennifer Slattery, a member of the committee and mother of a 6-year-old first grader and 2-and-a-half-year-old. “It is actually teaching them sort of bad habits of mind.”

Slattery said the committee disapproves of the curriculum because of long-term investigations into its program.

“That’s not something we came up with,” she said. “That’s something we learned from researching their work and the work of other professors at Harvard, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins.”

Akin, who received his Ph.D. from Princeton University, said he believes that algorithms must be better understood by students in order for them to be successful in higher mathematics education.

“Learning those algorithms, for me, that’s the thing I notice the big difficulty that people have,” Akin said. “My main involvement is just through teaching calculus and noticing the problem. I can’t say that, in general, the solution to everything is these algorithms, but” it’s important.

Ocken, who also received his Ph.D. from Princeton, said he thinks problems that develop with learning math start at the elementary school level.

“Ask students to collaborate and communicate about mathematics and how they work out their own strategies,” Ocken said. “That’s all very nice, but none of that is involved with doing appropriate grade level mathematics that prepares students for success later in high school and college.”

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