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Illinois Loop: SFAW Math

Review:
Scott Foresman Addison Wesley MATH: 4th Grade

A review by Kevin Killion (info@illinoisloop.org )
Original release: December 12, 1998
Last update of this webpage: December 2005

Your comments are warmly invited! I would like to collect more observations and experiences from other parents and teachers about Scott Foresman Addison Wesley Math. I will add notes to this page (with or without your name, if you wish), so that we can all profit from our mutual experiences with this program. Please write to me at info@illinoisloop.org

On a personal note, I'd also welcome comments regarding good math programs in use in Chicago suburban schools, for use in illustrating alternatives.

Please also let me know about any typos that you spot in this document; it's been through a few format conversions and there may be some glitches remaining. Thanks! Identification

This paper discusses a program named "Scott Foresman Addison Wesley Math". The fourth grade worksheet book is the subject of this review.

NOTE! Nowadays most publishers sell multiple different series of textbooks. Because this program just has the simple name "Math", be careful not to confuse this program with Scott Foresman Addison Wesley "Mathematics" or Scott Foresman Addison Wesley "enVisionMATH" or or any of the other math programs released under the Scott Foresman or Addison Wesley imprints.

    The layout of fourth grade Scott Foresman Addison Wesley "Math" is best described as "Tokyo By Night", a visual assault of MTV style, with literally thousands of cluttering photos, cheezy graphics, cartoons, splotches of bright colors, marginal notes and decorative slugs, adding nothing to the task of learning math. To the contrary, this fusillade of distractions can only impede your child's focus on learning math.

Speaking of distractions, your child's fourth grade math book will tell him or her that "Abwenzi" is the word for "friends" in the Chichewa language of Malawi, Africa, that small family farms in Massachusetts produce about half of the world's cranberries, that bicycle racing began in France in 1869, and that Pong was one of the first popular video games. He or she will read about cliff climbers in Nepal retrieving honey, will learn an assortment of words for cowrie shells in the Yoruba language of west Africa, and will be asked "Why do you think the Anasazi chose to built on cliffs?" and "Why do you think they chose to build dwellings with more than one story?" (despite a total lack of context).

Now, do you really think any of that will help your child to focus on learning math?

It's hot in education theory right now to talk about "integrated curricula", where elements of one subject appear in another. Ever so trendy, Scott Foresman Addison Wesley "Math" tries to do that, but the results are ludicrous. A group of boaters wants to coax a Weddell seal to retrieve their anchor from a 1,500 foot depth, examples about the Apollo missions, Oz, and the formation of our country get the facts wrong, and most of the other "integrated" examples are merely isolated counts-of-things, out of context of anything meaningful.

Diversity is a modern mantra as well. And diversity is a good thing, and certainly a refreshing change from the lily-white textbooks we had as kids. But diversity shouldn't mean a vastly lopsided tilt. Scott Foresman Addison Wesley "Math" will give your child dozens and dozens and dozens of word problems involving pre-industrial societies, countries of Asia and Africa (but only three references in the whole book to countries in continental Europe) and people with names like Chinonyerem, Karyms, Sahr, Divinity, Danikqua and Crisgeromie.

But the most crucial criteria for evaluating Scott Foresman Addison Wesley "Math" is this: what kind of job does it do in teaching math? And the answer is, lousy.

If you believe that your child is especially bright in math, prepare yourself to hear complaints of boredom (that's what I've heard from some current fourth grade parents). This book tells kids that it's OK to count using a number line (in fourth grade!) and are encouraged to use calculators if a problem looks like too much work (a character says, "I knew there would be a lot of regrouping, so I used a calculator"). Halfway through fourth grade, kids are given a long, politically correct story problem that boils down to solving 3 x 2. Near the end of fourth grade, they're asked to find "1920" on a timeline that is marked with every decade of this century. Hoo-boy, they'll be ready for the 21st century with challenges like those.

If your child is more average in math, prepare to spend a lot of time helping him or her with bewildering math homework. Practice and drill is drastically de-emphasized by this text. Do you really want your child to learn to multiply by 7 by multiplying by 5 and then adding the double of the original? Do you want your child to be burdened to have to learn each new topic with multiple "ways" of doing things, some of which are truly bizarre? Are you prepared to spend lots of time together agonizing over mutant problems like "Can you show 12 x 15 using 1 hundred block and 8 tens? Explain." (Try it!)

Instead of learning math, do you want your child to use a book that encourages (in full page exercises!) such kindergarten activities as "Make your own funny drawings to show occasions when you might estimate", or making pinwheels and counting how many times they go around, or cutting out paper and folding it to make a box and then answering how many sides a box has?

And now, on to the gritty details. Introduction

My family is familiar with "Scott Foresman Addison Wesley Math".

In fact, we are veterans of SFAW Math. Purple Heart veterans.

We've been through the agony, tears, crying, tantrums, and endless everynight battles. We saw our happy, sunshiny second-grade kid become a miserable, sad child awash in self-defeating lack of confidence. We saw the worksheets that gave our son two or three problems, not nearly enough to even provide a clue about what's going on, and which then broadsided him with a demand to write about the algorithm used, at a point when his class was barely beginning to master how to string words into sentences.

We dealt with SFAW Math's nightly visual assault of colors, graphics, fonts, and wildly irrelevant detail, a powerful set of distractors when all our kid was trying to do was master subtraction. We helped him try to cram sentences into tiny spaces, to "discuss" results that were patently obvious, even at the second grade level.

The hell our family went through cannot be completely blamed on Scott Foresman Addison Wesley Math; that awful year had other circumstances as well. But Scott Foresman Addison Wesley Math played a significant role in a terrible second grade experience.

I was sensitized to what was going on with this math program by two discoveries.

  1. First, I found that other parents were also reporting odd, disturbing experiences with these worksheets. Kids who had better writing skills at that point found many of the topics ill-explained and many of the problems inscrutable. Bright kids were bored by the pace, insulted by the clutter, and disturbed by the strange sidebars and make-work tasks. Parents of kids with more average skills said that math was a crisis in their households as well. All of this led me to the web, where I discovered the nationwide battles over what educational theorists call "reform" math, which many teachers and parents call "fuzzy math", "rainforest math" or "MTV math". I also learned how the state board of education of California, as well as communities all over the country, including some right here in the Chicago area, have trashed fuzzy math and returned to content-based standards, drill and practice, and measurable goals.
  • The second discovery was from an experiment at home: In June, I went to the teachers store on Waukegan Road, and bought a half-dozen traditionalist math workbooks for this grade level. I carefully selected pages to be on-topic and in correct sequence, gave them to my son, one or two per day over the summer, and witnessed an amazing event: My son, who went through a living nightmare with Scott Foresman Addison Wesley Math, not only tackled and mastered these worksheets, but actually enjoyed them and asked for more. He was now truly learning math. and feeling good about himself and his accomplishments. We kept up and expanded on these worksheets, and he was quite proud of the amount of work he had amassed by the start of school in September.
  • The start of 3rd grade brought more delight: with a motivating, encouraging teacher (thank you!) and a proven math curriculum that gives kids a chance to master a topic without superfluous distractions, our son is doing much better. We're thrilled with the progress he's made and the positive, success-oriented attitude that we see returning. Clutter vs. Attention

    The sheer bulk of "Scott Foresman Addison Wesley Math" pretty much shouts, "CLUTTER". Its almost 600 pages are packed with an cacophony of graphics, photos, design devices, fonts, colors, rules, cartoon characters and decorative borders. And this is only one of a set of materials that are part of this math curriculum! (Presentation photos of fuzzy math curricula, easily found on the web, tend to look like web pages for Milton Bradley.)

    Far from riveting attention, this visual and cognitive fusillade will defy a child to keep focused on the task at hand. This complaint about clutter versus attention appears in several on-line reviews of so-called "reform" curricula. How can it be otherwise? All we expect the child to do is concentrate on learning, say, the steps in how to regroup in addition: but competing for the child's attention are Zoombini cartoons, lively photos of exotic topics, gratuitous splashes of primary colors (expensively printed), margins packed to the gills with superfluous irrelevant tidbits, and an apparent explosion from the font menu. The title page lists 18 authors and 45 illustrators -- and that doesn't include all the sources for photographs.

    Like an MTV video or a Disney Channel self-promotion break, Scott Foresman Addison Wesley Math is awash in meaningless gibberish that adds little or no substance to the goal at hand. It's exhausting, distracting and very disturbing.

    The first rule of typography is to use fonts sparingly, to promote clarity and visual impact. Designers allow maybe two font faces, with tasteful and very limited use of styles. But in picking one page as a sample (page 88), I counted ten different fonts and styles on that single page!

    Superfluous Decoration

    Every page has a prominent border using at least three colors, and a color slug to show the page number. Horizontal rules are made of a series of shaded yellow balls, sections are titled with bright-red, 3D boxes with drop shadows, headlines are in an assortment of colors. Virtually every page spread has at least one full color photo. Geometrics (as design elements, not math problems) are everywhere.

    Cartoony characters pop up with alarming frequency. I love the Zoombini with the sign that says, "Stay sharp!", but whose very presence interferes with that advice!

    Example: Page 3 has a simple exercise in which students solve some simple arithmetic problems, and use letter codes to fill in the answer to a riddle ("What is a giraffe's favorite kind of math?") Great, except that it stumped me, a college math major, before I figured out what it wanted me to do. There is a visual assault of a cartoony graphic of animals playing some kind of irrelevant tokens-in-circles game, and rodent faces occupying spaces where the answers should have fit. A dripping irony is that the riddle answer is "long division", a subject that fuzzy math textbooks no longer like to teach.

    Words and More Words

    This is math, right? But on some pages it's hard to see numerals in the wash of the text.

    If the sheer torrential count of words isn't enough, then consider the disparate groupings in which this text appears: titles, sections, captions, bullet labels, thematic blocks, thought balloons, and oh yeah, the problems.

    There is a "team project" exercise on page 384 that asks kids to use paper or posterboard, and markers or crayons to make an advertisement that asks for volunteers for something like a tree-planting activity. (Yes, I know -- a nice little eco-pious politically correct activity that has little to do with math.) At one point, the text says,

    "How can you attract people's attention? If your ad has too many words, people will not read it."

    Somehow, Scott Foresman forgot this sound advice when creating their 600-page eye-popping blockbuster.

    Eye Relief

    Every advertising designer is taught early on about the value of white space.

    Amateur ads tend to fill every purchased column inch of space with ink of some kind. Professional print advertisements measure page elements carefully, using lots of blank, empty areas to draw the eye to desired targets and to focus attention. Ad researchers then use eye-tracking lab experiments to exactly measure how readers eyes move across printed advertisements, to learn what elements work as part of the whole and what elements merely distract.

    So what do billion-dollar ad agencies know that Scott Foresman does not? In 600 pages, there is hardly a page that isn't burdened by color-laden, meaningless extras. And I couldn't find even one example of a margin that was mercifully left alone, uncluttered by cartoons, fortune cookie wisdom, or stock photos collected at random. Is This ALL We Expect Our Children To Do?

    The educational theorists love to parrot the phrase, "Less is more". Apparently they don't mean this to apply to clutter or bulk, for there's no shortage of brain-softening, expensively-printed graphics packed into this hefty 600-page mass. No, what they mean is to reduce the amount of meaningful content.

    You can judge a book by its cover. The 4th grade edition of "Scott Foresman Math has only the title and a close-up photo of a girl looking at a goldfish bowl. The 2nd grade edition has the title and a close-up of a frog. In-your-face graphics, but where's the math? Yup, that's Scott Foresman Addison Wesley Math.

    I spoke with the mothers of two children who are currently in 4th grade using the Scott Foresman Addison Wesley Math book. Both of these children are very bright and adept at mathematical concepts. The moms report that their kids are bored with the tedious pace of these books and the lack of challenge.

    Not all kids are at that level. What is the effect on those other, more average, kids when we present them with reduced expectations, confusing and unfocused delivery, an assault of distracting elements, and a dearth of clearly measurable goals and signs of progress?

    Here's what I mean: On page 2, as an intro to their fourth grade, students are asked to solve problems like 5+7 and 13-8, and are told, "You may use the [conveniently printed] number line to help." This is fourth grade, yet kids are being told it's OK to count on a number line to solve simple problems!

    Earlier this week I was returning books at the Wilmette Library when I noticed an Asian mother, possibly Japanese, working with her daughter on some papers. I'd estimate that the girl was about seven or eight years old. I took a closer look, and was amazed to see the girl working on division problems. Yup, the Asian first or second grader was doing division, while fourth graders are using number lines in school to add 5+7.

    The message that achievement is easy permeates this book, and in odd and distracting ways:

    The ability to make and use scatter plots and line charts is definitely desirable. But after one early lesson (page 12) and a very a quick recap, they are never seen again in the book, except for two tiny passing items in reviews. The same is true for line charts, which will appear only twice more in brief mentions later in this book. The only presentation graphic used to any significant extent is bar charts.

    There is a nice exercise (page 11) titled, "Exploring Algebra: What's The Rule" in which a child makes up a rule involving addition and subtraction (such as add 5) and applies the rule to a list of numbers submitted by another child. The latter child then has to try to figure out the rule. I guess the idea is to suggest that a rule can be stated without reference to a specific number, and that a variable can be used to stand for that number. Very nice, indeed, except this topic is totally in isolation and disconnected from any other thread. It comes from nowhere and leads nowhere. But parents can feel good about seeing the word algebra printed in their fourth graders math book.

    Under the pompous banner of "Geometry Readiness", the children are shown (page 53) two jigsaw pieces and asked which of three other pieces will fit in between. It's insultingly trivial. Frankly, I think my dog could solve this one.

    Fully a hundred pages into this allegedly fourth grade book, a full four page lesson (starting on page 104) is devoted to a simple problem in addition with regrouping! Another two pages teaches these fourth graders how to add three numbers in a column. Then, four more pages tell our fourth graders how to do basic subtraction of three or four digits. We better start booking our kids' air tickets to Stockholm for the Nobel ceremony!

    There is a lesson entitled "Choosing a Calculation Method" (page 122) which would be better titled "Using Calculators to Avoid Learning How To Add". An addition problem is presented, and solved in two different ways. "Theo", who apparently has somehow mastered addition by his fourth grade, says, "I added using a paper and pencil", and his neat, careful work is shown. "Carly", on the other hand, describes her way as, "I knew there would be a lot of regrouping, so I used a calculator" and a pseudo-computer display shows she got her answer quickly and efficiently. Boy, Carly sure makes Theo look like a geek! Just in case some excessively motivated and bright kids haven't yet gotten the idea that it's cool to take the path of least resistance, the class is asked, "When might it be better to use a calculator?" and then, "Which calculation method [sic] would you use to find the difference between 12,825 and 9,948?"

    The next page challenges kids with this brain buster: "Geometry Readiness. Draw a picture of a tortilla folded in half. What shape is it?" Hey, Mom, I know geometry now -- bring on Kindergarten!

    Weirdly, in the middle of the lesson on multiplying by 6, 7 and 8, the book drops in (page 155), out of thin air, this:

    The product when both factors are the same is a square number. The product of 8x8 is a square number. So, 64 is a square number.

    This isn't shown connected to anything else, and it has no relevance to the lesson title. It doesn't even get a title slug, a bullet graphic or a cartoon character. This is the child's introduction to squaring! Weirdly, for a book that places graphics above everything else, this highly visual fact is not accompanied by an illustration. I still have a Golden book from my own childhood that illustrates the first 10 squares in a graphic and a table that makes them seem magical. (Nasty thought: Did Scott Foresman tuck this little gem discreetly out-of-sight somewhere, merely so they could satisfy some state textbook authority somewhere that says squaring must be taught in their book?)

    Kids are supposed to break into teams and make their own labels for a brand of salsa (very P.C. you know) using numbers supplied (page 290). So, this is basically an art project. What a wasted opportunity! The children now know enough about numbers, multiplication and division to be shown how to think analytically and critically about real food labels, which I think they would find far more interesting than yet another art project.

    In a chapter about two-digit multiplication, a long word problem is given (page 262) that boils down to a simple subtraction of 196 - 155. The very next problem asks, "Use the map - Suppose Liesl flies from Saginaw to Flint, then to Lansing, and then back to Saginaw. What would be the shape of her route?" For God's sakes, kids shouldn't be asked to identify a triangle in fourth grade!

    By the middle of the book (page 307), a child is asked, "The recipe for Rajit's biryani in Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley calls for 3 cups of rice. How much rice is needed to double the recipe?" Great. Halfway through fourth grade we're asking a child how much is 3 x 2. We are politically correct, however.

    A little later (page 336), after one-digit division and remainders are covered, we get, "Solve. Use any strategy. Six eggs fit in a mini-carton. How many mini-cartons can be filled with 110 eggs?" By the middle of 4th grade, we should expect kids to use the single appropriate strategy to solve 110 ÷ 6, namely, division.

    Near the end of fourth grade (page 524), the student is shown a time line marked by decades from 1900 to 1990, and asked, "Technicolor for movies was invented in 1920. Where on the number line would you put Technicolor movies?" Well, let me take a wild guess at it -- is it 1920?

    So, it adds up to this: 4th grade kids are being told it's a perfectly good way to do simple arithmetic by using a calculator, or to do a simple subtraction using a number line. Yet we do have time for a full page on a money system using shells and African words. No wonder we see newspaper stories about fuzzy math like this from the Washington Times (November 5, 1998): "Parents watched in horror as their children whipped out calculators to determine 10 percent of 470". Dumbing Down Math:
    The Battle Over Multiplication

    If there is any one flashpoint in the battle over fuzzy math, it's the role to be played by multiplication tables. Parents all over the United States have been horrified to discover that their reform-minded schools no longer insist on memorization of these fundamental math facts. (I suspect -- or hope -- that our school is not in this group.)

    The educational theorists have gotten smarter lately -- they are now too shrewd to say out loud that memorization of the times table is no longer required. But it sticks in their craw that practice and drill really do have a place in promoting mathematical competence. They refuse to yield even on the times table, just like over-pious libertarians have trouble admitting that saving the national parks is a pretty good idea.

    So, Scott Foresman Addison Wesley never says that knowing the times table by heart is not necessary. But they never give the slightest suggestion that it would be helpful, either, much less vital.

    But even worse, the texts emphasis on strategies (a reform buzzword) and slighting of computation proficiency leads to encouragement of some dangerous habits. I believe it is unquestionably vital that a child learn, by rote, that 4 times 7 equal 28. There's no getting around it -- this is fundamental. But in this book, to multiply by 4 (page 152), kids are shown that how they can turn this into the doubling of a multiplication by 2, so that 4x7 becomes 2x7=14, and 14+14=28. They are even explicitly required (question 6, page 153) to do a problem this awkward and speed-retarding way, even if they know the times table (which the didn't learn from this book). Then, to demonstrate their skill in multiplying by 4, the kids are asked to solve 13 -- count 'em -- 13 problems. That's it. Total. Your child will get a measly thirteen problems from this book when learning how to multiply by 4. Ever.

    It's all like that! Multiplying by 3 is shown as a doubling and adding again. Multiplying by 6 is shown as multiplying by 3 and then doubling. (Are kids supposed to double and add again to get 3x, and then double the total?) Multiplying by 7 is taught as multiplying by 5 and then adding 2 times the original number. Multiplying by 8 is doubling of 4 times the number (are they supposed to double, add, double, add, and double?) Aaaacccckk! The reform cult hates it, but the truth is plain: kids must drill, practice and memorize multiplication tables.

    Even Scott Foresman Addison Wesley recognizes this implicitly -- but only implicitly -- in the next lesson, division (page 166). Although children are shown alternative ways to think about division, the final assignments is solid and specific: "What multiplication fact can help you find 36 ÷ 4?" Tortured Common Sense

    The stress on manipulatives, the temptation to fill the books bulk, and a passionate emphasis on strategies rather than skill or results adds up to this: Scott Foresman Addison Wesley Math sometimes takes a relatively simple, meaningful problem and makes algorithmic chop suey out of it.

    To subtract 148 from 2001 (page 114), the kids are shown -- at length -- how Philippa's way to do this is to take the 2 thousands, and regroup them into 1 thousand, 199 tens and 1 more ten, the latter of which then is regrouped with the 1 unit to make 11. Philippa subtracts in the units column, and then suddenly writes down the rest of the answer without benefit of any columnar alignment for clarity. After precious class time is wasted on this method, it is not mentioned again. Perhaps the text's author suddenly realized how bizarre this was getting, and decided to stop before making matters worse.

    Page 256 presents a problem in two digit multiplication, using an example about the Pony Express. (Note: This excerpt skips the superfluous route map graphic, horse and rider drawing, incomprehensible document reproduction, and historical intro, so that we can focus on the problem at hand. Children using the book would not be shown this mercy.)

    Suppose a rider traveled 12 hours a day at a speed of 15 mi/hr. How many miles could the rider travel in a day?

    Even using manipulatives, the seemingly rational way to start this problem would be to create 12 sets of 15 blocks. A student might then observe that this is 10 sets of 15 (or 150) plus two more sets of 15 (30) for a total of 180. Quick, accurate, and direct. That would also be a quick, one-for-one, point-for-point correspondence to the common method for doing multiplication. And, following the trendy dictum of real-world basing of problems, it directly relates to the example given.

    But NOOOOO, that's not what the book does. Instead, students are asked to work together, probably thus consuming a full class period, in a truly bizarre strategy. First, the kids are told to use cubes to make 1 ten and 5 ones [plus] 11 more rows of 15. Say what. Oddly, an accompanying illustration doesn't do that, but instead shows an equally bizarre set of a 10x10 block, two 10-unit blocks laid horizontally, five 10-unit blocks laid vertically, and 10 single unit blocks standing by themselves. None of this appears to have any easy, vivid relationship to the problem given!

    Next, we have one of those deadly talk-about-it landmines:

    Can you show 12 x 15 using 1 hundred block and 8 tens? Explain.

    Go ahead, try it. I dare you. This gives the teacher a choice: either spend a precious class session debating this wildly distracting problem, or let the parents have an evening screaming and wrangling with their kids over math homework that they mutually find incomprehensible. Some choice.

    Next, the text converts the manipulatives method into numbers (at last!) Inexplicably, we're now going to illustrate that by switching to an entirely different problem, 13x23. (What happened to real-world relevance?) The child is shown this odd scheme:

    The child then is required -- required! -- to solve 18 problems using this freakish method. Strange: a curriculum that despises giving kids much of a chance to practice much of anything suddenly hits them with 18 problems when it comes to an oddball way of doing things.

    The mind numbing postscript to the problem is that in the very next lesson the student learns the everyday, common method of multiplying. We've just suffered through an agonizing and tortured stab at multiplication, only to immediately discard it in favor of the time-tested and sensible procedure! Unnecessary Complexity

    When you have 600 pages to fill, what could be more natural than to take simple ideas and make them complex?

    In an early lesson (page 12), kids are given the definition that an ordered pair is "a number pair that names a point on a coordinate grid". Got that? You don't? Well, in the real world we'd say that as "a coordinate gives the location of a point on a scatter chart". The kids are not taught the correct terms, coordinate and scatter plot.

    A marginal note on page 98 offers, "Remember -- You can use a number line to help you round numbers" and illustrates this with a line with two ticks at 100 and 200, and a dot roughly where 138 should go, and the label, 138 rounds to 100. But how is this number line supposed to help? If a child knows that the dot for 138 should be closer to 100, then doesn't he or she already know the answer to the problem before even getting to the number line? So, why complicate things with an extra step?

    Children are introduced to primes and factors (page 184) using a time-wasting team project to color in cells on grid paper. It's confusingly written, and has minimal examples. In contrast, that Golden book from my own childhood elegantly expressed the same idea using checkers on a checkerboard, a much more compelling and real-world example, and one that the student can try out much quicker. Moreover, the Golden book also had an adjoining large, clever illustration of Eratosthenes Sieve, showing several of the initial passes through the sieve. I can vividly remember even now when I was a child and spent time in wonder of this exact chart. The Scott Foresman Addison Wesley book inexplicably skips ten pages before getting to Eratosthenes, and the illustration is tiny, hard to follow, and shows only the first pass of the sieve. (Why is it that this book loves large meaningless decorations, but substantive charts are kept rare and minimal?)

    One of the most vital multiplication facts is that to multiply by ten, all we have to do is suffix a number with a zero. 176 x 10 is 1,760. Guess what? When the kids are first learning the times table, they aren't told that. The closest the book gets is to mention that in multiples of 10, zero is in the ones place (page 159). In fact they won't see the add-a-zero trick until 100 pages later!

    A lesson supposedly on "Multiplying Tens" devotes a full page (page 200) to a problem involving a girl trying to count soup labels for a school benefit. When the text gets around the the actual problem, it says,

    Julie stacks her labels in 5 groups of 20. She counts: 20, 40, 60, 80, 100
    5 groups of 20 labels
    5 x 2 tens = 10 tens
    5 x 20 = 100
    So, Julie's team has collected 100 labels.


    Lordy, that's confusing! The kids are then asked, "Why is helpful to put things into equal groups of 20?" I guess no one at Scott Foresman noticed that it's not, and that groups of 10 would be much more helpful. Nonetheless, kids are then expected to do problems with strange phrasings like, 4 x 2 tens = tens, 4 x 20 = . The kids had never been exposed to the notion that multiplying by tens is as easy as suffixing a zero, and now we're making matters worse by tacking on procedures that defy common sense.

    In studying the metric system (page 506), kids are told, "Here are some ways to think about meters and kilometers. 547 bicycles placed end-to-end are about 1 km long." Oh, thanks, it's perfectly clear now.

    A chapter on "Choosing a Calculation Method" (page 218) suggests that three kids do 3 x 1,094 in three different ways. Here's what John does:

    I suppose we're supposed to think that ol' John's method is perfectly kopa setic, despite its involving a lot more writing, mental place shifting, and columnar addition even for multiplying by a single digit. I can hardly wait to see John's papers when he starts doing three digit multiplication. This wouldn't be so bad if John was a real kid, and this was his own, private scheme for understanding multiplication. But John is not real, and this odd algorithm is being shown to all of the 4th graders, who will have this thrust upon them, only to need to ignore it or un-learn it if they're ever going to attain computational proficiency.

    By the way, a second child's way is the standard, accepted method, and the third child's "way" is to use a calculator. Perhaps there should be equity recognition for a fourth child who copies the answer from a friend and a fifth child who counts out 3,282 unifix cubes. Time-Wasting Activities

    While Japanese and German children are drilling and refining their computation skill (and then applying it to rich, content-based curricula in other subjects), our kids can merrily spend long class periods whiling their time away on math projects such as these:

    • "Make your own funny drawings to show [occasions] when you might estimate." This takes a full page. No really -- I'm not kidding.
  • "Find at least five numbers in the sports section of a newspaper or magazine. Copy the numbers and write if each is even or odd." This is fourth grade? (page 181)

  • A full page instructs the kids to divide into teams, and use squares of paper, scissors, ruler, markers or crayons, and thumbtacks to make pinwheels and count how many times they go around. (page 198)

  • A team project called "inchworm traveler" uses a full page to ask the children to imagine an inchworm moving across the classroom, and to then draw a map of classroom landmarks and to measure distances. (page 248)

  • The students are told to cut paper into a cross shape with six adjoining squares, and then to fold this pattern into a box. (I guess the word cube is too complicated for fourth grade.) They are asked tough questions like how many faces the box has. This takes a full page, halfway through 4th grade. (page 342)

  • Teams of kids are to make a scoreboard by drawing on a sheet and then writing numbers into place on the drawing. Quite a challenge, huh? This takes a full page (page 474), near the end of the year when the kids are about to be promoted to 5th grade.
  • Accuracy and Relevance of Integrated Content

    What's the point of diluting math by mixing in other subjects if the textbook doesn't bother to be meaningful or even to get the facts right? If all we're doing is throwing in isolated, off-topic, out-of-context cocktail-party facts, almost all of which are merely mindless counts of things. then isn't that exactly what trendy reform-minded educrats complain about in content-based curricula? The sudden, out-of-nowhere telling a kid that Mercury is 36,000,000 miles from the sun is exactly the kind of mind-deadening fact that the educational theorists bemoan when they're talking about science class. Why do we want to weigh down our math curriculum with this stuff?

    Worse, many of these irrelevancies are inexact or just plain wrong!


    Critical Thinking. Suppose a boat loses its anchor. The ocean floor is about 1,500 feet below the boat. [Using a chart of the diving depths of various sea mammals,] which animals might the crew use to get the anchor? (page 113)

    On the chart, the only animal to reach that depth is the Weddell seal. Now, lean back and visualize a group of marine biologists laughing themselves silly over the notion of a lost boat coaxing a passing Weddell seal into retrieving their anchor for them. What we need is textbook authors who have some capacity for critical thinking!

    Science. There are about 7,688 giant redwood seeds in 1 oz of seeds. About how many seeds are there in half a pound? (page 219)

    "About?" The word about simply doesn't go with the number 7,688: the specificity of the number implies four significant digits; the word "about" denies that. And where does this isolated, off-the-wall number come from? This isn't science, this is a hunt for random, meaningless factoids.

    Science. There are 136,800 kinds of butterflies and crickets. (page 71)

    Science. There are about 6,500 kinds of dragonflies and 2,000 kinds of praying mantis. How many more kinds of dragonflies are there than praying mantis? (page 229)

    If they're going to fantasize that they are helping to teach science in the process, why not use the correct word species rather than kinds?

    History. The Apollo 11 spacecraft carried the first humans to walk on the moon. Each Apollo flight held 3 astronauts. There were 13 Apollo space flights. How many astronauts were there on Apollo flights? (page 258)

    Presumably, the student is expected to multiply 3 and 13 to come up with 39 Apollo astronauts. In fact, that would be the wrong answer. There were 13 Apollo flights, but two of them were unmanned. On the 11 manned flights, four astronauts (Cernan, Young, Lovell, Scott) each flew on two missions. Thus, there were 29 astronauts on Apollo flights, not 39. Shame on you, Scott Foresman. Time. A 190-minute movie is made up of 8 segments. Estimate the length of each segment. (page 295)

    How is a child of 1998 supposed to know what a segment means? For that matter, what are we adults supposed to assume it means? Reels? In reality, almost all theaters today show feature films in one, large reel. Literature. L. Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz and 13 other books about the Land of Oz. Ruth P. Thompson wrote 19 Oz books. Other authors wrote 7 more books about Oz. How many Oz books were written? (page 295)

    A quick web search finds that more than a hundred, not seven, Oz books have been written beyond those by Baum and Thompson. And why is a child halfway through 4th grade being asked to add 1 + 13 + 19 + 7 anyway? Science. Look closely at a strawberry plant, and you'll see 4 stages of growth: white flowers, buds, green berries, and ripe berries. That's why plants are picked twice a week. (page 314)

    I've stared at this paragraph, and scoured the rest of the page, and I'll be doggoned if I can divine any kind of logical connection between the first sentence and the second "that's why" sentence. Social Studies. Illinois and Indiana are known for growing soybeans. In 1994, Illinois farmers harvested 9,530,000 acres of soybeans [and] Indiana harvested 8,770,000 acres of soybeans. How many acres of soybeans did these two states harvest? (page 314)

    Uh, so why is this in a chapter on division with zeroes in the quotient? I thought the idea of so-called integrated content was to relate math to the real world, not to throw in distracting, off-topic stuff that has nothing to do with what the child is trying to learn. Social Studies. When Minnesota became a state, there were eight times as many states as there were when Georgia became a state. Oregon, the 33rd state, was the next state after Minnesota to become a state. How many states were there when Georgia became a state? (page 333)

    Do 4th graders have any reference at all to understand this? Do they have any idea of how states enter the union? Even if kids do know this, one of the first facts they'd learn would be about the 13 original states, and taking that and the eight times reference in this question would imply that Minnesota must be the 104th state in the union. I looked this up, and this paradox hinges on the rather esoteric quibble that Georgia was the fourth colony to ratify the Constitution. However, it was not technically a state until the constitution officially went into effect after nine colonies approved it. So, the correct answer to the question is nine, although students are expected to say four.

    Again, if we are trying to say something meaningful about these off-topic, non-math sidebars, then we should get it correct; if these distractions are not to be taken seriously, then all they are doing is distracting kids from the topic at hand and should be jettisoned. Language Arts. If you turn a lower case b, you get a q. Find letters that look like other letters after they are flipped or turned. (page 353)

    Find the perimeter of each polygon.

    One of these perimeter problems shows the state of Colorado, with a height of 270 miles and a width across its southern border of 390 miles. I guess we're just suppose to ignore the fact that the east and west borders of Colorado are drawn on lines of longitude, and so the distance between them decreases significantly as you go north. Hey, don't blame me: I'm not the one trying to force ill-fitting examples where they don't belong. Science. It takes a beam of light about 500 seconds to travel from the sun to the earth. The sun is 93,000,000 miles from earth. How far does light travel in 1 second? (Page 556)

    I thought the idea in trendy reform curricula was to avoid "stuffing kids' heads" with isolated factoids but that's just what we have here. The example is presented as if this odd fact that light takes 500 seconds to get from the sun to the earth is some kind of natural starting point. We can pretty well assume that no real scientist ever did a similar calculation. A more science-based phrasing would give the distance to the sun and the speed of light (186,282 mi/sec) -- both of which are more fundamental measures -- and then ask how many seconds light takes to get from the sun to the earth. A more math-centered math curriculum would leave science to science. Muybridge used a toy called a zeotrope to project the pictures. (page 556)

    The scientist and pioneer photographer Muybridge should hardly be said to have used a "toy" in his research. Also, his "zoetrope" that he developed in Palo Alto in 1878 did not project pictures at all, they were simply observed. Later, he devised a "zoopraxiscope" which did project pictures. (Thanks to an alert and helpful person from the Netherlands who read this page and who provided the information about Muybridge's projector, as well as a link to a fascinating web page: www.muybridge.nl ) In the movies today, 24 still pictures, or frames, are projected in every second of film. Our eyes fill in the spaces between the still pictures. (Page 556)

    No, they don't! Persistence of vision is a brain process, not an optical one. Off-Topic Sidebars The text is chock-full of isolated bits of data that have no context to anything, say little that's meaningful, and have little relevance to the subject matter at hand. The net effect is less like math and more like Trivial Pursuit. Some examples:

      • Abwenzi is the word for friends in the Chichewa language of Malawi, Africa.
      • Small family farms in Massachusetts produce about half of the worlds cranberries.
      • XuChong Wei was the winner of the world's largest musical chairs game, which was played at the Anglo-Chinese School in Singapore. The game started with 8,238 people.
      • In 1988, 90 teenagers in Japan used a single jump rope to make 163 jumps in a row
      • Children in the United States laugh about 400 times a day.
      • Machines can make about 66,000 corn tortillas (tor-TEE-yah) and about 28,800 flour tortillas in an hour.
      • Bicycle racing began in France in 1869.
      • A typical chicken lays about 18 eggs a month.
      • One of the first popular video games was Pong, which was developed in the 1970s. A winning score was 21.

      But Scott Foresman Addison Wesley Math doesn't settle for irrelevant one-liners: there are plenty of longer irrelevancies as well.

      On page 338 a child is hit with three photos, eight font styles, a punchy title graphic, and a zigzag border, all to frame an article about bees and honey. There is a low-content introduction (it basically says honey is sweet and people have collected it for thousands of years), then a mention and a photo of honey collectors climbing cliffs in Nepal, and some other out-of-context facts unrelated to anything else.

      Page 470 is mostly devoted to a discussion of Anasazi dwellings in the southwest. We are told they are examples of apartments, which are thus not a modern idea. We learn where and when the Anasazi lived, and that they built their homes under steep cliffs. Our kids are asked, "Why do you think the Anasazi chose to built on cliffs?" (despite a total lack of context from which to make such a guess) and "Why do you think they chose to build dwellings with more than one story?" (Again, with no context.)

      Now, let's take a deep breath, and then scream, WHAT DOES ANY OF THIS HAVE TO DO WITH LEARNING MATH.

      I have a radical, bizarre idea:

      Why don't we use sidebars in math class to talk about interesting topics in math. Wow!

      • how the Pythagoreans held their meetings in secret since they felt their math discoveries were so vital
      • how a slipped decimal point led to the destruction of a space probe to Venus
      • how Newton struggled to work out the math of curves
      • how a computer does everything, even drawing and writing, using numbers
      • how artists can enhance and sharpen photographs with programs that are intensely mathematical
      • how marketers collect data and find imaginative ways to visualize it in order to bring products to market
      • how advertisers collect and use television ratings to learn what programs kids are watching
      • how early navigators developed whole new specialties of math in order to continue their explorations.

      We could even talk about how the Arabs gave algebra its name and invented zero as a placeholder, how the Aztecs had a complex mathematical foundation in their calendar and astronomical systems, and how Ada Lovelace, a woman, invented computer programming -- wonderful stories that are even politically-correct.

      Also, hundreds of books exist offering meaningful math puzzles for kids; why not use some of those instead of agonized, forced examples?

      Non-Standard Usage?

      The rules of good writing say that small numbers should be spelled out. (We write, "Share jelly beans with three friends", not "Share jelly beans with 3 friends".) But I won't quibble too much about this. Frankly, using the numerals is much clearer, even if it does look a little odd to a reader taught the formal way.

      But I suspect that most experts still want abbreviations to have a period, no? Not in this book.

      And what's the status of "standard" or "English" measurements, which this text now calls "customary" measurements?

    Political Correctness

    When I was in grade school, we seldom saw a black face in our textbooks. We've moved away from those shameful days, but now have we gone to the opposite extreme? Political correctness completely overwhelms this text.

    Here are descriptions of the persons used to introduce the sections of the book. (Sections not included in this list have photos that either portray no people, or a large group of people.)

    1A A blind woman
    1B A Cuban woman
    3A A white male (a Hollywood makeup artist)
    3B A Hispanic woman
    3C A black woman
    4A A girl with leg braces and crutches
    4B Two black girls and two white girls
    4C A black girl
    5A A black girl
    5B Three black girls
    6A White woman
    6B A girl in a wheelchair
    6C Senior white male
    7A White woman
    7B Asian man
    7C Hispanic girl
    9A A black girl and a Hispanic boy. The girl, Danikqua, is shown again later with her friend, Crisgeromie.
    9B A white or Hispanic girl
    9C An Israeli boy and girl
    10A Chinonyerem, Karyms and Nicole: Two black girls, and one who may be black or perhaps Indian
    10B A black girl, a black boy, and a white girl (Sahr, Divinity and Jada)
    10C A white male (huh?!)
    11A A white male from Belarus
    11B White woman (Bonnie Blair)
    11C Twins in the Special Olympics
    12A A brother and sister (white?). I found it satisfyingly ironic that the kids are shown rehearsing piano and violin using the Suzuki method, a successful teaching protocol that is founded on the virtues of practice and repetition. You know, the same way that the Japanese teach math.
    12B A black boy While there are plenty of wheelchairs, a rainbow of skin shades and zillions of references to South American and African countries (no objection to any of those), I was hard pressed to find any references at all to countries of continental Europe (there was a margin factoid about bicycle racing starting in France, a photo of a girl with her collection of dolls from around the word included one from Germany, and a one-page, very confusing discussion of Roman numerals). But a page on a monetary system based on cowrie shells (what they are is left unexplained), described using words from the African Yoruba language, gets the same amount of coverage as Roman numerals.

    When talking about how bees make honey, we don't see a commercial beehive in the U.S. we see a Nepalese cliff climber. When there is an example about a community project, it's about new-age causes like planting trees or collecting recyclables (good projects, but there are plenty of other worthwhile social, charitable, junior achievement and church activities, too).

    Conclusion

    In our own school, the failure of Scott Foresman Addison Wesley Math is all too obvious: high achievement kids are bored silly and insulted by the lack of meat, while more average students are given limited chance to practice and are confused to tears (literally) by the lousy explanations and constant distractions .

    Would there be any point in moving from one fuzzy math program to another? Hardly! In fact, a number of fuzzy math programs (e.g. UCSMP Everyday Mathematics, MathLand, Math Trailblazers) are frighteningly worse. with plenty of horror stories reported from all over the country.

    Wouldn't it be best to acknowledge that basic math facts and skills are indeed basic, and to use a curriculum that starts from that premise? Selected reform notions that actually do work should be supplemental to a basic program, not the other way around.

    An older Scott Foresman series, Invitation to Mathematics does a fine job in teaching math skills and competency, and its success has been well-demonstrated in our own public school over the years. It uses a warm, uncluttered delivery and offers lots of room for practice, but it also provides plenty of opportunities for solid, hands-on activities to conceptualize about math strategies and applications.

    Other large publishers still have their serious, proven math programs available as well. New programs such as Saxon Math mix traditional topics and practice with the best in up-to-date materials and manipulatives.

    We don't need to handicap our kids with Scott Foresman Addison Wesley Math -- there are plenty of good options out there! WHAT OTHER PEOPLE ARE SAYING
    ABOUT SFAW MATH
    California Textbook Adoptions

      The state of California has put Scott Foresman Addison Wesley Math in its "Not Approved" category, along with such notorious math programs as Connected Mathematics, Dale Seymour, and Math Trailblazers. There is a webpage for the full list of approved and unapproved programs in California.
    Other Reviews

    John Sikora looked at SFAW and two other math programs (from Houghton Mifflin and McGraw Hill) that were under consideration in his school district. About SFAW, he concluded, "The Scott Forseman-Addison Wesley text has some. serious problems. The presentation was cluttered by all sorts of cartoon characters and sidebars that would only serve to distract the student." Click to see his reviews of these math texts.

    Comments From Readers Of This Page

    A number of people have written to me to comment on the above review and to offer their own reports and experiences. Here are some of those comments.

      A concerned Mom writes, My sons are in the 2nd grade and 3rd grade. Man, I thought I was losing my mind, and my sons are doing poorly in math. so I decided maybe I should purchase the SFAW math textbook to help them out. By chance, I came across your site and read the comments given by numerous parents. Thank you, my sons and I are not 'stupid'. A Dad in upstate New York said, I have a 9 year old who is struggling with math. I believe it is at least partially due to the Scott Foresman Addison Wesley curriculum at his school. I have noticed your review of the same, and I was hoping to gather some ammunition. I have read his math textbook, and I couldn't understand the estimation process or the mental math, and I am a 44 year old business owner, and my company does over a half a million dollars a year. I understand math. This stuff is goofy. A former teacher and current Mom told us, Kevin,

    "a Jackson Pollock-esque cornucopia of abstraction"

    I have just breathed a HUGE sigh of relief. Your review of SFAW has made me feel "normal" again and has restored my confidence in what I had always believed to be my daughter's above average math abilities. I could produce a litany of examples from her 4th grade experience in math, but, really, I would just be repeating what other readers have said already. My child, too, turned against math last year. and boy, did it show on her Terra Nova test score this past March. I thought I was looking at some other child's score, which had been put in my child's folder by mistake.

    As a former teacher of high-school level, I too almost succumbed to homeschooling last year. Had it not been for my child's perseverance to plod on, I would have. SFAW's text is unclear, misleading and chock full of errors. What ever happened to the old adage, "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line"? Those who compiled this text, instead, takes us on a circuitous route to nowhere.

    The biggest objection I had to the 4th grade math text is that the "geniuses" who wrote the book have managed to take a very fact-based, black-or-white discipline and turn in into a Jackson Pollock-esque cornucopia of abstraction. Math is math -- it IS the exact science of numbers, like it or not. Strategies are simply the icing on the Pi (er,cake). I found all of this 4th grade approach to math concepts completely ridiculous. My daughter was very confused and frustrated, as were 90% of her class. My child learned virtually nothing in last year's math class. I had to supplement and review all summer. This series of books should be burned at the stake. A Mom wrote to us, Well, you wrote this in 1998, but boy, did you get it right! This stuff sucks. and I'm an MIT grad. A third grade teacher in Utah told us: I am so glad to hear that I am not the only one who is frustrated with this math program. I hate using it. This is the only math program our district will allow us to use and I can't see the point. I spend so much time trying to find "supplemental sources" to help me teach the lessons. I might as well write my own math text book. There is not enough information or practice for each concept. They fly through multiplication in no time. How are the students supposed to learn multiplication in one chapter? There is so much left out of the book. yet our district told us that if we taught one lesson every day we would never get through the whole book. The whole program is a mess. We are going to be looking for a new program for our district, but not for a couple more years. You can bet that I will be on that committee.

    Thanks for your site. A self-declared "frustrated Math Mom in New York" wrote, Thank you so much for your site - I thought I was loosing my mind!

    It is hard to fathom that you posted your review in 1998, and YET here I am writing 7 years later to say that I am completely at a loss as to why New York is using the Scott Foresman Addison Wesley text for 4th grade.

    The amount of "additional" math work that I need to teach my son boggles my mind. On our own, we have memorized the multiplication table. Memorizing the table works. Hands down. That has been only a minor battle.

    I have been battling my son's 4th grade teacher for months - and I am EXHAUSTED!

    I thought I had hit my peak with the unit on estimating (I have been trying to teach my son the precision of the language of math and yet still teach him the value of estimating), yet the SFAW method of estimating is so far afield as to be useless in any circumstance.

    Today we are working with the section on Logical reasoning. Oh, IF ONLY!

    The text does not TEACH. INFORM. HELP. or GUIDE! It offers a (very colorful) example - that is absolutely useless for the remaining problems. Worse - it has taken the joy away from learning Math that my son once had.

    I am not a teacher. I do not want to be a teacher. Yet, I have spent so much time doing the work of my son's fourth grade math teacher that I believe the school district owes me compensation.

    Thank you for your website. I am definitely a thorn in the side of NY State Regents! Linda, a Mom in New Jersey, wrote to us: I too, have a child that has been robbed of a basic math education in the public school system. The Scott Foresman "MATH" program has got to be one of the most confusing, conceptually inept math curriculums available to children today. Why does one have to go around a problem 10 miles to reach the destination of it's answer is beyond me. Why can we not stick to the basics? The basics were not broke, why did they feel the need to fix them?

    If it were up to me, the school board would be held accoutable for the years of frustration and the loss of my son's eagerness for learning math. Virginia teacher Chris wrote to us: I teach 4th and 5th grade out east here in northern Virginia. I couldn't agree more with your observations of the distracting clutter that is this math book. I do not use it, nor, thankfully does our school (they use Silver Burdett). I work mainly from my own curriculum to achieve the necessary goals and standards.

    I also thought you might be interested to know that I include Ada Lovelace and many other mathematicians in my instruction: Thales, Hypatia, Banneker, Ramanujan, Gauss (a student favorite), Pascal, Dogson, Descartes, and Fibonnaci. In fact I spend the better part of the year following a thread that traces a study of structure from Fibonacci's "little" sequence into the Greeks Golden Ratio and eventually our own DNA.

    Thanks for your well thought out comments about not only the textbook, but the state of math, in general, in this country.

    Donna, a Mom and a former teacher said: I'm so glad I found your website, as your comments about the Scott Foresman "Math" series mirror my experiences exactly. I'm a former teacher and also sold textbooks for McGraw Hill and other publishers, so I've reviewed lots of text series in my time. My youngest child was in fourth grade this year, using the 5th grade math text as he's in an accelerated program. He's always been very bright, and loved math. Until this year at least, when the school district adopted this new textbook series. He has been totally distracted by all the MTV-like graphics, and often confused by the lack of clear directions. The bottom line is, my son now feels like he is stupid in Math. Yet when I would give him worksheets or something fun online with the same skills, he would ace it and start feeling more confident. Then he'd go back to school, and the cycle would start all over again. I actually considered teaching him at home, as I felt this textbook was the worst I'd ever seen. It's a real crime, when a textbook is so bad that it takes away even one child's confidence. Yet sadly, it seems that many children have been adversely affected by using this text and they may be in trouble for years to come!

    Lisa, a Mom in New York, said: My husband and I just read your review of Scott Foresman on the Mathematically Correct website. What a howler! I had reviewed this one time in my search for math curricula. I am a homeschooler of 2 daughters. I showed the 4th grade text to my husband and he told me the book gave him ADD. We both agreed that there was very little in the way of basic math teaching going on. I found it to be horrible & did not use it. I did not like how they tried to make simple algorithms huge "think-tank" projects. I appreciate your thoroughness and humor.

    Angela, a 4th grade teacher, said: Dear Kevin:
    I am a fourth grade teacher, and my district uses Scott Foreman Addison Wesley Math. My students couldn't do the independent practice independently from day one. The book starts out with graphing skills. It goes into such complicated subjects as a stem and leaf plot. When I saw that I couldn't believe it. The first time I had ever seen a stem and leaf plot was in a college statistics class! Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but does a fourth grade child really need to understand stem and leaf plots? Have most adults even heard of this?

    Barbara, a 5th grade teacher, said: Kevin,

    I teach fifth grade and am using the new Scott Foresman-Addision Wesley text titled - "MATH". My students find it hard. You are very fortunate to have students whose only concern is the cartoons. Wow - My students have great difficulty with many of the lessons. I agree that the examples and methods of instruction are not of the best quality. Purchasing this new text has cause many hours of extra work on my part to modify instruction and create student help sheets. I spend a lot of my time making up assignment that meet my students at a more basic level. I am finding that I primarily rely on the ANOTHER LOOK and PRACTICE pages for assignments rather than the text. I do like most of the examples on the ANOTHER LOOK worksheets.

    Are you using any of their CDs that go along with the text? I am using the planner and I find it very frustrating. They sold it and mailed it out to the public while they were still working out the bugs. Have you heard anything about the other CDs and resources?

    Jerry, who started a charter school in response to SFAW Math and other issues, said: Kevin, I just read your Scott Foresman Addison Wesley evaluation, and it brought back bad memories. This text is in use in our school district. I too, had wondered what happened to memorizing our multiplication tables. Was it a lost art? It had worked for my generation. When I drew up a memorization table and sent it to school with my daughter 4-5 years ago, the teacher remarked "What a novel idea!" Further investigation into local school practices led me to research the term "whole language." What I discovered were obvious reasons why our district was near the very bottom in state testing. What were they doing to our children? After joining a parents group to improve education in our local district, we learned that as parents "we didn't know how best to teach today's global learners." (As was told to us by the Superintendent) Well, after a couple of years of rejection (or just plain ignoring us), we formed a charter school and implemented a researched curriculum. Thanks to Core Knowledge, Saxon Math, and Reading Mastery, the children in the community that attend will get the education they deserve."

    Mary, a teacher in Massachusetts, said: I don't like the program. It's my first year using it. I want to keep just sending the pages home for homework. Right now, I'm doing my own real life integrated unit in the classroom and trying to avoid the text.

    You can see what I'm doing if you go to my website and look at the lessons on the Trek Across America section.

    The beginning of the year was very frustrating for my kids and you're right. It can be confusing for the lower kids and boring for the brighter kids. I wouldn't mind using some of the zillions of worksheets as supplementary but. the program is just too much.

    Martha Schwartz (a cofounder of Mathematically Correct ) said: I printed your math book review for reading on my way home tonight. Thanks for the laughs - but it never ceases to amaze me when we get one news of one more awful situation from one more geographic region. After all these years.

    Good luck trying to stop this thing.

    Ann, a teacher in Washington State, said: Yes, the new math books have definitely been dumbed down since I began teaching in 1970. Much much glitz, color, pictures, almost "literature" sections explaining the use of math and mathematicians, and far, far less room to have a whole page of problems.

    Fay, a parent in California, said: I could have placed my daughter in [another] school district. They are using Scott Foresman math while my own is using Quest 2000. However, when I looked at the 1st, 2nd, 3rd grade textbooks I saw little difference between them and Quest.

    I think my gut evaluation was correct when I later heard my friends's constant complaints about the lack of math learning. She sent her daughter to Korean Kumon (which is even more intensive than Japanese version and supposedly better) during the summer where they had 4 pages of math problems each night. She learned about Korean Kumon from her daughter's friends who had been going there all during the school year. No wonder that socioeconomics matter more than anything else in educational success. Those who can afford it, pay for the tutoring, the special books, etc. so their kids can learn what they are supposed to learn.

    Shelley said: I just came across your article on the web while looking for information on Foresman's math. I am a homeschool mom that switched one child to Foresman's math last year (4th grade.) I picked up a used text at a book fair. My son is a very hands-on learner and I needed something different then I have with my other two children. After researching last year I "thought" Foresman's math was the way I wanted to go. I made the mistake, however, of purchasing a public school math book. It was not at all similar to what I had seen in my research. It was exactly as you put it in your article. It was too distracting with all the hoopla. I found it very difficult to teach simple principles because of all the contortionist math they used. It was definitely dumbed down. I lost a year of teaching with my son not to mention the toll it took on my son's interest in math.

    This is hastily written and just a reply to your article. Thank you for your time putting it out there. I sometimes wondered if it was just me.

    Linda said: Kevin--

    Just had to tell you how much I appreciated your article about Scott Foresman Addison Wesley Math. I am a foster parent, and my foster son is struggling with this fourth grade math program. I knew it would be a bad year when we had to contest right at the beginning of the book with how many times faster one slug crawled in a minute than another. As if we cared. We worked about fifteen minutes on that one question. Next day, he came back and told me that he was the only one in the class who "got" that one.

    Cathie said: Just read your review of Scott Foresman math. Wow--thank you for such a careful and thoughtful analysis. My daughter just finished 5th grade in public school, and used the SF program. I found myself surprised and puzzled by some of the wording of both explanations and problems.

    A Pennsylvania mom said: My daughter's math program is failing her and she is frustrated and confused as I am. The school is currently using Scott Foresman Addison Wesley Mathematics and I am very disappointed in the textbook. I find my daughter's math textbook not challenging but confusing and cluttered with all extemporaneous trivia. My daughter hates math. I will be purchasing a homeschool edition of the Saxon Math program to get my daughter back up to speed.

    A Dad wrote: We are struggling mightily with this program with our 4th grade son. I'm trying to line up some ammunition to take to our school administrators.

    A 4th grade teacher wrote: Wow. Great article on Scott-Foresman Addision Wesley Math. I. taught 4th Grade last year using this. I hated it from the get go, remembering how I and other teachers had to constantly scrounge around for clean, crisp worksheets for kids to work on, as we sure couldn't get any from the series. And those dreaded "explain" problems you describe as "landmines" -- I sort of suspected they were stupid but who was I to argue with the geniuses who put the book together. Same thing with "Phillipa's way" of doing two-digit math problems. Gee, I said to myself, I guess there really are seven different ways to multiply a couple numbers. I sure wouldn't want to stunt children's mathematical thinking by teaching them that there was only "one way." Thanks again for the article. It was very, very helpful to me.

    A Texas Mom wrote: I am happy to have located your site. I have read some of the other feedback and can relate 100%.

    I am a mother of a fourth grader in Texas. After noticing that she was having difficulty in school, I asked her to bring home her textbook. Now, I know why she's having such a hard time. In my opinion, the SFAW Math book has too much frivolous information and not enough basic instructions on general arithmetic. For example, I went to the chapter that introduces fractions (at least, the title of the chapter was "Fractions"). The first two pages had examples of statistical data in a table. There was no correlation of the data in the tables to any type of fraction, pie chart, or any other means of representing data in fractional format. The next page discussed ways of getting involved in a local community project. It talked about making an ad to ask people to volunteer for a cause, further mentioning that too many words in the ad would be distracting. There was a question asking what fraction of the ad would be words. Finally -- the word "fraction" is at least mentioned.

    I do not know if they are simply trying to "expose" the children to other math concepts at an early age. It seems as if they are trying to introduce algebra and geometry. However, the SFAW book fails to provide sufficient repetitive practice work with the basics. In a nutshell, I am not at all impressed. As a result, I have been looking for old math textbooks and other supplemental materials.

    Your comments are warmly invited! I would like to collect more observations and experiences from other parents and teachers about Scott Foresman Addison Wesley Math. I will add these notes to this page (with or without your name, if you wish), so that we can all profit from our mutual experiences. Please write to me at info@illinoisloop.org

    The Illinois Loop is an informal group of educators, parents, school board members and other concerned Illinois citizens, all interested in the restoring academic substance and research-based methods to Illinois schools. For much more information on other math programs, and the nationwide battles over fuzzy math, whole math, and rainforest math, please visit the website of the Illinois Loop .