Do Snow Days Hurt Math Progress?

A study by Harvard Professor  Joshua Goodman into the effect of snow days on student progress recently appeared in the Washington Post.  He concludes that official snow days do not appear to affect progress, but student absenteeism does negatively effect progress, especially math progress.

“The upshot is not that superintendents should shut down schools when the first snowflake falls,” Goodman said, “but that student absenteeism is a bigger problem than it usually gets credit for in national education debates.”

If schools get their arms around absenteeism it will do more for achievement than other common approaches like drill and practice.

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Sweet Sixteen Algebra

Teams will be travelling to get to their Sweet Sixteen tournament locations this week.  The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have a 251 mile journey to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.  If their bus averages 64 miles an hour how long will it take them?

Kentucky University has 331 miles to travel to Cleveland.  If they make it in exactly 5 hours how fast will they be travelling?

If the Kentucky team leaves one hour before the Notre Dame team which team will get their first?

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Close the math gender gap with effective intervention strategies

A few weeks ago the Washington Post ran yet another article on the Gender Gap in education.  The article is worth a quick look. 

“These results strongly suggest that gender gaps in school performance are not determined by innate differences in ability,” the report says, calling on parents, teachers and policy makers to help identify and change social factors that contribute to the gender gaps.

Looking at the thousands of students using Ascend Math it is clear that there is no difference in the ability of both boys and girls to succeed at math given the right intervention help.



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March Mathness Begins – Mascot Percentages!

A study released in the this month’s issue of Sports Illustrated magazine reveals that colleges with “bird” mascots have done better than those with animals, fantasy figures, or humans for mascots. Here is how it shapes up

Mascot Winning Percentage
Birds 58%
Fantasy figures/inanimate objects/weather 52%
Canines and felines 47.9%
Other Beasts 46.5%
People 41.1%

According to this study alone which of the following teams should win?   What is the difference in the winning percentages for their mascot types?

Northern Iowa  Panthers vs Wyoming Cowboys

VCU Rams vs Ohio State Buckeyes (a buckeye is a tree nut)

Duke Blue Devils vs North Florida Ospreys

Duke Blue Devils vs Robert Morris Colonials

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Announcing the Return of March Mathness

march mathnessLast year, we devoted the march blog posts to celebrating March Mathness, the math behind the sport of basketball.

Many of you sent in your own math problems for posting. These included  scores, records of teams, distance teams have to travel, the basketball court itself, even the numbers on the player’s jerseys.  Math plays into this annual event in more ways than you might think.

So check this blog regularly for more fun math problems. Send your ideas for March Mathness math problems to

Meanwhile, here is a favorite from last year submitted by students at Northside Elementary:

 Duke played Syracuse 3 times this season. At each game Duke scored the same number of points. The total amount of points scored in the 3 games was 96 points. How many points did they score in each game?

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The scalability of individualized instruction in math intervention

Great intentions do not always equate to great results.  Anyone who has spent any time in education comes to realize this.  Recently, ASCD has been promoting a well-intentioned approach to differentiated instruction. Their article “Differentiating without Drowning”  maintains that teachers should:

“Choose two students on whom to focus your differentiated instruction or lesson (who isn’t benefiting from instruction in your class?).

Use student files, assessment results, student work, support-staff knowledge, and any other data you have on hand to pinpoint three areas of weakness for each of the two students. (You may want to build on this list later, but begin with a short list of three weak areas.)”

What’s the problem with this approach?  It simply does not scale.  The average classrooms we see often include half or more of the students with skill gaps BELOW their current grade level.  With the exception of a few common gaps like fractions, their needs are quite individual.  No two students have exactly the same set of gaps.  The ASCD approach is well meaning and may well provide assistance for a few students who are close to proficiency but it is not differentiated enough to assist all the struggling math students in a class.

Teachers need a tool that clearly identifies each student’s missing gaps, puts them together in properly sequenced study plans and provides award winning instruction to help students understand and fill those gaps quickly.   It is simply not something that they will be able to do on their own.

Given the right tools, good teachers can provide truly individualized help for struggling students while continuing to teach to the collective class.

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Ideas Wanted for Math Explorations. Cash Prizes!

Explorations2There’s still plenty of time to enter the Create Your Own Math Exploration Contest from Ascend Math. Ascend Education is giving educators and their students a chance to come up with their own ideas for online explorations for any math objective grade 3-Algebra II.  The educator submitting the exploration voted best will receive a $500 cash prize. The second prize winner will receive $250 and the third $100.  Three honorable mentions will receive $50 each. Educators interested in submitting will find complete information and examples of online explorations on the Ascend Math website.   All entries must be submitted by May 8, 2015. The winners will be notified by email.

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The Growing Importance of Individualization in Math Intervention

Recently, the Washington Post reported that for the first time ever, the majority of public school students are from low income families, that is students qualifying for free or reduced lunch.  The article goes on to explain how this changes the way teachers have to deal with students. They now need to look at these students individually each day. “When did this student eat last?” “Is this student healthy today?”  “Is something making this student especially fearful today?” These questions are now a part of most teachers’ daily routine. When everything is pretty much okay with students, they can be taught and dealt with collectively. When things are not okay, individual attention is necessary.

The same is true when students, for any reason, fall behind.  Just as educators cannot form a collective opinion of what is going on in the personal lives of disadvantaged students, they cannot make a collective decision on what academically struggling students require to progress. Each student in need of intervention is individual and their personal needs or skill gaps must be seen to.  According to the Washington Post article this need has greatly expanded. “The shift to a majority-poor student population means that in public schools, a growing number of children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up.”

These students can and do catch up when their instruction is individualized to their needs.  Providing individual instruction to a few students is extremely challenging. Multiply the need by more than half the students in the class without help and it quickly becomes an impossible situation.  Intervention programs must be created to relieve teachers of part of this burden.  Programs like Ascend Math provide truly individualized assessment and instruction, reaching down to the student’s lowest math skill gaps.  Only in this way can one teacher help a large number of individual students.

To learn more about Ascend Math I encourage you to attend one of our brief weekly webinars.

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A Valentine for Your Math Intervention Students

Our records show that math intervention and enhancement students working in Ascend Math are making fantastic progress this year.  We offer this Valentine’s Day math fun for them and you.

V Day candy1.  The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. (The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.)  How many years have passed since that first valentine?

2. According to the Hallmark Corporation, 132 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually, making Valentine’s Day the second-most popular greeting-card-giving occasion. This total does not include packaged kids valentines for classroom exchanges. Packages of 25 Valentines are on sale for $5.00 each.   How many could be purchased for $20?

3. According to a nationwide survey conducted by the National Confectioners Association (NCA)  Americans overwhelmingly prefer chocolate over flowers on Valentine’s Day by a margin of 69 to 31%.  When asked what was their most popular flavor in a box of Valentine’s Day chocolates here’s how they voted:

34%  Caramel
24% Chocolate-covered nuts
13%  Cream filled  
13%  Chocolate filled 

What percentage said something other than these top choices?  What do you think was the next most popular chocolate?

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Celebrate Black History Month with Math

Black History Month 1In honor of Black History Month we’ve provided a few fun and challenging math problems. Try these out.

1. On 25 March 1965, Martin Luther King led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators on a 5-day, 54-mile march from Selma, Alabama to the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. According to the American College of Sports Medicine the average step length of an adult is 2.6 feet or about 31 inches. There are 5,280 feet in a mile.

Can you determine how many steps were taken by someone marching the entire distance from Selma to Montgomery Alabama?  (To estimate there are about 2000 steps in a mile)

2. A court order restricted the number of marchers to 300 when passing over a stretch of two-lane highway.  However, on the final day of the march, when the road reached four lanes the number of demonstrators swelled to  25,000.

What was the percentage of increase?

3.  An African-American and son of a former slave, Benjamin Banneker rose to fame as a brilliant scientist, scholar and mathematician.  He wrote and collected mathematical puzzles written in verse.  Here is one that can be a lot of fun to try and figure out. See how close you can come to answering the question “How many leaps did the hound have to make to catch the hare?

When fleecy skies have Cloth’d the ground
With a white mantle all around
Then with a grey hound Snowy fair
In milk white fields we Cours’d a Hare
Just in the midst of a Champaign
We set her up, away she ran,
The Hound I think was from her then
Just thirty leaps or three times ten
Oh it was pleasant for to see
How the Hare did run so timorously
But yet so very Swift that I
Did think she did not run but Fly
When the Dog was almost at her heels
She quickly turn’d, and down the fields
She ran again with full Career
And ‘gain she turn’d to the place she were
At every turn she gain’d of ground
As many yards as the greyhound
Could leap at thrice, and She did make,
Just Six, if I do not mistake
Four times She Leap’d for the Dogs three
But two of the Dogs leaps did agree
With three of hers, nor pray declare
How many leaps he took to Catch the Hare.
Just Seventy two I did Suppose,
An Answer false from thence arose,
I Doubled the Sum of Seventy two,
But still I found that would not do,
I mix’d the Numbers of them both,
Which Shew’d so plain that I’ll make Oath,
Eight hundred leaps the Dog to make,
And Sixty four, the Hare to take.

For hints on solving this complex verse problem see John F. Mahoney’s excellent discussion of this and other Banneker puzzles


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