Archive for April, 2011

Post note: Just to be clear, this is not an endorsement of Jump math. I think the jury is out on it and things I’ve read since this post indicate it may have some issues to resolve, but it does appear to be worth looking into.

I received an email Wednesday concerning an article appearing in the New York Times blog (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/18/a-better-way-to-teach-math/) on a program called JUMP Math asking what I thought about it. In reading the article, I came away very impressed but naturally skeptical. As a critic of bad math programs for some time I thought “is this some dumb fad claiming success off bad studies or what?” Then Thursday I got 2 more emails from people asking about JUMP math and one of them referencing the article. I decided to look up the company online and see what they were about. (be sure to read that article)

JUMP stands for “Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigy” and if the article above proves correct, may replace Singapore math as my favorite math program. After browsing around for a bit and looking at some of their curriculum materials online, I had a couple questions and thought I’d call the company. The curriculum people weren’t picking up so I dialed the CEO directly. I was surprised he answered and we had a very pleasant chat. After we agreed that the constructivist approach to teaching math didn’t work, I obtained my first level of comfort with him and their product. I mentioned that I didn’t see the times tables being introduced in their 2nd grade materials (though the samples online weren’t by any means comprehensive) and so he asked their curriculum folks about it and they said they do skip counting and arrays in grade 2 and then are deeply involved in multiplication in grade 3.

What attracts me to their material is that they break down all the steps of solving a problem to minute levels and practice individual concepts to mastery. There’s no lame spiraling where “if you don’t get a concept now, don’t worry, we’ll cover it again later” nonsense. They teach for mastery and they seem to succeed at it pretty well based on the studies and evidence they have. One study is under peer review right now and sounds like when it’s released will show a big improvement over whatever it was compared to (though I wouldn’t be as impressed if it’s being contrasted to TERC because then the improvement would be a given – http://jumpmath.org/research.htm). That will lend more credibility to it on a scientific basis, but they do have a number of testimonials on their site and video stories from teachers. Funny enough, this one caught my eye…

“JUMP math is pedagogically sound and ensures success in all students. I finally see the ‘aha’ when students to this program. They find it motivating, beg to do more math and are challenged without being frustrated. [It] is the antithesis of ‘fuzzy math’.”
– Vancouver Teacher

All I needed was that last sentence.

So here’s another interesting thing. The company is a charity. The founder was a mathematician, playwright, and author, and he designed this program after tutoring children in math and being frustrated with the way math was being taught. His belief (and mine as well) is that everyone can learn math if it’s taught properly. JUMP was designed as a remedial product to break down math to each individual fragment of a problem to help students who were struggling understand why each tiny step worked. In the process, he created a program that appears to really level the playing field between the top and bottom levels of math ability and bring them all up to speed on doing math well. He authored the book, “The Myth of Ability.”

This sounds very promising. They are a charity instead of a for-profit publisher so materials are quite cheap and hopefully there is no “must publish something new” cycle of insanity. There isn’t a textbook for students, but just workbooks they take home and they run about $11 and if you purchase 20 or more, you get a 40% discount. That’s dirt cheap. The teacher guide is either a free pdf book to download, or can be purchased for about $80 or 90 if you want a hard copy.

The workbooks, which you can see samples from online, are very visual, which is another parallel to Singapore math (http://www.jumpmath.org/w.htm). I’ve been a fan of Singapore math for a long time and for good reason. They have the top results in the world from their Primary Math series, and their workbooks are fun and engaging. They also arguably have the world’s best word problems for children to wrestle with. I don’t know what JUMP math has in that area at this point.

They don’t have a Kindergarten series because this was designed as a remediation program so a kindergarten series was not needed, but they are considering a senior Kindergarten program. I’d be in favor of dropping Kindergarten to save money and then using a program like this to start students out with a good foundation in grade 1, and let parents teach children what they need to know for Kindergarten.

If you are with a school and want to get a set of all their books, you can order a special sample pack of 16 books for just $100 (2 workbooks for each grade 1-8). See here for details:

http://www.jumpmath.org/prices-and-discounts.htm

They do have books available for sale on Amazon to check it out but just realize they are in Canada and use the metric system and haven’t converted to U.S. coins and measures, though that’s easily supplemented.

This appears to have the possibility of being a breakthrough program. They are working on expanding their grade offerings though at the moment they are working on an adult remediation program to help adults that are looking to return to school but need some extra help in math. Then they will probably be doing grades 9-12 as high school teachers are asking for those resources to round out the entire curriculum.

With these kinds of prices (under $14 for the 2 student workbooks for the year after discounts for a classroom) and a free pdf teacher’s guide, I think a lot of schools would be interested in checking this out. When they receive funding they are planning to do a U.S. edition that matches the Common Core standards, though if their current program was sufficiently close, we should definitely be investigating it for what areas it would need supplementation and then pilot it in a couple areas. They do have training available to use the program and they are looking at doing it online for teachers so that’s another cost saving benefit. All in all, I’m impressed with what I see so far and will definitely be interested in further news out of this organization.

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