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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for parents or teachers of K-8 grade children.
This book gives teachers and parents a glimps at what mathematics is all about. Mathematics is useful, necessary, and enjoyable. Marilyn Burns takes common topics found in the elementary and middle grades and shows how they are useful and even necessary in daily life. Although I think the last chapter on mathematics phobia is weak, this chapter still highlights some...
Published on September 1, 1999

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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What's right (and Wrong) in Educational Research: A Case Study
[...]this book deserves more extended treatment. There are a number of good, positive suggestions in this book for improving math instruction. On the other hand, several of the author's suggestions actually go against the weight of the research in mathematics learning. But the main problem with this book is that it lacks the solid "quantitative" research needed to...
Published on August 27, 2006 by Fritz R. Ward


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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What's right (and Wrong) in Educational Research: A Case Study, August 27, 2006
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This review is from: Math: Facing an American Phobia (Paperback)
[...]this book deserves more extended treatment. There are a number of good, positive suggestions in this book for improving math instruction. On the other hand, several of the author's suggestions actually go against the weight of the research in mathematics learning. But the main problem with this book is that it lacks the solid "quantitative" research needed to defend any of its positions. Instead, like many other pieces of "published educational research" it is anecdotal. That is unfortunate because such "research" does a disservice to students, teachers, and parents alike.

In a nutshell, Burns argues that Americans have a math phobia and do poorly in math because they were brought up to believe math was a series of repetitive exercises with no real world applications. Rules for manipulating fractions with various mathematics operations seem almost random to students who, in a desparate attempt to pass classes, try to memorize these rules and then reproduce them in the correct places. But of course, there are only so many "rules" one can memorize and after a while, as all upper grade, high school and college math teachers know, students begin using the "rules" at inappropriate times and then "fail." They conclude that math is just "too hard" for them and, worse yet, they pass their fears and frustrations off on their children.

Burns' solution for this problem is teach math with a genuine real world context. We don't multiply and divide fractions for the sake of solving problems on a worksheet. We do it so we can double 3/4 cups of flour (or water, etc) when baking. And she offers a lot of lessons and ideas for showing children practical math applications for what they are learning. These are at the heart of her book and I would venture to guess that every teacher would find some benefit from chapters 9-11 of this book.

But the book is also fundamentally flawed in several respects. In the first instance, Ms. Burns de-emphasizes the rote learning exercises involving addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, in favor of "higher level" math applications and reasoning. She is hardly alone in this. In my district, the head of elementary math instruction recently told sixth grade teachers to give their students calculators so their lack of computational skills would not hinder their understanding of higher level math concepts. This policy is an absolute disaster for children. Recent research show that "math fluency," the ability to quickly recall such information without having to think (and without having to use a calculator) is an absolute prerequisite to understanding higher level math concepts. [...]
[...]. Using calculators while "thinking" about "real world" math problems undermines this fluency and actually hinders children in their ability to make a real world connection. Worse yet, Burns discourages the use of pencil and paper in such basic facts exercises as she includes. Her rationale is that math is a thinking exercise, not a writing one, and that using pencil and paper is "like expecting children to write before they can tell their own stories."(p.10) Again, sheer nonsense. Writing and thinking are not separate acts, and doing one actually helps the other. In particular, writing helps one to commit key concepts and math facts to memory and can help expand our understanding of more advanced concepts.

But there is a far broader problem with this book and indeed much of the educational "research" that I have seen. This is that none of the book involves "research" at all. At no point does Ms. Burns actually do the sort of study that is commonplace for academic publications in other fields. She never takes two groups of children, teaches them by the same methods, but gives (for example) one group a calculator and denies it to the other to see what outcomes, if any, are observed. She doesn't even use published resources to defend fundamental points made in her book. Her central claim is that the old style of math alienated people and made them phobic of math. Her evidence? A conversation with an unnamed engineer on an airplane. (She later disparages this very source since he disagrees with her about calculator usage.) Now, in my opinion, she is correct (as is the engineer) but the fact of the matter is that this sort of thing could not be published in any other academic setting. Private conversations with unnamed sources are not evidence. Nor is a written correspondence with a novelist and third person accounts of what some unnamed parents might think. Burns might have done better by citing SAT scores over time. As of 1998, when this book was published, these scores would not have defended her ideas (from chapter 8, "School Math Then, School Math Now") because student scores in 1998 were lower than in 1967. By 2005, however, they were higher. Is this evidence that Burns is right? Perhaps. Many of her ideas are even more common-place now than they were in 1998. But then again, the new test scores could also reflect the influence of test preparation courses, unheard of in 1967 but common place now. Part of the demand for these courses is that they teach math in the traditional way to make up for the deficits caused by the lack of basic skills our students have after 12 years of modern math education. The new emphasis on math fluency could also be a cause of higher test scores. How do we know? A good start would be to do some actual research into what really works in math using the scientific method and carefully constructed study and control groups. Large scale surveys of teachers at all levels (including college and community college) could also be helpful too.

In the final analysis, I give the book 3 stars because it raises a lot of issues for the thoughtful reader. Many teachers (some of whom share the phobia Burns describes) will applaud it. Even teachers who are critical, like myself, will find something of value in it. But this book is most important because it shows the state of where math research is. For math education to become a serious field of study, we need to move beyond this. We need to apply the same rigorous standards to the study of math education that are typical of other fields of research.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for parents or teachers of K-8 grade children., September 1, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Math: Facing an American Phobia (Paperback)
This book gives teachers and parents a glimps at what mathematics is all about. Mathematics is useful, necessary, and enjoyable. Marilyn Burns takes common topics found in the elementary and middle grades and shows how they are useful and even necessary in daily life. Although I think the last chapter on mathematics phobia is weak, this chapter still highlights some startling statistics and the need for everyone to rethink their own level of mathematics literacy.
This is an easy reading book that should help parents understand the trends in mathematics education and give ideas how to help their children to enjoy mathematics rather than the situation where children hate mathematics.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Teachers � recommend this book for your parents !, July 1, 2001
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Daryl Anderson (Trumansburg, NY USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Math: Facing an American Phobia (Paperback)
What if you were teaching children how to play basketball. "Imagine that for the first year, you teach them to dribble and they practice only that. The next year, you move on to passing and catching the ball. The next year is devoted exclusively to learning how to shoot baskets. Then you concentrate on the rules of the game, assigning lots of worksheet exercises, which the children complete while seated at desks, working along, and not talking to each other."
That would surely be a "hard" class, with lots of dropouts. But even with its rigor, I nevertheless, still wouldn't expect it to produce a Shaq or an Iverson. For that matter I'm not sure it would actually produce basketball players at all. Neither does Marilyn Burns, in this wonderful book, as she cites this example of a "ridiculous" way to learn basketball and matches it to the way that so many of us were taught mathematics. We can chuckle at the example - but for many it is a nervous chuckle, indeed.
Most of us grew up to be neither basketball stars nor mathematicians - nor even adequate users of mathematics in our lives - and to be desperately resistant to revisiting any part of our mathematical upbringing.. As a 6th grade math teacher, I know this too well. At a party I can find as little company as the proctologists once conversation has turned to professions. On "Parents' Night" the easiest way to clear the room is to hint that we might all "try some examples" of what the students will be doing in the year.
This "phobia" seems also to be the basis for the immense friction that efforts to reform mathematics have faced in the past decade. Approaches that favor students actively engaging in math, talking to each other, (talking to parents!), responding to open-ended problems and creating algorithms are just so alien that they have faced fierce resistance. Many Americans are as eager to "just get through" their children's school mathematics experience as they were to survive their own. Any attempt to elaborate or reposition the subject (especially to engage them in new approaches) is, for them, just delaying early parole from their child's sentence to "serve" 8-12 years. Like any neurosis, this phobia has enervated some and produced mathematical cripples; but it has also energized others whose sense of overcoming math as an obstacle informs their own sense of the nature of "success."
Burns knows this from more than a decade of working, through her "Math Solutions" project, training tens-of-thousands of pre-service and active teachers in new approaches to their classrooms. She is well known in math education circles for her "Math By All Means" series: which included books with refreshingly new models for teaching `core' topics such as division in grades 3 and 4 as well as unheard of topics such as probability in elementary classrooms. She has since branched into a growing collection of books aimed to directly engage and intrigue kids, as well as more books aimed at bolstering the uncertainty of many teachers who face new challenges but sense the roots of the math phobia in their own lives.
I believe this book is her book for parents. Burns commences with a warm chapter discussing the central national mathematics ritual of the year - the production of the perfect Thanksgiving Turkey. Who knew it to include so much math? Or, as Burns dryly wonders, to have driven the market to produce the "pop-up" turkey to let the math phobics off the hook! From there she moves to discuss everything from the role of calculators and testing to specific `topics' (teaching fractions and percents), to a general retrospective on "Math then and now" and a prospective look at solving the phobia problem.
Burns seems well aware of the difficult fact that the math phobia will, itself, deter many adults from even a glance at this book. It is surely by design that it is a slender and un-intimidating volume, sprinkled with clear illustrations and quite a few examples of student's work. Along the way, it scatters seven less-than-traditional math problems through the chapters and ends with a chapter entitled "Not your everyday answer key."
Its odd that in a culture swamped with self-help books, where folks will line up, unflinchingly, to purchase books about surviving depression or abusive relationships. I find it hard to imagine many math "phobics" marching to the cash register with this book in hand (perhaps, thus, more saleable through an online venue). Burns is not one to proffer deep analysis for such troubled folks. Instead she offers a chuckle and a hand for a short walk through a place where math is engaging enough to almost be... fun; a place where our children are exploring every day; a place where the challenges of the 21st century won't be faced with the intellectual tools of the 19th.
Buy this book for yourself. Buy a pass-around copy for friends who can't seem to get past grousing about the "new, new" math. Buy one for the members of your school board and the principal in your child's elementary school. Buy a sympathy copy to anyone you see worrying the pages of one of E.D. Hirsch's "What your nth=Grader Needs to Know" tomes. What they, and we, really need to know is how to think. This book is a good starting point.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny and insightful. Reminds me of my own math experience.., December 5, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Math: Facing an American Phobia (Paperback)
Marilyn Burns offers a humerous and accurate synopsis of mathematics and they way it has been taught throughout the years. She uncovers the reasons for adult phobias and poor attitudes towards math. This book will help you avoid those pitfalls when teaching math today. It is a good book for educators and parents alike.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I love this book!, February 16, 2009
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This review is from: Math: Facing an American Phobia (Paperback)
It is very easy to read this book, even if it's for a class. It makes understanding math easy, and really makes readers aware of why people are afraid of math. I highly recomend it!!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, July 8, 2014
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This review is from: Math: Facing an American Phobia (Paperback)
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4.0 out of 5 stars For Class, February 28, 2014
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This review is from: Math: Facing an American Phobia (Paperback)
This book was in great condition. I am using it for a class to get Elem Ed endorsement, it serves it's purpose.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good encourager., February 9, 2014
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This review is from: Math: Facing an American Phobia (Paperback)
This is a necessary book for people who are anxious about teaching "to the test" and all that stuff. Fun ways to address math, also.
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4.0 out of 5 stars practical & easy to read, June 25, 2010
This review is from: Math: Facing an American Phobia (Paperback)
I just finished up the coursework for my teaching certification and found this book to be the most useful, user-friendly text I was assigned during the program. I hesitate to call it a textbook, because it's a thin, easy-to-read, conversational book, but it gets the point across clearly: math is all around us. Children need to learn basic math skills, but teaching them to think, value their thinking and problem solve in real-world situations is equally valuable. She gets the point across using examples most of us can relate to. I hope to use this book as a reference and reminder throughout my teaching
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but not convincing regarding calculator use in elementary school, September 13, 2005
This review is from: Math: Facing an American Phobia (Paperback)
I found her book to have some interesting ideas of how to go about solving certain types of math problems, especially if they are presented as alternative explanations for students who don't get it on the first try. Not everyone understands concepts in the same way.

However, she completely fails to convince in her chapter regarding calculator use in the early grades. How do you know if your calculator is malfunctioning if you can't do the math yourself? Shouldn't all students be held to certain minimum standards of mental calculation? She doesn't even mention Trachtenberg math, for example, the mastery of which would be quite useful in day-to-day activities such as making sure you have enough cash when shopping. The main trouble with calculators is that once you start using them, you stop using your brain, and the brain is a like a muscle, when you stop using it, it atrophies.

And, while I agree with her use of "real-life" examples, she proved with her own hand lotion purchase why it is important to have excellent mental computational skills, which would not be affected by being "in a rush" (that was the excuse she used, anyway).

Finally, she also illustrated why so many are "turned off" by math, although it certainly wasn't intentional on her part. One of her examples involved drawing a square, then drawing a square twice the area. Left as it is, it is a boring problem, a definite "so what" type of thing. Most math word problems are of this type, in fact, and if you're at all disinterested, you are not motivated to want to bother with it, especially if you also happen to not like math in the first place.

Well, WHY would anyone want to waste time doing that just for its own sake? Now, if you are designing a house, for example, or think you might in the future, this suddenly becomes a useful, interesting problem. However, she just leaves it as it was above, so good luck in trying to get anyone excited about solving it. In a related chapter, she talks about people using tip tables, as opposed to figuring a tip mentally. It probably never occurred to her that people resist figuring a tip because they perhaps resent having to leave one (or at least being pressured to feel as if they do) at all.

She seems to emphasize a lot of group work. Well, in the REAL world (other than in her small classroom world), you need to know how to do your work all by yourself. The SATs don't allow working in a group, and they are timed tests. YOU will need to know how to calculate the rates of return on your retirement portfolio, and how to double-check your end-of-year mortgage statements. You aren't always going to have your friends or math teacher around to call up and ask.

Bottom line: an interesting book, but veers into the "feel good" mode 'way too much. Like other teachers (of all subjects, not just math), she could use more time in the real world, and less time in the world of academe.
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Math: Facing an American Phobia
Math: Facing an American Phobia by Marilyn Burns (Paperback - February 1, 1998)
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