For the last 3 days I have watched in growing astonishment as my LD, ADHD, Aspergers daughter has completed multiple pages of…wait for it…MATH WORKSHEETS–fractions no less–with focus, attention and understanding. The work has been tidy and she’s completed it with only token complaining. In 3 sheets of 12 questions per sheet where she has to change both sides of the equation to have the same denominator she made 3 mistakes total.
This is JUMP Math. Jump stands for Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies.
I discovered this program rather circuitously. Just over a year ago, I saw the play Half Life by John Mighton at the Arts Club’s Stanley Industrial Alliance stage. I just loved it. It was so beautifully staged and intelligently written. I had been expecting that it would be overly sentimental and perhaps a bit emotionally manipulative seeing as it was a love story set in an old folks’ home, but it was not. I, the Pisces, did not cry, which should tell you something.
Anyway, John Mighton is really the point here. I had only partially taken note of the fact that not only is he a governor-general award-winning playwright, he also has a PhD in Mathematics (AND he had a small role in the movie Good Will Hunting). Not your typical set of credentials. A few months later (Saturday, June 9, 2007 to be exact) there was an article in the Vancouver Sun (page C8) about a math program called JUMP that John Mighton had developed. His name jumped out at me (ha!) and I read the article. The program sounded exciting. He was talking about taking the competitiveness out of math learning. Let me quote:
In his new book, The End of Ignorance: Mutiplying Our Human Potential, Mighton, 49 claims that school children are segmented too early in their education. This is especially true in math, which Mighton says, separates children like no other subject. Children good at math, the ones at the top of the hierarchy, receive praise and attention. Children ranked at the bottom are written off.
I took the information to the school, but couldn’t seem to get anyone too interested. So, having bigger fish to fry at the time, I Ieft it. I shouldn’t have.
Fast forward (no, not Fast ForWord) to a couple of months ago, and I noticed a book on the shelf at Chapters and again the name of John Mighton leaped (somebody stop me!) out at me. The book was “The Myth of Ability.” I bought it, I read it and got so excited about his ideas that the next day I ordered Workbooks for grade 3 to 6 at anansi.ca. (Do a search on John Mighton once at the site to find his books.)
His basic premise is that we have come to believe that people have innate talents at things. If that talent isn’t exhibited immediately, we (and those teaching us) believe we can never be good at it. And this is ultimately defeating. Because the reality is that we get good at the things at which we practice. Here’s one of the most compelling metaphors he draws:
Some small event in early childhood or at school might start an avalanche of learning in one child but not another. The fact that an avalanche occurs on one mountain and not another does not imply anything interesting about mountains. It does not prove that one mountain is more prone to avalanches or that an avalanche could never be started.
His math program assumes that everyone can learn math. It breaks everything down into the absolutely smallest steps possible. For instance, when learning to add fractions that have the different denominators, the process is broken down into five steps and these five steps are practiced individually before trying to do them all at once. So, on the first exercise, all the student has to do is write the multiplication sign beside the fractions. The next exercise the student writes the number that they are going to multiply each side by (easy to find by using the number of the denominator on the opposite side). The next exercise they merely draw the lines that separate fractions (does that line have a name?) and the plus and equal sign (in preparation to change the fraction). Then they change the fraction. Then they add them together. Only after they’ve mastered each step do they get a chance to practice doing all five steps at once.
As we started the program, it was all going swimmingly, and then came the moment I dreaded, the moment when I would have to explain why we have to change the denominators to be the same number. I got the twitching, I got the yawning. I tried about three different ways to explain it. Finally, I said “We can’t add up the slices of the pie until all the slices are the same size.” I demonstrated and asked her to tell me now that the slices were the same size how many are shaded, and I suddenly I saw the light go on in her eyes.
OHHHHH! I get it!
She went ahead and did the whole worksheet, without another word, except to say “Wow, I’m getting it. Maybe I’m getting good at math.” She even did multiple steps at once.
I almost cried.
Calvin, on the other hand, when I misunderstood the worksheet and tried to get him to do two steps at once, freaked out and froze up. “I don’t get it.” Then I realized my mistake and told him just to put the multiplication sign beside the numbers. He did it in 30 seconds. He’s still got some attitude and twitchiness when it comes to doing the math. I’m not sure why. It’s maybe because his fine motor skills are so poor that it takes all his mental energy to put stuff down on paper. Maybe he’s used to doing it in his head and can’t understand it on paper. Maybe he got stressed that Emma got it before he did. I don’t know. I’m trying SOOO hard to be patient and ignore the twitchiness, praise the moments when he focuses. I’m sure it’s going to be like Block Commander in Fast ForWord which he struggled with staying at 13% completion for about 3 weeks. Then he went up 2%, then another 10%, then 30%. His graph became like a straight vertical line. I’m sure the same thing will happen here. I just have to persevere and be patient, yet consistent while he tests me. Right? Somebody tell me I’m right about this.
I do wonder how much is the excellence of the math program and how much is a brain that’s firing better because of 50 sessions of Fast ForWord. Either way, I’ll take it.
So, I’m sure you’re all excited to go check it out. Start by going to Jumpmath.org and downloading the fractions unit (which is free). It’s now called The Introductory Unit. I know, you’re thinking “I can’t START with fractions” but as he explains (you’ll see) fractions are a great way to break through the “I can’t do math” wall and once you’ve got motivation, well the sky is the limit.
Go! Go! Click around. There’s so much information and just plain old STUFF you can get. I mean a workbook for $10?! Cheap like borscht! What are you waiting for?
And even if you don’t have kids that need to learn to add fractions, you should get at least one of his books, just for the slap upside the head change it will make in how you look at the world.
Any other JUMP Math users out there? Please share your experience! There are parents and educators that need to know.