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Scholars band together to oppose 'MathLand'

In MathLand lessons, kindergartners learn to count with calculators. Older students count a million birdseeds to fully understand the concept of such a large number. No textbooks are used as children get "classroom manipulative kits" with pattern blocks and cubes.

To the US Department of Education, the package of elementary school lessons is a "promising" program proven to help a variety of children learn math. But to more than 200 mathematicians and other scientists, MathLand and nine other math programs that recently won departmental endorsement are neglecting important skills such as dividing fractions and multiplying multidigit numbers.

In a full-page advertisement in The Washington Post, 200 scholars - including heads of math departments at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University, two recipients of the Fields Medal, and four Nobel laureates in physics - urged Secretary of Education Richard Riley to stop endorsing the school mathematics programs.

The Education Department's expert panel, made up of nearly 100 teachers, mathematicians, and other evaluators, recommended the 10 programs based on factors that included quality, usefulness, and proof of student success. Five were designated "exemplary" because they helped a variety of children.

But Connected Mathematics, one of the programs called exemplary, was rejected in California. Mathematicians who reviewed the middle-school program complained that it contained errors and omitted the division of fractions and other concepts.

Secretary Riley said he has no intention of withdrawing the recent report on the panel's recommendations.

Let there be (natural) light

A recent study by the Heschong Mahone Group, an architecture consulting firm based near Sacramento, Calif., found that students who learned in classrooms with more natural light scored as much as 25 percent higher on standardized tests than other students in the same school district. The study, billed as the first rigorous one of its kind, appears to confirm what some school designers have asserted all along - children learn better under illumination from skylights or windows, rather than artificial bulbs.

- Compiled from news wires by Liz Marlantes

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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