New math, Russian-style

As someone with a degree in – and a love of – math, I’m always interested in stories about better ways to teach math to kids.

“Most people can’t imagine a ‘beautiful proof’ or an ‘elegant theorem,’ but in fact, math — if a good curriculum is used — is full of such things,” said George Khachatryan, now a 23-year-old math graduate student at Cambridge University.

Together, the family decided to harness their strengths to create a nonprofit program called Reasoning Mind, designed to get elementary students excited about math.

Based on the Russian curriculum written in the 1930s and ’40s, Reasoning Mind has won financial backing from Exxon Mobil and political backing from HISD influentials such as union leader Gayle Fallon and 2007 bond political action committee co-chairman Michael Dee.

An independent evaluation of the program completed in January showed that students who used Reasoning Mind scored 20 to 29 percent higher on an achievement test than students at the same two schools who weren’t in the program.


Even with the early indications of success, schools are slow to abandon traditional teaching methods. So far, about 1,800 students in 25 Texas schools use the Reasoning Mind curriculum, which was first piloted in 2003. Unlike other computer-based programs, students use Reasoning Mind every day, not just as a supplemental activity.

According to their website, one such place they piloted this was in my neighborhood, at Hogg Middle School.

Unlike a traditional classroom, Reasoning Mind classes allow students to work at their own pace. One child can be practicing subtraction, while another has moved on to fractions. Children don’t have to be embarrassed if a certain lesson trips them up and requires more remediation.

Children are forced to master one lesson before they try another.

“The prevailing view in this country is that mathematics is not for everybody,” Alex Khachatryan said. “Elementary math is for everyone. Everyone can and should be able to do it. Failure is not an option.”

Well, I definitely agree with that. I wish I could have gotten a better feel for the actual methodology here, but neither the article nor a cursory glance at their web page gives me a good indication. I may dig through some of their published articles to see what I can learn, but for now, I’m glad to hear that HISD is trying something like this. I wish them much success with the endeavor.

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2 Responses to New math, Russian-style

  1. Kenneth Fair says:

    As someone else with a math degree, I wholeheartedly concur. Innumeracy hurts people in many ways almost as much as illiteracy does.

  2. hope says:

    The curriculum may be great, I have no idea, but letting students work at their own pace is hardly innovative.

    In fact, that’s the crux of the problem with public (and even much private) education, IMO. Kids don’t typically get to work at their own pace. We don’t staff schools to accommodate individuals, we staff schools as if they were assembly lines. Everyone is presented with X at the same time and then the class moves on to Y.

    That’s what I love about Montessori. In a single classroom, you may have an 8 year old working on first grade math and another the same age working on fourth grade math. The teacher, the curriculum and the classroom accommodate the individual’s academic needs, not the other way around.

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