Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Excellent Article: Recalculating k-12 Math

eSchool News recently published an excellent article entitled Recalculating K-12 Math documenting the controversy and reform discussions occurring regarding math instruction in the US.

To point out the urgency of this topic.... Did you know that nearly 7,000 students drop out of school every day?? I knew the number was significant, but I didn't realize it involved that many students. Hearing the statistic on a 'per day' basis really drives home how huge the problem is becoming. The article claims that many of these students cite their struggles in math as a major reason for dropping out. I'm struggling with this idea because there are SO many other factors that influence the decision to drop out that I'd be leery of linking drop out rates to math. However.... it does raise an interesting concern. .... Math courses are required. If a student lacks the skills necessary to pass more advanced courses like Algebra and beyond.... perhaps a serious math deficit could cause a student to seriously contemplate dropping out. So what's happening in our classrooms that is causing students to feel (or actually be) unsuccessful in mathematics? Math has always had a bad rap in our society--- perceived as one a content that you were either skilled in or not skilled in. Instead of that blanket statement of "I'm not good at math," could it be something bigger? Could it be the curriculum? A fundamental flaw in our approach to teaching math?
"One of the reasons kids fail in algebra is they haven't mastered the skills they need--the basic fractions, decimals, percents, proportional reasoning," says Doug MacGregor, manager of instructional design for AutoSkill, a Canadian provider of math and reading software. "Without that, they can't succeed."
To address this critical issue of math instruction, President Bush created the U.S. Department of Education's National Mathematics Advisory Panel to advise "U.S. policy makers and educators on the effectiveness of various approaches to teaching mathematics." " Although the group's preliminary reports on Jan. 10-11 did not include any specific recommendations--those are expected with the panel's final report, due out in February 2008--it was clear from these early reports that panel members aim to achieve a healthy balance between computational fluency and conceptual understanding of mathematics, an area that underpins much of the current debate."

Other interesting quotes from the article:
  • "teachers often are not taught, themselves, how to teach math"
Oh how true! I vividly remember suffering through the 'how to teach reading' course in college, but the 'how to teach math' wasn't quite the same. We didn't really learn methods. We learned how to use manipulatives, but we never really learned HOW to teach math. Those of us who enjoyed math found our own way, but many of my peers in the cohort resorted to the old standby line of "I never liked math and never did well with it" and ultimately concluded " I don't want to teach math, especially above 2nd grade." Hopefully, this is changing in teacher prep courses across the country. Pre-service teachers need LOTS of experience in how to teach math and they also need to understand how students learn math.

  • "The advent of technology, too, is an important development in math instruction--not only because it can help teachers teach math, but because it has changed what students need to learn."
Technology will be a key piece. Computers have the ability to watch what each individual student is doing and to modify instruction accordingly, instantaneously. The potential exists for these programs to motivate students to want to learn and to push themselves further (using the gaming theory of getting to the next level).

The key point that I am walking away from this article with is that this panel is dedicated to finding a balanced approach that incorporates both computation and basic skills as well as a focus on real-world problems that provide motivating learning experiences. Also, they clearly understand that technology can and must play an important role in any suggested reforms. What an exciting time for math instruction!

No comments: