Making Math Count

I can’t say exactly when I got off track with math, but it may have been the year I had to relearn long division after a hot summer of just being a happy kid and thinking no math thoughts at all.

It wasn’t until I had to take college statistics that I lost my “math phobia.” Portland State University math department legends, Mildred Bennett and her teammate, Ethel Lawrence, were ahead of their time with their highly effective teaching methods and student support.

Since that epiphanic time in my statistics classes, I have marveled at the importance and utility of mathematics in everyday life, from the complex economic models that determine the prime rate, to the use of algebra to solve fence-building problems. (I confess that I still don’t understand calculus, but I’m working on it — slowly.)

Today, over a half century after my difficulties with math, we still have students who struggle. The November issue of Educational Leadership is devoted to math education. Naturally, my favorite article is “Nine Ways to Catch Kids Up.” Access is free, along with some other great math pieces, so check it out.

Help someone catch up today!

Cross-posted on Straight Talk 13NOV2007


8 thoughts on “Making Math Count

  1. I have to get on this. I’m on the constant search to improve myself in this profession. It’s been great. Frankly, I’m happy that we’re still providing materials free of charge to teachers that want to get better. It’s also the reason why there was so much beef on the all-day PDs here at NYC: we could do so much better and more effectively with the resources there are out here. I like the post.


  2. Thanks, Jose.

    If only every teacher stayed on the quest to get better…ironically, with a little effort on the front end, the job gets way easier and more fulfilling!

  3. Math is the hugest phobia I see in schools these days. Younger Daughter is in Calculus(against my wishes) and is SO FAR pulling an A-. Gutsy kid.

  4. In high school, I hated algebra. The teacher that I had insisted lectures, reading from the text and offered only one to solve an algebraic equation. I typically did very good when it came to regular equations, but when given a word problem, I completely fell apart. When I (or others in the class) would ask for help, he would ridicule those of us who didn’t “get it.”

    Soon, I gave up. On my final for that year, he told us that it would consist of mostly word problems. I bombed the final, which was no surprise to me.

    When I decided to return to school to get my bachelor’s degree, I knew I would probably have to take math classes. I was scared to death! Luckily, I had an awesome Algebra 1 teacher and a wonderful Statistics teacher. Both courses I passed with A’s. The difference is that they taught us the language to look for in word problems to figure out what it was asking us to do.

    Had it not been for both of those teachers at the local community college, I probably still would be convinced I was stupid in math.

  5. ms-teacher, I know this sounds a little bold, but what I’ve read lately about student achievement traces success back to effective teachers.

    To paraphrase what I said to Jose over on The Jose Vilson, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. By that I mean we have wasted years and years trying to improve math scores by concentrating on tweaking the program. We should have 86ed the ineffective math teachers and hired the ones who had the skills to engage and serve the kids.

    That’s the track we’re on now, but the firing certainly isn’t aggressive. It’s more like attrition creating spots for better teachers.

    I went through two programmed texts on Algebra I and II to prepare for the GRE. I was pretty nervous beforehand, but my scores we good enough to get in the door.

    Gotta love the good math teachers! (All good teachers, for that matter.)

  6. Thank you for providing the excellent article link. I’m printing it out, and I’m going to share it with the other teachers at my school. The writer really understands the problems elementary teachers are facing! She talks about Place Value in the article as being essential to understanding multiplication (as well as borrowing in subraction), and our book has that as the first chapter we cover. But it is the HARDEST chapter in the book for most of the class, because it also covers rounding and estimating. All these are extremely difficult concepts and with various students being absent, it has taken us six weeks to cover that chapter. We just had our test yesterday, and I was so happy when everyone except two students received A’s and B’s!

    Thank you so much for writing on this important topic.

    Best regards,
    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas (int he Middle East)

  7. Congrats on the test scores, Eileen.

    I haven’t read all the math articles from that issue of Educational Leadership, but most of them are free and worth checking out.

    Thanks for getting back to me on this. I feel good too. 🙂

  8. Hugh,

    I too had Mrs. Lawrence for Statistics at PSU in the mid 1980’s and I am trying to find out if her curriculum is available or was published. Do you know anything that could help me in my quest?


    I have no idea, Larry. Perhaps you could call the PSU math department and see who knows Mrs. Lawrence, or knows of her publications. Good luck!

    I’ll leave your email address here in case someone sees this and wants to get in touch. –Hugh

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