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

Are We Moving Too Fast in the Pursuit of "Rigor"?

While in elementary school, I forgot how to do long division the summer after we learned it. Thanks to my paternal grandmother, a saint in her own right and a 6th grade teacher at PS 199 in Brooklyn, NY, I got the proper brushing up. As a high schooler, I struggled with algebra, aced geometry, and took “fusion math” in the eleventh grade from a strange duck who one day looked at his well-behaved (really) class of eleven students and said, “I hate you kids. If there was anything I could be doing besides teaching, I’d be out of here.” That was my last day in a high school math class. My Dad, also a high school teacher and WWII combat vet, decided that it was neither a healthy environment, nor physically a safe place to be.

And the math struggle goes on.

Today I read that Lehigh Valley (Pennsylvania) math professors are among the many nationwide who complain that rushing through high school algebra and geometry courses, or following an integrated math curriculum, is leaving too many students currently entering college unprepared for college math.

Their concerns — that students are not developing strong basic math skills because of the rush to move on — are well-founded, in my opinion, and I’m burning to know how our district sees this news item.

After a full year of college level statistics and studying algebra for the GRE, I lost my math phobia and even begged my principal(s) to assign me to a pre-algebra class where kids were struggling. (They never did take me seriously. I’m not math certified.) So I’m convinced now that although some kids might be somehow more predisposed to either math or verbal high achievement, all students who are well-taught can succeed in math and develop strong skills useful over a lifetime.

A fellow edublogger noted that although we seem to know what to do to achieve pedagogical excellence as measured by high student achievement, we just don’t seem to do it. There’s a connection here.

In the News

Here are some recent news articles related to student achievement that I’ve found of interest — with brief commentary, and, I hope, something for everyone…

Award Winning Education Policy Blog

The rubber meets the road in the classroom, but education policy is where the vehicle is assembled. RSS feed is available for those of you interested in thoughtful opinion on educational policy in the US. Education Policy Blog

Here’s an article from ASCD Blogwatch that offers a description of the award-winning policy blog and some context.

Lest We Forget…

Excessive TV viewing does not lead to the development of engaged and skillful learners. Here’s yet another warning from The Seattle Times.

Competition and Learning Go Together for Boys

I used to have my eighth grade social studies classes play Trashball — a wastebasket version of basketball — as an alternative to Jeopardy-type learning games because there was always more movement and excitement. Class average test performance went up when we played, and even the principal, whose office back door was directly across from my classroom, didn’t seem to mind the noise that accompanied the learning dynamics.

The Detroit Free Press talks about how competition stimulates learning for boys. Some good lessons here!

Improved Working Memory = Greater Student Achievement

Here’s Swedish company that has developed a research-based video game to improve working memory in children with Attention Deficit Disorder. They will soon open a Chicago office to serve North America and release a version for adults, as well.

The article in the Chicago Tribune is no longer free, but go to the CogMed web site for more details. Looks promising!

And here’s one for The Science Goddess…

Dads Influence Daughters’ Attraction to Math & Science

A 13-year longitudinal study from the University of Michigan shows that home environment, especially Dad’s attitude, plays a big role in a daughter’s attraction to math and science. You will think twice about the toys you buy for your kids after you read this article from Science Daily Magazine.