Friday, August 27, 2010

Math in K-12 Schools

Seems everyone these days is talking about math, and for good reason. Our students are performing well below standard as the norm.

"Teach to the test" I hear quite a bit. Causes shivers to run up and down the spines of most teachers. I wonder, though, if we've ever stopped to think about that phrase.

Why SHOULDN'T we teach to the test? Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about exclusively teaching to a test, but if we believe that the test is based on the standards, and the standards guide our curriculum planning, and our curriculum planning forms our instruction, and student performance on formative AND summative assessment also guides our instruction... I ask again--albeit in a different way--why shouldn't the test also guide our curriculum planning and instruction?

I have often shared with people that I do not believe that the textbook used makes a difference in the achievement of kids in mathematics. I believe that students can experience success with any tool. My perspective on that is changing a bit. We embarked on the "integrated math" plan about 6 years ago with the belief that it would be easier to supplement skill work into a problem solving program then the other way around. This has turned out not to be true -- since our teachers are expected to teach 5 of 6 periods a day, when would they have the time to develop a comprehensive supplemental instructional program???

At a recent board meeting, the superintendent mentioned we may need to fast track a new textbook adoption for high school math.... I quickly asked, "Can we have that done before September 7th?" The board meeting was August 25th. But then I started thinking... why do we need expensive textbooks? Is anyone out there teaching high school math, particularly Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra II, without textbooks?

I want to be careful, though, that we don't then default to becoming "Ditto" from the movie "Teachers", or mistakenly think we can plug kids into computers without the benefit of any direct instruction or support from a teacher with whom they have a solid relationship -- I think we need an exciting, interactive, paperless, textbook-less (is that a word??) alternative.

A final note on math: I truly believe it's a function of time. Drive by any school in the summer, and what does the readerboard say? "Have fun, be safe, and READ!" Very good advice... but why are we not encouraging kids to work on math? Why, in teacher prep classes, do we always take "Reading in the Content Areas" but no "Teaching and Learning Math in the Content Areas"?

Enough of my soapbox.....

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