Dr. Stat

Dr. Stat is a Statistics Professor. This blog is his opportunity to share ideas and opinions about education (especially math education), politics, and whatever else comes up.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Are they starting to get it?

SOURCE: Seattle Times, 16 April 2006
WEBSITE: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/
TITLE: “Math comes with its own problems”

“The biggest problem we have with mathematics in the U.S. is there isn’t a clear mathematics program,” said Mike Riley, district superintendent, Bellevue, Washington. “If it is not clearly organized, and you don’t have agreement on what kids need to learn in second grade so the third-grade teacher can count on it, you get what we have: weak performance in mathematics.”

The key is to order topics over the grades such that they follow the inherent structure and logic of mathematics, and to ensure that kids reach a deep understanding of each mathematical concept before moving on, said William Schmidt, a math expert at Michigan State University. “The idea is to build ideas on each other in an increasingly complex way,” he said.

It sounds like educators are beginning to discover what teachers long ago knew and mathematicians have been desparately trying to tell them for years. Yet, they still haven't got it quite right. Deep understanding doesn't come in chunks, but is a continuous process that comes from review and integration. You don't stop where you are until everybody has a deep understanding, then move on. You wouldn't get very far that way. But you move on, and you come back. You integrate, refresh, and expand. You constantly check for understanding and look for those powerful "aha" moments when students suddenly comprehend what they learned about months before--you capitalize on the psychological rewards of mathematics.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Minnesota increases Math Requirements

Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota's governor, wants to make Algebra 1 an 8th grade requirement, and Algebra 2 a high school graduation requirement. Teachers complain that they will need more training in math instruction. (The same teachers who say they don't learn anything useful in education classes, I presume.) They also say it will take more support from parents.

“The rigor has to start in the elementary schools and carry through to the middle schools or they will not be ready for algebra by eighth grade,” said Mary Hoffman, an Algebra 1 teacher at Apple Valley Falcon Ridge Middle School. “And rigor includes studying at home and parental support.”The new math standards will be implemented, at the earliest, in the 2008-09 school year, according to state education Commissioner Alice Seagren.

What can I say? I'm cynical as usual. I'm all for improved standards and stronger requirements. But over the years, it has been evident that moving courses down in the grades makes them weaker, especially if they are required of all students. Already students who take Algebra II and Geometry do not compare with students who took these courses 30 years ago. In those days, calculus was rarely an option, now many schools have it. But are the students learning more, or are they already working at maximum capacity and just taking more courses and "covering" more material without actually learning more?