The post Amazon Launches ‘With Math I Can’ Initiative appeared first on Education News.

]]>Online retail giant Amazon has announced the launch of a national movement meant to put an end to the fear that many students in the United States feel when they set foot in a math classroom.

The “With Math I Can” initiative was created in an effort to have parents push a “growth mindset” rather than a “fixed mindset,” asking them to sign and shift to such instruction within the classroom. The movement’s website offers additional free resources helping users to determine exactly what a “growth mindset” entails, lesson plans, and more, writes Jason Del Ray for ReCode.

Created by a division of Amazon devoted to offering tech-based resources for K-12 education, the goal of the initiative is to change how students feel about math, as more than half of young adults do not consider themselves to be good at the subject, according to a survey by Change the Equation. That same survey found 93% of participants agree that good math skills are necessary to get ahead in life.

Amazon is looking to replace the thoughts of “I’m not good at math,” with “I will learn from my mistakes.” The company would like to see students adopt a growth mindset that focuses on the learning process rather than on concrete results that stem from solving individual problems.

The company will not create an ad campaign for the website, www.withmathican.org, although there are plans to push the program through social media and through an informational video, reports Ángel González for *The Seattle Times*.

A number of nonprofits devoted to education were brought into the program by Amazon, including the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, ASCD (formerly known as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) and Character Lab. Two school districts in California and one in New Jersey are also on board.

Amazon has not disclosed how much it cost to set up the program.

Rohit Agarwal, General Manager of Amazon K-12 Education, says the change came about after discovering that only 44% of low-income students attain a basic understanding of math while in school. Even after the launch of TenMarks, a math platform acquired by the company in 2013, the education team for Amazon said that despite seeing progress being made by students who used the program, they still found students who said, “I’m not good at math.” According to Agarwal, teachers who used TenMarks helped to inspire the new initiative.

“We believe that the attitude that it’s okay not to be good at math is just becoming too common,” Agarwal said in an interview. “Developing good math skills is essential to success at life.”

The program comes at a time when government officials and technology industrialists are expressing concerns about the adaptability of the US workforce as manufacturing jobs are stepping aside to create room for positions that hold a stronger focus on complex math and science skills.

Just last week President Obama proposed spending more than $4 billion across the next three years in order to increase student exposure to computer science.

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]]>The post Traditional Math: The Exception or the Rule? appeared first on Education News.

]]>By Barry Garelick

For those of you who have been following my writing, you are aware that I teach math in middle and high school and that I am extremely interested in the most effective ways of teaching the subject. I majored in mathematics and am pursuing the teaching of it as a second career after having retired five years ago. I balance my teaching by writing articles that address the problems with math education in the U.S. You also know that I was educated in the 50’s and 60’s, and thus obtained my math education via what is called “traditional” math teaching.

Because of my educational background and my beliefs in how math should and should not be taught, I often find myself engaged in the following dialogue, either in person or on the internet:

Someone: The traditional method of teaching math failed many students.

Me: The traditional method seemed to work well for me and many others I know.

Someone: You’re the exception.

Regarding my claim of traditional math working for me and others, I am mindful of the advice given by David Didau (author of “What if Everything you Know About Education is Wrong?”) who points out the following with respect to educational debates:

“If, in the face of contradictory evidence, we make the claim that a particular practice ‘works for me and my students’, then we are in danger of adopting an unfalsifiable position… We can insulate ourselves from logic and reason and instead trust to faith that we know what’s best for our students and who can prove us wrong?”

I will say in my defense, however, that “You’re the exception” is not much of an argument either. It is usually offered with either anecdotal evidence or none at all, and is based on a largely mischaracterized view of what traditional math is and was. Here’s but one example I saw recently in a promotional video explaining “Why is Math different now?” Starting at 0:35 seconds we hear:

“Decades of research shows [that] teaching people just to memorize algorithms and execute procedures hasn’t worked. It’s worked for a small group of people, but for most, they don’t like math, they don’t enjoy math, they don’t think they’re good at math, they have a really hard time with it because no one taught them to understand the concepts and why they’re doing what they’re doing. No one taught them how to think; we just taught them how to do, and execute; and this misguided idea that we just need to get to the answer as quickly as possible.”

Like many people who make this argument, he leaves unidentified the decades of research that he says support his claim — we are to take only his statements as evidence. I, on the other hand, do have some test data that sheds some light on the effectiveness of traditional methods, both textbooks and instructional quality. Specifically, test scores from the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (for grades 3 through 8 ) and the ITED (high school grades) have been documented from the early 40’s through the 80’s for the State of Iowa.

The scores (in all subject areas, not just math) show a steady increase from the 40’s to about 1965, and then a dramatic decline from 1965 to the mid-70’s. (See Fig 1 below.) Indiana and Minnesota also showed this same pattern of ITBS scores as noted by Bishop (1989).

One conclusion that can be drawn from these test scores is that the method of education in effect during that period appeared to be working. And by definition, whatever was working during that time period was not failing. That the math could have been made more challenging and covered more topics in the early grades does not negate the fact that the method was effective. While some may argue that standardized tests scores do not measure true knowledge or “authentic” problem solving skills, the rise of the ITBS scores during this period has been of considerable interest to various researchers for some time (including Dan Koretz in a study he wrote for the Congressional Budget Office (1986), and Bishop (1989)).

These data raise the question of why there was a decline in test scores starting in the mid-60′s. One of the more popular explanations offered is that the population of test takers starting around that time began to include more minority students, resulting in a dilution effect. That argument fails to mention that the population of test takers in Iowa, Minnesota and Indiana remained primarily white, which has been noted by Bishop (1989) and Murray (1992). Specifically, the U.S. Census of 1950 shows that the population in Iowa was 99.2 percent white, declining by 0.7 percentage points to 98.5 percent white by 1980. Similarly, the populations of Minnesota and Indiana were 99 and 95.5 percent white in 1950, dropping respectively to 98.2 and 92.8 by 1970 (Hobbes, 2002).

With the above discussion as introduction, I will further clarify some of the issues associated with traditional math versus the reform versions of same. I will use the term “reform math” to refer what has replaced traditional forms of math education. It is also referred to as “progressive math.”

**Traditional Math and its Mischaracterization**

The term “traditional math” itself is confusing, and is sometimes referred to as “conventionally taught math”. The confusion comes about because traditional methods vary over time. Textbooks considered traditional for the last ten years, for example, are quite different than textbooks in earlier eras. For purposes of this discussion, I would like to confine the term “traditional math” as used in the U.S. to the methods and textbooks in use during the 30’s through the early 60’s. Such methods included topics presented in logical sequential fashion, building upon memorization of math facts and foundational standard algorithms and problem solving procedures.

The traditional model has been mischaracterized as relying on rote memorization rather than conceptual understanding. Calling the traditional approach “skills based,” math reformers deride it and claim that it teaches students only how to follow the teacher’s direction in solving routine problems, but does not teach students how to think critically or to apply prior knowledge to solve problems in new situations.

In light of this, I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the books used in previous eras that have been described as “having failed thousands of students”. Many, if not most, of the math books from the 30’s through part of the 60’s were written by the math reformers of those times. It makes the most sense to start with the series I had in elementary school: *Arithmetic We Need.* The reason is because not only is it from the 50’s, but also one of the authors was William A. Brownell, considered a leader of the math reform movement from the 30’s through the early 60’s. Today’s reformers also hold Brownell in high regard, including the prolific education critic Alfie Kohn, who talks about him in his book *The Schools Our Children Deserve* (Kohn, 1999).

In arguing why traditional math is ineffective, Kohn states “students may memorize the fact that 0.4 = 4/10, or successfully follow a recipe to solve for *x*, but the traditional approach leaves them clueless about the significance of what they’re doing. Without any feel for the bigger picture, they tend to plug in numbers mechanically as they follow the technique they’ve learned.” He then turns to Brownell to bolster his argument that students under traditional math were not successful in quantitative thinking: “[For that] one needs a fund of meanings, not a myriad of ‘automatic responses’. . . . Drill does not develop meanings. Repetition does not lead to understandings.”

Figure 2 is taken from the 6^{th} grade book of *Arithmetic We Need*. The discussion of decimals in the text comes after the basics of decimals and their operations have been explained. The discussion in Figure 2 is geared to students who wish to explore underlying concepts further via an alternative method and comes with questions designed to guide students to an understanding of what happens when decimals are multiplied. (An earlier discussion in the book provided a general explanation of why the decimal point is placed by moving it to the left of the leftmost number in the product as many places as there are decimal places in both factors together.)

Figure 3 below is taken from the same book and provides a discussion of fractions related to a “number line.” The discussion and pictures represent the idea of fraction as number alongside whole numbers on a continuous line — an important concept and one which reformers say was missing in traditional math teaching. The discussion also put “improper” fractions in context — they are fractions like other fractions.

Figure 4 shows an approach taken in *Arithmetic We Need*, Grade 3 (Buswell et al, 1955b) to explain the role of place value in subtraction. The student is given instruction on what they are to demonstrate and then asked to solve four problems in the three ways shown in the diagrams. It is important to note that this particular method occurs after students have learned and mastered the standard algorithm for subtraction.

The series contained many exercises and drills including mental math exercises. Such drills might appear to run counter to Brownell’s arguments for math being more than computation and “meaningless drills,” but their inclusion ensured that mastery of math facts and basic procedures was not lost. Also, the books contained many word problems that demonstrated how the various math concepts and procedures are used to solve a variety of problem types.

Other books from previous eras were also similarly written—most authors were the math reformers of their day—and provide many counter-examples to the mischaracterization that traditional math consisted only of disconnected ideas, rote memorization, and no understanding. Examples from these books can be found in these particular articles.

Textbooks from previous eras included the alternate methods for addition and subtraction and other procedures, which have been the subject of many objections to reform math as well as how the Common Core is being implemented. Under reform math (and now under prevalent interpretations/implementations of Common Core), the standard algorithms for basic math operations are typically introduced last, after the student has been instructed to use these alternative strategies. In traditional math texts, alternate methods were introduced *after* students mastered the standard algorithms and procedures. The books did not insist that students use alternative methods and exercises, and using such methods was limited. After that, it was up to the student whether to use it or not, which means it served more as a side dish than the main dish it has now become in many U.S. classrooms.

Over the past few decades, reform math has been supplanting traditional methods of math education, mostly in grades K-6 and to a lesser extent in grades 7 and 8. In general, reform math promotes a teaching approach in which understanding and process dominate. As discussed above, teaching standard algorithms are delayed in the belief that learning those first will eclipse any understanding of what is going on when such procedures are followed. The result, reformers believe, will be students “doing but not knowing math”. By understanding how the tool works before being given the tool, reformers believe that when students get to more difficult and higher level math problems, they will be “thinking like mathematicians” and that conceptual understanding — more than procedural understanding and fluency — will guide their mathematical proficiency.

Reformers view with skepticism and disdain the idea that procedural fluency is part and parcel to understanding. Therefore, it is not unusual to find that in grades K-2, mental math and number sense are emphasized before students are fluent with procedures and number facts. Mastery of basic math facts is sought by using techniques that rely on patterns and techniques such as “making tens” as workarounds to straight memorization. Schools and districts are quick to tell parents—both suspicious and unsuspecting—that such circumvention strategies are part of a deeper understanding of math facts as opposed to the “mind-numbing” and “interest-killing” approach to math which in the past “failed thousands of students.”

These beliefs have led teachers and schools to issue warnings to parents to *not* teach their children the standard method at home because it would interfere with the student’s learning. For example, at the Jaworek School in Marlborough, Massachusetts, parents were given the following advice in the end of year newsletter: “Do not teach your child the “standard algorithm” for computations until he or she has learned it in school.” (See also the advice to parents for Grades 1 and 4 given by the Covington Elementary School (Covington, Washington) and the article by Tom Loveless of Brookings Institution on this trend.)

In addition these and other approaches to teaching math, the general pedagogical approach and classroom set-up is also different. Whole class and teacher-led explicit instruction (and even teacher-led discovery) has given way to what the education establishment believes is superior: students working in groups in a collaborative learning environment. (A more thorough discussion of the “symptoms” of reform math approaches is found here.)

**Variations of the “Exception” Argument**

The prevalence of reform math over the past few decades has heated up the rhetoric against traditional math. Such rhetoric includes the “You’re the exception” argument, of course, but there are other variations of this. Here are three of the most popular variations. Such arguments occur at school board meetings, in casual conversations, on the internet, and —disturbingly — in newspapers and on television.

**If traditional math teaching were effective, the U.S. would be at the top of the world in math.**

This argument ignores that in countries doing well on such international tests, students learn math mainly via traditional means — and over the past two decades, increasing numbers of students in the U.S. have learned math using the reform-based methods. Reformers are quick to point out that Japan and perhaps other Asian countries actually use reform methods, ignoring the fact that many students are enrolled in “cram schools” (called Juku in Japan) which use the drilling techniques and memorization held in high disdain by reformers.

The argument also fails to consider that traditional math can also be taught poorly. There have always been good and bad teachers, as well as factors other than curriculum and pedagogy that influence the data. In order for such arguments to work, one would have to evaluate how achievement/scores vary when factors such as teaching, socioeconomic levels and other variables are held constant and when pedagogy or curriculum changes. Studies have been conducted that examine how math is taught in specific areas of North America, as well as looking at the common traits of high-performing systems across the world. They indicate that when both conventional and non-conventional (i.e., reform) math are taught by well-trained teachers, students learning under traditional mathematics instruction show much higher achievement than those learning under the reform math methodology. (Stokke, 2015; see https://www.cdhowe.org/pdf/commentary_427.pdf)

**If traditional math worked, the knowledge learned in school would stay with us.**

That people do not maintain proficiency in math as they age says less about traditional or reform math than about the way in which a population’s knowledge and skill base is maintained over a lifetime. It is not evidence of failure of traditional math. The results of not using math on a consistent basis can also be seen in a study conducted by OECD. In the study, people from ages 16-65 in over twenty countries, including the U.S., were given the same exam consisting of math computations and word problems. According to the study, “the percentage of U.S. adults between 55 and 65 years old who scored at the highest proficiency level (4/5) …was not significantly different than the international average for this age group. (Goodman, et al., 2013).” These findings can be used in tandem with the first argument above since people in the U.S. in the 55 to 65 age group learned math via traditional math teaching—and the differences in proficiencies between the U.S. and other countries is not significant.

**Traditional math failed to adequately address the realities of educating a large, diverse, and rapidly changing population during decades of technological innovation and social upheaval.**

This argument relies on the tracking argument, when many minority students (principally African Americans) were placed into lower level math classes in high school through courses such as business math. It goes something like this: “Most students did not go on in math beyond algebra, if that, and there were more than enough jobs that didn’t even require a high school diploma. Few went to college. Now most students must take advanced math, so opting out is not an option for them like it was for so many in the past.”

First, in light of the tracking of students which prevailed in the past, the traditional method could be said to have failed thousands of students because those students who were sorted into general and vocational tracks weren’t given the chance to take the higher level math classes in the first place — the instructional method had nothing to do with it. Also, I don’t know that most students *must *take advanced math in order to enter the job market. And I don’t think that everyone needs to take Algebra 2 in order to be viable in the job market.

Secondly, while students only had to take two years of math to graduate, and algebra was not a requirement as it is now, many of today’s students entering high school are very weak with fractions, math facts and general problem solving techniques. Many are counting on their fingers to add and rely on calculators for the simplest of multiplication or division problems. In the days of tracking and weaker graduation requirements, more students entering high school than now had mastery of math facts and procedures including fractions, decimals and percents.

Some blame the “changing demographics” on the decrease in proficiency, but this overlooks variables like poor curriculum and the reform-based approach to math which views memorization “workarounds” as deep understanding. Also frequently overlooked is the fact that students in low income families who make up the “changing demographic” cited in such arguments do not have access to tutoring or learning centers, while students in more affluent areas are not held hostage — dare I say “tracked”? — to poor curricula and dubious pedagogical practices.

**What’s Next?**

The debate over traditional versus reform-based math has been going on for some time—for so long, in fact, that some on the reform side are saying that there’s nothing to discuss, it’s boring, just let teachers teach. I agree that we should let teachers teach, and that parents be given choices of what type of math they want their children to have. That doesn’t appear to be happening any time soon.

I believe that the debate should continue and that there is plenty to discuss. People may choose to use the information I’ve presented here — or persist in ignoring it. I don’t expect that I’ve changed anyone’s mind about anything, but I am always hopeful that there are some exceptions.

I also do not think that I am alone in drawing a distinction between reform and traditional modes of math teaching. While traditional math can be taught properly as well as badly, I believe that poor teaching is inherent in most if not all reform math programs. I base this on having seen good teachers required to follow programs that present content poorly, lack a coherent logical sequence and rely on questionable pedagogies.

I would like to see studies conducted to document how U.S. students who do well in math and science and pursue STEM majors and careers are learning math. The chances are fairly good that such investigations would show that in K-8, many students are getting support at home, from tutors, or from the many learning centers that are springing up all over the U.S. at rapid rates. Since tutors and learning centers (and parents) tend to use traditional methods for teaching math, I somehow doubt that the clientele are exceptions to some ill-defined rule. In my view, as well as the view of many parents and teachers I’ve met, there are few exceptions to the educational damage reform math programs have caused, even when such programs are taught “well.”

—————

**Barry Garelick** has written extensively about math education in various publications including The Atlantic, Education Next, Educational Leadership, and Education News. He recently retired from the U.S. EPA and is teaching middle and high school math in California. He has written a book about his experiences as a long-term substitute in a high school and middle school in California: “Confessions of a 21st Century Math Teacher.“

—————

**References**

Bishop, John. 1989.* **Is the Test Score Decline Responsible for the Productivity Growth Decline?* The American Economic Review (Vol. 79, No. 1)

Buswell, Guy T., William A. Brownell, Irene Saubel. (1955a) “Arithmetic We Need; Grade 3”; Ginn and Company.

Buswell, Guy T., William A. Brownell, Irene Saubel. (1955b) “Arithmetic We Need; Grade 6”; Ginn and Company.

Clark, John R., Charlotte W. Junge, Harold E. Moser. (1952). “Growth in Arithmetic, Grade 6; Teacher’s Edition”; Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.

Congressional Budget Office. 1986. *Trends in Educational Achievement.* Prepared by Daniel Koretz of Congressional Budget Office’s Human Resources and Community Development Division. Congress of the United States. Available at: http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/59xx/doc5965/doc11b-Entire.pdf

Goodman, M., Finnegan, R., Mohadjer, L., Krenzke, T., and Hogan, J. (2013). Literacy, Numeracy, and Problem Solving in Technology-Rich Environments Among U.S. Adults: Results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies 2012: First Look (NCES 2014-008). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved Dec. 20, 2015 from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch .

Hobbes, Frank and Stoops, N. 2002. *“Demographic Trends of the 20th Century”*. U.S. Census Bureau. Washington DC. November.

Kohn, Alfie. (1999). “Getting the 3 R’s Right” in *The Schools Our Children Deserve* (Boston: Houghton Mifflin)

Murray, Charles. 1992. *What’s Really Behind the SAT-Score Decline?* , Public

Interest, 106 (1992: Winter) p.32

Stokke, Anna (2015). *What to Do about Canada’s Declining Math Scores. *Commentary No. 427. C. D. Howe Institute; Toronto, Ontario; Canada. Retrieved Dec. 20, 2015 from https://www.cdhowe.org/pdf/commentary_427.pdf .

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]]>The post Almost Half of Illinois Community College Students Need Remediation appeared first on Education News.

]]>According to a newly released report from the Illinois State Board of Education, almost half of all community college students in the state require remedial courses before they can begin to complete a degree program.

Findings suggest that 48.7% of the almost 40,000 community college students in Illinois are in need of remedial courses in at least one subject, with the majority of students benefiting from extra math help. Educators feel the problem is one that can be solved before students make it to college by ensuring high schoolers enroll in the correct courses and that they are not slacking off in their senior year.

“Too many times students think ‘oh, I want to have an easy senior year’, and when they do that they don’t set themselves up for success after high school,” said Terry Ryker, Principal at Herrin High School.

Ryker adds that the problem is especially prevalent in math because it is not required by the state for all four years of high school. In order to correct the problem, high schools are beginning to partner with community colleges to look at what courses are needed for success down the road, reports Rachael Krause for WPSD.

This is the first year that data was reported by the Illinois School Report Card concerning the percentage of high school graduates who enroll in community college and need remedial help. 41.1% of students required an additional course in math while 16.1% required a remedial course in reading.

Officials say the data will help to identify additional areas students need support in prior to graduation.

“With the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, Illinois is equipped to focus on the question of, ‘How ready are our children for what’s coming next?’ ” State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said in a news release. “The postsecondary remediation data is an important tool to help us determine how much support our children need when they leave our care.”

Smith went on to say that the state could not afford to increase the amount of time and money currently being spent on educating students on skills they should have already gained during their K-12 years, adding that a new assessment system would offer a better picture of each students’ college readiness prior to graduation.

Remediation, or developmental education, is meant to better prepare students who are deemed to be not yet ready for college-level courses in the core subjects of reading, math, or science.

Although students must pay tuition costs to enroll in remedial courses, they do not receive college credit for completing them, writes Madhu Krishnamurthy for *The Daily Herald*.

Remediation data found by ISBE does not include the rates for students in four-year schools or those enrolled in schools in other states. In addition, it does not include students who did not continue their education after high school graduation.

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]]>The post A Math Teacher’s Day at Ed Camp appeared first on Education News.

]]>**My Day at Ed Camp
**By Barry Garelick

I attended an “Ed Camp” recently. This is one of many types of non-professional development and informal gatherings where teachers talk about various education-related topics. The camp I attended was free of charge and took place at a charter school that prided itself on a student-centered approach to learning. In keeping with the school’s focus, the camp also took a student-centered approach which it boasted about in its announcement, calling the event an “unconference”. It stated that the Ed Camp “is not your traditional educational conference; sessions will be created by attendees.”

And that’s exactly what happened. Participants wrote ideas for sessions on Post-It notes which were placed on a whiteboard. The conference organizers then put the Post-It notes in categories that formed various sessions which were then led by whomever wanted to lead them.

The topic suggestions were placed into nine separate categories/sessions. For each of three one-hour periods, there were three sessions that participants could choose from. I chose “Motivation,” “Feedback in lieu of grades” and “The balance between student-centered and teacher-centered in a classroom.”

By way of background, I went to school in the 50’s and 60’s and am on a second career of teaching math in high school and secondary school after retiring several years ago. I am considered by most to use “traditional” practices rather than the progressive techniques one sees today. A few decades ago there was a mix of opinions on what are considered “best practices” in teaching—some of which included traditional methods. The older generation of teachers, however, has been almost entirely replaced by the new guard.

This has resulted in a prevalent new group-think which holds that traditional teaching is outmoded and ineffective. The participants at Ed Camp were of the new guard; mostly people ranging in age between 20’s and 40’s. A few people were in their 50’s or early 60’s, but were subscribed to the same group-think. From what I could tell, I was the only traditionalist present.

**Motivation Session**

All participants at this session generally agreed that motivation was important and that if classrooms do not have focus, there is loss of attention. They also agreed that students did well in a structured environment and that set routines and clear expectations were motivators. These two consensus items were uttered with the same somnambulant automaticity with which many say grace before chowing down a meal.

Participants then went to town describing various motivating/engaging activities including having students spell out words using their bodies to shape the letters (though I have forgotten what this had to do with whatever was being taught). After a few more suggestions, someone pointed out that no matter how engaging the activity, the novelty of it wears off, so you can only do it a few times before students are bored — which, I suppose, leaves teachers with the option of more traditional approaches like a warm-up question and then teaching the class.

The issue of group work came up. Group work ranks high on the group-think spectrum as something worthwhile for all students. So when a teacher said that group work may be difficult for students who are introverts, the feeling of cognitive dissonance was distinctly present in the room. But the dissonance was quickly dispelled by the same teacher who brought it up. “Well, think of it this way,” he said. “How many times have you gone to professional development sessions and the leader says ‘Now turn to your neighbor and discuss such and such’ and you go ‘Oh, no! Do I have to?’” General agreement ensued.

“But,” he went on, “You kind of think to yourself, ‘Well, OK, let’s get this over with’ and pretty soon you’re doing it and it isn’t that bad. So I think maybe we just have to get kids to think beyond themselves and just go with it, and they’ll see it isn’t that bad.”

I’m fairly certain most of the attendees had been through—and probably hated—professional development sessions that were group-work oriented. But if there was any disagreement with what he said, it was not voiced.

There was consensus that students responded well to competition. Teachers noted that students like to see high scores posted or go for extra credit assignments or questions on tests. Such agreement was surprising given that it goes against the trend of the “everyone is special” movement in which all students win awards or graduating classes have multiple valedictorians. Unless one includes competition as being an integral part of collaboration and working in teams and groups, competition would seem to be its antithesis.

Another unexpected result was related by a second grade teacher who taught at the school where the Ed Camp was held. She had assigned her students to groups and arranged her class in clusters of desks as many classrooms are these days. One day her students asked her, “Can we be in rows facing the front of the classroom?” She tried to reason with them, explaining that when she had been in school she always had to sit in rows and would have loved the opportunity to sit in groups. They told her that it was easier to be in rows because they wouldn’t have to twist around to see what the teacher was doing at the board. The students assigned themselves numbers randomly so the teacher could put them in straight rows according to their numbers. Since this was a student-centered decision at a school that valued student-centered activities, the teacher reluctantly went along with what they wanted.

**Think Pair Share: Harbinger of Things to Come? **

The initial premise of the next session I attended—feedback–was that students should be given guidance rather than interim or even final grades. This is not a new concept, as evidenced by a recent comment I saw on a popular education blog: “When numerical/letter grades are king, real learning is kicked to the curb, along with meaningful assessment.”

Like many educational ideas, this one sounds like it ought to be superior to a system of grading that many have accused of being unfair for years, until you get into the details—things like subjectivity and how students will be assessed. The moderator—who did most of the talking in this particular session—said that in guidance-based regimes, students should be told whether they are doing a task correctly or incorrectly and that the key to completing a task was to ensure that students had an appropriate process. I couldn’t be absolutely sure, but it sounded like process trumped content.

He brought up math as an example and said, “I like to give kids problems they don’t know how to do.” This is not the first time I’ve heard this. While I agree that students should be given challenging problems, I also believe that they need to start from a place that they know and advance bit by bit to variants on a basic problem structure to be able to take on non-routine problems.

Such process is known as scaffolding, but modern purveyors of education theory hold that scaffolding should not be used and that flexible thinking –applying prior knowledge to a new and unfamiliar problems or situations—comes with repeated exposure to such problems. Supposedly this develops a “problem solving schema” and “habit of mind” that is independent of acquired procedural skills or facts. But to pull off what this teacher wanted—having them solve something totally different than what they’ve seen—students are given feedback. The feedback is in the form of questions to motivate them to learn what they need to know and ultimately to solve the problem in a “just in time” basis.

The notion of supplying feedback in the form of guidance seemed to this moderator to be a new and cutting edge thing, and in fact announced that the activity of “Think-Pair-Share” was antiquated and should be abandoned. “Think-Pair-Share” has been around for at least 10 years. The first time I heard about “Think, Pair, Share” was in a course I took in ed school. Briefly, students work together to solve a problem or answer a question, discuss the question with their partner(s) and share their ideas and/or contrasting opinions with the rest of the class.

But now it was considered passé, the main problem with it being that students didn’t know what to say to each other about whatever it was they were to discuss. And that was likely because they had little or no knowledge of the subject that they were supposed to talk about, and which was supposed to give them the insights and knowledge that they previously lacked.

Did this mean that perhaps there was now some evidence that direct and explicit instruction could have beneficial educational outcomes? No. Feedback and guidance was the new “Think Pair Share.” Student-centered and inquiry-based approaches are still alive and well. And in closing, the moderator added that students need good solid relationships with one another and with the teacher. To this end, the moderator said, putting students in straight rows will NOT build such relationships.

I was tempted to bring up the story of the second grade class that insisted they wanted to be in rows but we were out of time. In fact, we ran over and I was late to the last session on the balance between teacher and student in a student-centered classroom.

**Defining Balance—or Not**

The conversation in the third and last session of the day was already underway with some talk going on about how effective student-centered communication is fostered using something called “Sentence frames” or “word moves”. These are a set of certain phrases students are encouraged to use when engaging in dialogue, such as, “One point that was not clear to me was ___”, “I see your point but what about ___”, “I’m still not convinced that ___”.

The discussion was in the context of procedures used in conducting student-centered classes. I didn’t know how much about balance they had discussed, and although it is not my habit to interrupt a discussion, I did inject myself using the following sentence frame: “So what do you think is the balance between teacher-centered and student-centered instruction?”

The responses I received were immediate:

“Oh, I just talk at the students forever and go on and on,” said a youngish woman. Another teacher chimed in, “Yes, I tell them that it would be so much easier for them if they just listened…” This went on for another few seconds, and though I was tempted to use a sentence frame like, “I see your point but what about___?” the one I chose was a bit more aggressive. “Is that your answer to my question?” I asked. “You think a teacher-centered classroom is all about lecturing with no room for questions or dialogue?”

The woman who first answered me said, “No, I was just being funny.” The conversation turned serious once again with the answer to my question being that the teacher-centered portion of a student-centered classroom is, “teaching the students to be student-centered successfully.” That, roughly translated, means giving them instructions and guidance to do their student-centered inquiry-based assignment.

Example: “In ten minutes, you will complete an outline of what you are going to investigate. Go.” Ten minutes pass, teacher spot checks various outlines. “Now one person will be the lead investigator, another will be the note-taker, the third person will write the conclusion and the fourth person will do the presentation.” And so on.

The conversation turned to “student outcomes” and “growth-mindset.” This last phrase, a concept made popular by Carol Dweck, is the theory that students can develop their abilities by believing that they can do so. The term has taken hold as its own motivational poster in classrooms, professional development seminars and Ed Camps across America. Someone remarked that the idea of growth mindset itself is a student-centered concept. I suppose it is, if you combine belief in yourself with hard work, instruction, and practice—things I don’t hear much about when I hear about growth-mindset.

“Growth-mindset” led into students’ beliefs in themselves, which led to how grades are bad and rubrics were better. A middle school social studies teacher lamented that he was stuck giving students grades because the school district required them, though most of the teachers in his schools used rubrics not to grade, but to provide feedback to students. (The charter school at which this Ed Camp was held did not give grades, but rather student reports. After the social studies teacher’s lamentation about grades, one teacher who taught at this school cackled “I’m so glad I don’t have to keep grade books anymore!”)

The social studies teacher said that what used to be an A under the old grading system was now a C in his class using his rubric. He didn’t go into details about his rubric except to say that he bases grades on it, and “meets expectations” would be a C. “I tell parents that I have no problem with a student who gets a C in my class, because that means he or she was meeting expectations. If a student wants better than a C, they can go over the rubric with me to see what is required.”

This struck me as strange. If you give tests and assignments that cover the material and take some effort to do well on them, then maintaining an average of a 90% or more would assure some mastery of the material. Or does he consider that to be “middle school stuff” and to get an A under his rubric now requires—what? I never found out. Classes I’ve seen that use rubrics have several: rubrics for group work, presentations, collaboration, essay analysis, presentations and so forth, and there are many categories – like this one for a project presentation in a middle school social studies class . How does one differentiate between “strong student creativity” and “exceptional degree of student creativity” under the “Originality” category? I suspect it’s a matter of “I’ll know it when I see it”.

As time grew shorter, discussions cascaded onto each other, culminating in a discussion about homework. The social studies teacher said he didn’t assign homework, and this turned out to be the practice of most of the teachers in the room. Some of the teachers did report that they received pressure from parents about lack of homework. Parents who ask their kids what they do in school and get the usual “Not much” often follow with “Well, what’s your homework?” and were dismayed to find that the student had none. Parents confronted various teachers, arguing that not assigning homework will not prepare students for the real world. The social studies teacher who was emerging as de facto opinion leader for the session said that in the real world you didn’t have homework, so why should we expect it of our students? This was a bit confusing given that teachers do a lot of work at home. In fact, in many professions it is not unusual to have to do work at home.

But he went on. “And if the real world is high school and college, first of all, not all students go to college. And show me the evidence that homework in high school prepares them for college.” This is the type of argument that seems beguiling if you practice saying it in front of a mirror with an audience applause track playing in your mind. Or alternatively, saying it at Ed Camp sessions like these.

“It is not preparation for the real world,” he repeated, and then clarified that he viewed homework as largely drill and practice activities which in his view held absolutely no value, and certainly, in his opinion, is not something done in the real world. (I should note that I was the only math teacher in this session, but I decided to keep quiet given the reaction when I asked my question at the beginning of the session.)

With parents spotlighted as detractors from how teachers conducted their student-centered classrooms, the session ended with one teacher lamenting how one parent complained that, “This education of my child is becoming my job.” The teachers all identified with having heard that before. “Gee, sorry to hear that being a parent is so tough” was the general response in the room.

Having been in the position of a parent raising a daughter subjected to student-centered classrooms, I think what that parent meant was not so much, “Why should I be involved in my child’s education?” but rather: “I’m doing a lot of teaching at home that should be going on in the school.” Many parents have complained that students are not being taught grammar, math facts, and other necessities of education, but which teachers of student-centered classrooms consider “drill and kill” and “drudge work.” That may account for the popularity of learning centers like Sylvan, Huntington and Kumon, which all focus on these things.

**The Group-Think of Teaching**

Driving home from the Ed Camp, I was reminded of a movie I saw long ago called “The Wicker Man,” in which a deeply Christian, Scottish police officer investigates a missing child on an island in Scotland that practices paganism—and in the end is burnt to death as a human sacrifice to the islanders’ gods. A key point of the film was that the officer’s religion counted for nothing in the midst of different and prevailing beliefs. The winners in such conflicts are those who by virtue of numbers have the means to enforce their beliefs.

I wondered whether in ten years’ time more parents would accept the inquiry-based and student-centered approach more readily as a result of having been subjected to such techniques themselves? Or would there now be a permanent split: parents who came through the system who are happy with their kids being taught as they had been, and parents who had benefitted from the more traditional techniques used in learning centers or from the dwindling number of schools who practiced them? Would the ideas and techniques discussed at Ed Camp be viewed as outmoded, just as “Think-Pair-Share,” so popular a few years ago, had fallen out of favor? Or would they be replaced by a slight variation of the same thing?

Whatever the outcome, it was fairly clear to me that any new educational techniques would be portrayed as a measured and informed decision, a step in the right direction and, of course, progress.

—————

**Barry Garelick** has written extensively about math education in various publications including The Atlantic, Education Next, Educational Leadership, and Education News. He recently retired from the U.S. EPA and is teaching middle and high school math in California. He has written a book about his experiences as a long- term substitute in a high school and middle school in California: “Teaching Math in the 21st Century”.

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]]>The post UK, China Increasing International Education Cooperation appeared first on Education News.

]]>The UK and China, which already have tight educational connections, are planning on expanding their partnership with programs designed to increase exchange between the nations.

Many Chinese students who want to study abroad go to the UK. China’s Minister of Education Yuan Guiren says that both countries have initiated programs to enhance their higher education collaboration.

In each of the past few years, China has increased the number of full scholarships. In 2014, 64,000 Chinese students studied in the UK.

According to Richard Macauley of Quartz, even young children are going to the UK from China for schooling and make up 14% of the country’s total population of international students.

Programs will be encouraging students to travel from the UK to China, too. The government invited 200 British students to study in China at no cost. The British government will be sending 80,000 students to study in China in the coming years, according to CCTV.com.

Statistics show that Chinese universities are growing in quality, meaning that British students who want to study there will not be missing out on opportunity. Four of the nation’s universities were included in the Times Higher Education top 100 rankings, writes Alice Gast.

Earlier this year, the government tried teaching math in English schools with traditional Chinese teaching methods. According to Schools Minister Nick Gibb, this was extremely successful, with students who historically scored poorly in math doing particularly well. Now, groups of school teachers have traveled to Shanghai to study Chinese teaching techniques, and 30 Chinese teachers were transported to the UK to work with students and educators. Gibbs said:

When that’s brought to England and the approach has been tried in English schools, it’s been hugely successful. Teachers have been pleasantly surprised by how much some of the less-able children are achieving in maths as a consequence of this approach.

Gibbs described one Chinese teacher in a Harris academy, who spent an entire lesson describing how to multiply two double-digit figures ending in zero. He said:

I walked around the classroom and all the children were understanding what was happening and could perform the calculation.

The program’s focus on math was inspired by China’s notoriously successful math achievement. They consistently score the highest in the PISA exam, the Programme for International Student Assessment test administered by OECD. In 2012, Shanghai ranked first in math, reading, and science, ahead of both Singapore and Hong Kong, according to Xie Qiao of CRIEnglish.

However, not everyone’s assessment of the program is as optimistic as Gibb’s. The three-part documentary Are Our Kids Tough Enough? showed that Chinese teachers struggled to discipline and control Western students, and the UK teachers disagreed with their methods. Over the course of four weeks, five Chinese teachers took charge of 50 students at a comprehensive school in Hampshire. The experience was very different from what the students were used to: the teenagers wore uniforms, attended from 7am to 7pm, had two meal breaks, and had the responsibility of cleaning their own classrooms. Lessons involved repetition, note-taking, and some group exercises. After the month was over, the students scored 10% higher in math and science than their peers.

Research so far has shown that Chinese teaching methods bring about a small improvement in performance, but experts say that there isn’t enough data and the methods need to be tested with a larger base.

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]]>The post Bedtime Math Stories Can Increase Kids’ Math Skills, Study Says appeared first on Education News.

]]>Children who read bedtime stories with math questions boosted their math learning skills, a new study out of the University of Chicago says.

Apart from boosting student achievement, the math stories also helped math-anxious parents become more comfortable discussing math problems at home, which in turn can further boost student progress at school.

“Structured, positive interactions around math at home can cut the link between parents’ uneasiness about math and children’s low math achievement,” the researchers conclude in their study published in the Science journal.

The researchers say that math-anxious parents are less likely to talk about math at home and might be reluctant to help their children do their math homework — something that can affect their children’s math competency. The researchers discovered that:

”Bedtime Math encourages a dialogue between parents and kids about math, and offers a way to engage in high-quality math interactions in a low-effort, high-impact way.”

Some 587 first-grade student families across the city of Chicago were given iPads with either the Bedtime Math or a reading app installed for the study’s purposes. Through the Bedtime Math app, parents and their children read stories and answered math-related questions together. The control group that received the reading comprehension app engaged with similar stories but without any math content.

The study showed that the more parents and children engaged with the app, the better the students’ academic achievement was.

For students who engaged with the app multiple times per week, the results were substantial, as they managed to outperform their peers by almost three months, the University of Chicago announced.

Even less-frequent use of the Bedtime Math app showed significant benefits. The use of the app as little as once a week resulted in math achievement gains for students as the end-of-year assessments, the researchers revealed.

But the app was particularly helpful for children with math-anxious parents or parents who were uncomfortable with math content, the Daily Mail reported.

“For many families, reading stories is a regular part of a child’s home routine. But when it comes to math, parents widely believe that it is the responsibility of schools, and they pay less attention to their child’s math learning at home,” said Susan Levine study author. “We found brief, high-quality parent-child interactions around math using Bedtime Math increased children’s math learning during first grade.”

In an interview with NPR and Eric Westervelt, the study authors highlighted the importance of integrating counting and other simple math activities in the daily routines of children because it can be beneficial for students’ math progress.

“[W]e know that parents who talk more with their kids about math — whether you’re counting out the number of cookies or counting the minutes to bedtime — those kids tend to achieve at higher rates in math.”

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]]>The post UK Facing Math Teaching Shortage, Looking Overseas appeared first on Education News.

]]>British schools are facing a shortage of math teachers, and the situation is so dire in some schools that physical education teachers and teacher assistants are filling in. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan admitted the math teacher shortage comes at a time when the UK wants more students to study math and embark on a teaching career path.

Morgan said that math is one of the most popular A-level exams and could eventually lead to more math graduates choosing career in education:

“One of the messages we have to get out is that we need great people to be teachers and we need to make it easier for people to get into teaching and to do the training.”

Morgan mentioned several government initiatives aimed at solving the shortage crisis:

“We do need more [teachers]. That’s why the prime minister announced a program in March of attracting more generous bursaries, attracting more maths graduates, but also helping those already working in schools teaching maths to increase their skills and confidence in doing so.”

This year, the UK government failed to meets its recruitment target for trainee teachers. At the same time, two London schools hired 66 teachers from Jamaica to address their shortages.

According to the UK’s Express., the Department of Education will launch and advertise a program to invite foreign teachers from Europe, Singapore and China to address the staff shortage. An email leaked to the Times Educational Supplement states:

“The department has recently embarked on an exploratory STEM international recruitment program. The aim of the STEM international recruitment project is to boost direct recruitment of high-quality mathematics and physics teachers coming from overseas.”

The email by the Department of Education official also states that the United Kingdom is seeking to build relationships with other countries.

Teachers unions greeted the gesture by emphasizing that the move doesn’t actually solve the problem. Mary Bousted, Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) union leader, said:

“This is overdue recognition and acceptance by the Government that we have a teacher shortage. Until the Government recognizes that teachers’ pay is too low and the impact of constant Government-induced policy changes, and does something to improve working conditions, teachers will continue to hemorrhage from our schools.”

Morgan admitted that the problem is complex:

“I would not disagree, there are challenges in teacher recruitment,” pointing out the recovering economy as a major factor.

According to the Guardian, schools are doubling up classes and using non-math teachers to offer math lessons because of the staff shortage.

Labour party committee member Ian Mearns says the math teacher shortage is estimated at 5,000 staff with the crisis being particularly evident in Further Education colleges that offers GCSE math exam re-takes.

Schools are turning to PE and geography teachers, as well as teacher assistants, to lead math classes.

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]]>The post Israel Debuts Plan to Encourage 5-year Math Sequence appeared first on Education News.

]]>Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett and former President Shimon Peres have created a campaign to improve the nation’s math education, with three YouTube videos have been released so far promoting the program.

The goal is to enable every student to take five units of mathematics at their school, which constitutes a full load of math courses, with the slogan “Give to yourself, give to the country — Give Five!”

The number of Israeli students taking five units of math has been dropping. In 2006, 12,900 students took the full sequence; in 2013, just 9,100 did. This adds up to about 9.1% of Israel’s students, writes Sharon Udasin of the Jerusalem Post.

Bennett said that focusing on math education is a matter of national security for a nation perpetually on the defensive:

The threat to mathematical studies is a strategic threat, and for a strategic threat a national program is necessary.

I know that there are many who disagree with me regarding the need to massively strengthen mathematics, but the role of a leader is to determine national objectives and pursue them with all our might– and we’ll double the number of students within four years. Gone are the days that a child wanted to take a five-unit matriculation exam, but could not do so because of his place of residence. In the national mathematics program, the child will strengthen his own future and will also help the future of the State of Israel.

According to Yarden Skop of Haaretz, they aim to double the number enrolled in five math unit to 18,000 within four years, double the number of teachers providing five-unit courses from 1,000 to 2,000, and add 15,000 hours to math instruction. Math education will also focus more on small group learning and the individual monitoring of progress.

According to Dabid Shamah with the Times of Israel, NIS 75 million, which is about $20 million USD, will be allocated to the program.

To strengthen the program, the ministry plans on adding incentives for both students and teachers. Every student who takes the five-unit matriculation exam will get at least 30 bonus points on their application when applying to university.

A National Public Forum for the Study of Mathematics will be created that will bring together educators, high-tech professionals, the IDF, and other organizations. 500 high-tech professionals will also be tasked with assisting teachers by holding school meetings and arranging field trips. Companies already involved include Intel, SanDisk, Microsoft, and Marvell Israel. “Five Club” learning communities will be created to foster professional development for math teachers.

In one video, reports Arutz Shiva, Peres plays an unruly student who submits the correct answer to a trigonometry question via paper airplane. Peres said:

Israel has been blessed with talents capable of reaching unforeseen heights, but they must be cultivated. We cannot accept a situation in which in the State of Israel children who are capable of studying five units at school cannot do so due to lack of means. A financial deficit is possible to repair later– an educational deficit is not possible to repair.

In order to stand up to global competition in the international market, the state must invest the maximum, to make first-class science possible for students. Science and technology professionals rely on mathematics, and therefore, the advancement of studies and vigorous striving for scientific excellence are an existential necessity and a primary interest for the future of Israel.

This year, 100 new five-unit tracks will be opening, and five-unit math courses will be allowed to continue with just 6 students instead of the previous minimum of 15.

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]]>The post Access Denied: Algebra in Eighth Grade and Egalitarianism appeared first on Education News.

]]>By Barry Garelick

The San Francisco Unified School District made the news recently when they decided to eliminate first-year algebra for eighth graders entirely. Algebra will now be offered only as a high school course in that school district.

The decision is not without controversy and many parents have been protesting, saying that it limits the choices qualified students may have. The other side of the argument is that too many students who were unprepared to take algebra in eighth grade were pushed to take it, resulting in many students failing the course.

Of course it is a mistake to allow students to take algebra if they are not mathematically prepared. Students need to have mastery of fractions, percentages, decimals, ratios, and negative numbers and to be able to solve a variety of word problems. But if a student is qualified to take algebra in eighth grade and would do well in it, why not give the student that choice?

But a growing trend among school districts these days is to limit (or as in SFUSD, eliminate entirely) those choices under the guise that Common Core doesn’t encourage acceleration. Districts prefer and think it better that students take algebra starting in high school. Common Core, however, defines four pathways that may be taken, one of which allows for taking algebra earlier than ninth grade:

A “compacted” version of the Traditional pathway where no content is omitted, in which students would complete the content of 7th grade, 8th grade, and the High School Algebra I course in grades 7 (Compacted 7th Grade) and 8 (8th Grade Algebra I), which will enable them to reach Calculus or other college level courses by their senior year. While the K-7 CCSS effectively prepare students for algebra in 8th grade, some standards from 8th grade have been placed in the Accelerated 7th Grade course to make the 8th Grade Algebra I course more manageable. (http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_Mathematics_Appendix_A.pdf )

Many schools and districts had such a pathway in place prior to Common Core. Despite this, schools and districts are making it more difficult for students to qualify for the “compacted” version. I witnessed this first hand last year when I was teaching pre-algebra and algebra at a middle school in the San Luis Coastal Unified School District in California during a time when school districts were making the transition to Common Core.

I recall a person from the school district office, who I will call Sally, talking to a group of us math teachers in advance of a “math night” to be held for parents to explain the District’s policy on “compacted” math pathways. Sally described how the District was phasing out the “accelerated math” in which qualified students in eighth grade — and even some in seventh grade — were allowed to take Algebra 1.

She did say they were working on pathways for those students who may be “really, truly” gifted and for whom algebra in seventh or eighth grade may be appropriate. This was likely not going to sit well with some parents, she said.

“There’s been a lot of parent pushback,” she sighed. “I imagine we’ll have the usual Debbie Downers and Negative Nancies in the audience on ‘math night’. But I want to make two things clear: that there’s no shame in taking Grade 8 math; under Common Core it’s equivalent to the traditional Algebra 1.” (This is debatable based on what I’ve observed in Grade 8 math classes) “And secondly, placement in eighth grade Algebra 1 will be more difficult. Fewer students will qualify – Common Core is very challenging.”

This all sounds plausible if you believe that Common Core gets into “deeper learning”. But what it really means is that students will now get a smattering of algebra in eighth grade, and the rest of it in ninth, thus taking two years to do what used to be done in one – and leaving some topics left out. Also, it raises the question that if Common Core algebra is so much deeper than a traditional algebra course, why is the traditional algebra course reserved for an elite corps of eighth grade students?

Sally went on. “Procedures don’t stick with kids; they forget them. They need to learn critical thinking and problem solving.” This brought her discussion to a new test the District would be administering to sixth and seventh graders for algebra placement purposes: the SVMI (Silicon Valley Math Initiative) assessments. These were a new series of tests to be given in addition to placement tests that had been given for years — the Mathematics Diagnostic Testing Project (MDTP). The MDTP was developed by California State University and University of California. It is a straightforward multiple choice exam which has had a good track record for accurately placing students in Algebra 1 for eighth grade. (Districts use them on a voluntary basis; they are not required to use them.)

The new test, which had never been given in the district previously, –was written by a group called the Silicon Valley Mathematics Initiative (SVMI). And while the title of the group conjures images of people of high calling in math, science and engineering who reside in Silicon Valley, it is actually a group of math reform types funded through the reform-minded Noyce Foundation, and who believe in 1) authentic assessments, and 2) themselves – and not necessarily in that order.

“For this new assessment, students will be required to use their prior knowledge to solve new types of problems – types they’ve never seen before,” Sally explained. I spoke up at this point and asked, “If it’s never been given in the District before, how is it going to be considered in making the decision for placement?

“That’s something the District is going to have to determine once we see the results.” The only guidance I was given eventually was that because it’s a new test, it won’t be counted as heavily. Though sounding like it answered my question, it didn’t.

Discussion continued about pathways to calculus by twelfth grade. Students who take Algebra 1 in ninth grade and who wanted to take AP Calculus in twelfth grade could double up their math courses during tenth grade. There! Every question that a Debby Downer or Nervous Nancy could ask was covered!

The explanation that the SVMI test would not be counted as heavily as the MDTP meant nothing to my students, which was no surprise since it didn’t mean all that much to me either. My pre-algebra seventh graders knew it was not good news. And when it came time to administer the test, they were horrified. It contained problems that were tedious as well as some that were poorly posed. If the tests had been used as “formative” assessments to guide classroom instruction and learning, I would have less objection. Specifically, if there were no names attached and they were scored by people not associated with the classroom to be returned to the teacher as discussion items, that would be useful. As actual assessment down to the individual student level — to be used as a filter disguised as placement – it is shameful.

As far as my eighth grade algebra classes were concerned, they had been “grandfathered” in, and had been placed in the algebra class solely on the basis of the MDTP results. (Students had to score higher than 80% on that test in order to place into algebra the next year). I know there may have been a few parents who pushed to get their children into the algebra class. But from what I could see in my algebra classes, with the exception of about 3 or 4 students out of 60, they were doing well, with most getting A’s and B’s. From my perspective, the MDTP was an effective placement tool. But the allure of Algebra 1 in eighth grade did have the potential of creating a student elite, now made even more so by the additional hurdle of the ill-conceived SVMI exam.

I recall in one of my pre-algebra classes a very bright girl named Gail who said she hoped she placed into Algebra 1. (She in fact scored higher than 80 percent on the MDTP, and did well on the SVMI test.) “I don’t want to be with the stupid people,” she said to the girl who sat behind her. That kind of attitude is probably a dominant factor in causing some school districts to react by opening up algebra in eighth grade for all students no matter how weak their preparation. We’ve seen that such a policy is a mistake. The opposite reaction is San Francisco Unified’s “nobody gets to take algebra until high school” policy.

Other school districts such as mine restricted entry as much as possible through their exclusionary tactics (which also kept down the number of students taking geometry in eighth and ninth grades. At this writing, there are other districts, including the William S. Hart Union High School District that serves the City of Santa Clarita in Los Angeles County, which is using a test written by a math teacher to decide who gets to take algebra in eighth grade. The term “truly gifted” and “the elite” have been used by various teachers to describe the students who qualify.) The eighth grade traditional Algebra 1 class has become an endangered species open only to a newly formed and very small elite.

During my assignment at the middle school (the 2013-14 school year) about 300 students were enrolled in Algebra 1 in the entire District. During the 2014-15 school year, the number dropped substantially to 46. Many of the rest would have otherwise qualified, but for the hurdle imposed by SVMI. By telling my students the explanation I was offered — that the SVMI test would not be counted as heavily as the MDTP — I had unwittingly lied to them. They were now part of the larger and growing class of Gail’s “stupid people.”

Ironically, the policies of San Francisco’s and San Luis Coastal’s school districts will have exactly the opposite effect than what was intended. Bright, well-prepared students whose parents have the information and the means will find other options for their children. Other students, especially lower-socioeconomic children from low-education communities, will be boxed out of advancing themselves through public education. For this group, algebra will be a watered down Common Core version in ninth grade – all in the name of egalitarianism and the greater common good.

—————

**Barry Garelick** has written extensively about math education in various publications including The Atlantic, Education Next, Educational Leadership, and Education News. He recently retired from the U.S. EPA and is teaching middle and high school math in California. He has written a book about his experiences as a long- term substitute in a high school and middle school in California: “Teaching Math in the 21st Century”.

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]]>The post Stanford Study: Brain Scans May Predict Students’ Math Capabilities appeared first on Education News.

]]>Researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine have reported that brain scans may predict which students are likely to improve their math skills in school and which ones won’t, with scans predicting more precisely than IQ or math tests.

NBC News’ Maggie Fox writes that the scientists worked with a group of students who began getting brain scans at the age of 8, and who followed up with scans into their mid-teens.

Even researchers were surprised when they found that certain patterns of brain activity when kids were not doing anything at all could predict how much they would improve in math skills. The accuracy of these predictions was higher than results from IQ tests, reading tests, or math tests, according to the report published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The researchers were not suggesting that all children should have brain scans, but the information could result in new ways to identify the children who need intensive math coaching, said the authors.

“I can’t take one child, put the child in a brain scanner and say with certainty this is how the child is going to end up,” said Tanya Evans, a psychiatric researcher who worked on the study.

But the study does show which regions of the brain seem most important in developing math skills. Evans adds that the work is similar to studies done on dyslexic children. Dyslexia affects the ability to read printed words.

“A long-term goal of this research is to identify children who might benefit most from targeted math intervention at an early age,” said Vinod Menon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences who led the research.

The study included 43 students with normal intelligence who were asked to take tests and to sit still for functional magnetic resonance imaging scans and ordinary MRI scans. MRIs map the physical structure of the brain while fMRIs show the function of the brain. Researchers were able to see the parts of the brain that were more active in the children who improved their math skills over the next few years.

“Some of the kids started out really bad and ended up really good,” Evans said. “Some stayed average. Some started out good and got worse.”

This does not necessarily mean that math skills are hard-wired into the brain, says Evans. The idea is to work on ways to improve math skills to see if the brain structures also change.

“Practice makes perfect in everything,” she said. “We are looking at what types of math interventions are most effective.”

The children were studied for six years. The research showed that brain characteristics indicated which kids would be the best in math over the course of the research.

The findings will move scientists closer to their goal of assisting students who struggle with their math skills, writes Stanford University in the publication Bioscience Technology. Vinod Menon, who led the research team, says the work identifies a network of brain areas that provides a scaffold for long-term math skill development in children.

He reports that the next step is to investigate how brain connections change over time in kids who show large versus small improvements in math skills and then to design new interventions to help students improve their short-term learning and long-term skill development. Evans suggests that parents and teachers encourage children to exercise their mental math muscles.

Headlines & Global News’ Aditi Simiai Tiwari reports that the researchers hope to establish a baseline for understanding development that will, in turn, help experts develop and validate programs for the remediation of children with learning disabilities.

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