Monday, November 1, 2010

Some additional reflection . . .

There are three comments to yesterday’s post on the amount of math necessary for everyday use that I encourage you to read. They each provide a different perspective on the issue through their personal experience with math. There are also links in two of the posts that provide additional perspectives on this issue. In one of those links I found this statement that would describe my experience with math.

The purpose of learning math, which most of us will never use, is only to prepare us for further math courses . . . which we will use even less frequently than never.

I took math classes the first three quarters of college and as long as I could memorize short term I did very well. I found that whatever that third quarter class was (?), it turned out to be the beginning of the brick wall for me, as simply memorizing and regurgitating no longer worked. Prior to that I thought my future was in the science/math area, but that experience pushed me in other directions.

Maybe the question I posed is not the best question to reflect upon. The national push for more scientists and engineers has been a catalyst for more emphasis on all students taking more math in high school. Another has been the need for all students to be college ready. If this is the purpose for learning math, to be college ready and prepared for a career in science and math then perhaps geometry is not far enough. One would need to go beyond this to be accepted into most if not all four year colleges.

The struggle for me begins with the data from our school system. Last year 35% of Tahoma graduates enrolled in a four-year institution with the range over the last six years being 33% to 42%. Yet, the math program is designed to prepare students for continuation of the math sequence in college. It works well for those students, but what about the 65% last year that didn’t enroll in these schools or the 38% who didn’t enroll in any school. Do they need to be in the same sequence, with the same purpose, and the same pace? I don’t think they do and I don’t know that the algebra, geometry requirement best meets their needs for future success.

I don’t disagree with the need for math, but as Ethan suggests in his comment the appropriate ending course or courses may not be geometry. Yes, we need more engineers and scientists, but all young people are not going to become engineers and scientists. Yes, more students from our system should be attending four-year schools, but there isn’t room or money for all to attend. Then why have the same math sequence and expectations for all students?


Stacy said...

In response and playing devil's advocate a little, then why not track our kids if only "some" of them are going to be engineers. Place them in the appropriate "track" like Europe does and focus their skills in areas they can grow and be successful? Now, I know people will be upset at that comment, saying we have our rights!We have a right to higher education for all!
But, we have big problems here. One is attitude about education, most people see it is an afterthought, unless you have children in the system. In the countries that beat us, educators are revered, education is looked on as a wonderful opportunity. Here, we just complain and look for someone to blame, why is education failing our kids? is sad. We take every child, no matter what ails them or however broken they come to us. We offer a way out, safety, and also a future. It is sad so many people don't see that.
As for math instruction, personally I believe we are pushing math skills to quickly in elementary and asking a little TOO much of the kids, without giving them a solid foundation of number sense. I know that in other countries a child will not actually see an operation sign until the are seven! That's right,seven. They use other manipulations and ways to understand the concepts of number. Here we push basic operations in kindergarten which, is not developmentally appropriate for most children. Then we wonder why third graders fluency is poor?
Math is neccessary, in all aspects of life, whether you will use advanced calc for your career, or just give change at the mall. Let's face it folks, most can't even do that; number sense my friends.
Please Mike, look into Katherine Twomey Fosnot's work with Math in the City. Please?

Anonymous said...

Just one more thing Mike, please look at Spokane district 81, and ask them about Fosnot's work and how it is helping to improve their learning, Willard is an example of a school with serious needs, and all of the teachers are working with Fosnot, she comes to them and they have sent teachers and coaches to train with her, the kids are learning, really learning.