Thursday, November 8, 2018

High School Math is Not Working

Here we go again. We've seen similar charts like this before. What are we the math education community doing that's contributing to this trend? Our new NCTM president Robert Q. Berry recently posted a message to the community in response to articles such as this: MATH SCORES DROP TO A 14-YEAR LOW AS ACT SHOWS MANY HIGH SCHOOLERS UNPREPARED FOR COLLEGE.

He writes:
"The decline in recent years in the mathematics score on the ACT exam has many educators and policymakers concerned. There is apprehension about whether these scores suggest a negative impact on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) readiness and the potential impact on America's economic, social, and political security. While I understand why these are causes for concern for many, I see the discourse about the ACT mathematics scores as an opportunity to broaden the discussion to include issues of equity, curriculum, and assessment. [...]  
Critical conversations are necessary for knowing and understanding not only the indicators for mathematics and STEM readiness but also the inequities that contribute to the factors that offer advantages to some learners while disadvantaging others."
The inequities problem continues as does the call to do something about it. Holding conversations does help, but the majority of educators feel helpless to do something that would make a significant difference to what is mostly a complex political problem. 

In my opinion the complicated problem we can solve that keeps things at status quo is the continued use of flawed textbooks that not only do not adhere to the Common Core but also do not offer help in effective pedagogy. Many teachers who have the freedom to use substitute lessons that they find on the Internet or develop collaborately with their colleagues at school or on the Internet (ala #MTBoS) help improve student's learning. For example, some creative schools like SLA (Science Leadership Academy) in Philadelphia use projects to motivate the learning of conventional topics from algebra I and II and geometry. The teachers also create their own lessons which are cooperatively developed. Unfortunately too many teachers just follow the textbooks lessons which turn too many students off to math. There are of course exceptions of textbooks that are well designed and conceptually well grasped by students. An example is EDC's Transition to Algebra (T2A) which is designed to make the student's experience of learning Algebra more understandable and interesting. Also, using the Heinemann book, Making Sense of Algebra: Developing Students' Mathematical Habits of Mind help teachers to dive more deeply into the goals of T2A so they can provide an optimal learning experience for their students.

A more radical (creative) approach* to writing textbooks is to make lessons more like stories which are intrinsically interesting to kids. There are videos that tell stories that could be used as part of a lesson: the 3-act kind that Dan Meyer likes. My 3-part lesson is: 1. Set the Stage 2. Do the Activity 3. Debrief.

Three examples are: The Weird Number, Murdered for Math - Making sense of Irrational Numbers, and 13 x7 = 28

Also, STEM should be a math credited course in High School. We moved Algebra 1 to the 8th grade in my lifetime, why should seniors have to wait till college to experience STEM? It doesn't make any sense not to do that. See my previous post on this topic.

*More on "radically" creative lessons in future bog entries.