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Math Facts

April 21, 2008

A new research-based report on mathematics education practices and policies was issued in March 2008 by the Department of Educations’ National Mathematics Advisory Panel. Some key findings and recommendations are highlighted below, with comments on how they apply to CISD students and what parents can do in grey. The full report or the two-page Fact Sheet can be downloaded here.

Curricular Content: All school districts should ensure that all prepared students have access to an authentic algebra course – and should prepare more students than at present to enroll in such a course by Grade 8.

A proposed goal for Coppell’s elementary gifted program: to prepare gifted students to take Algebra I in 7th grade. Such a goal would compel the  elementary gifted program to have a focus and produce measurable results. Lobby your elementary principal to adopt this goal.

Instructional Practices: Mathematically gifted students with sufficient motivation appear to be able to learn mathematics much faster than students proceeding through the curriculum at a normal pace, with no harm to their learning, and should be allowed to do so. Gifted… students…need a curriculum that is differentiated (by level, complexity, breadth, and depth), developmentally appropriate, and conducted at a more rapid rate.

Combined acceleration and enrichment should be the intervention of choice.

CISD usually has 20-30 students (out of approx. 160 gifted students) who complete Algebra I in 7th grade and Geometry in 8th grade, plus a few who accelerate even farther.

A CISD student who takes Algebra I in 8th grade will take Calculus in 12th grade. In India, Calculus is a 9th grade course.

Our schools need parent volunteers to develop strong math club or math competition programs.

Curricular Content: A major goal for K-8 mathematics education should be proficiency with fractions (including decimals, percents, and negative  fractions), for such proficiency is foundational for algebra and, at the present time, seems to be severely underdeveloped. One key mechanism linking conceptual and procedural knowledge is the ability to represent fractions on a number line.

Turn everyday life into fractions practice. Let the kids cut pizzas or cakes fairly, double or halve recipes, compute miles per gallon, and calculate the waiter’s tip.

Make sure they grasp which of two fractions is larger.

Learning Processes: Children’s goals and beliefs about learning are related to their mathematics performance. Experimental studies have demonstrated that changing children’s beliefs from a focus on ability to a focus on effort increases their engagement in mathematics learning, which in turn improves mathematics outcomes: When children believe that their efforts to learn make them “smarter,” they show greater persistence in mathematics learning.

Our comments drive our students’ perceptions. Russians and Romanians brag “Math was my favorite subject” or “I worked hard and got really good at math”. Americans typically complain, “math is hard” or “I was lousy at math” or “math was my hardest subject”.  We need to stop denigrating math and our abilities.

Praise your kids by saying “you worked so hard on that”, not “you’re so smart”. If we only praise ability, our kids won’t know what to do when their innate ability isn’t enough. Reward effort and you’ll get more effort.

Teachers and Teacher Education: The use of teachers who have specialized in elementary mathematics teaching could be a practical alternative to  increasing all elementary teachers’ content knowledge (a problem of huge scale) by focusing the need for expertise on fewer teachers.

Some CISD elementary schools have already “departmentalized” so teachers can specialize in math or science.

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