Sunday, February 24, 2013

Is it the job of technical schools, 2 years colleges and state schools to help students through math?

I recently read an article that says a post secondary degree is becoming the new HS diploma for getting a job (degree deflation).  So as good jobs disappear for people with only HS degrees, we see everyone talk about worker retraining -- get them back to school to get the skills for the jobs of today.  And I think that is great, and I agree.

But what responsibility does the technical school/college have to getting students through math.  We often talk about secondary schools providing opportunity, a student must choose to work and do well.  But with most remedial math students (and especially non-traditional students) it is not a choice, they have not done well with math at the HS level and instead of realizing that, our secondary institutions demand more math, faster, at a higher level of performance than HS.  Now I agree high schools must do better but I don't agree with institutions that decide to 'help' but really are entering for profit or pseudo-profit.

What I mean is once you tell prospective students that you can lead them to better training thus to better jobs you have a commitment to that student.  That student is paying for a service.  When you then place students into remedial math courses that as an institution you know only have a 40-50% pass rate you are doing a disservice.  Especially with non-traditional students.  Only in our secondary education system can you look at a 50% pass rate and blame the students.

I am not saying we teach less, but once you run into a wall a few times, shouldn't you look for a door?  Should we look at how we are teaching, how do we expect students who have never mastered numeracy to quickly do that in a few weeks, so we can do lines, expressions and quadratics?  I believe these are skills that a student should master but is the current system correctly doing that; with so many non-traditional students that have not used math skills for so long that they have lost them repeatedly taking remedial math I think the answer is no.  Yet tech schools and colleges advertise themselves as centers of opportunity, get your loan, come on in, we will help....   And sure they offer tutoring, but that is within the context of the existing secondary math curriculum, if you can't keep up, don't worry the institution will still cash your check.

Only in education could you get away with this, blaming the customers (actually failing customers who try).  They have their expectation completely set by their K-12 experience.  Except in HS they somehow got through.  I know many non traditional students studying tens of hours per week in their quest to become non-STEM people.  They face their math fears dead on, as the course sprints forward.  The courses demanding that the skill of distribution learned last week, be mastered to the point to use with equations this week and next week lines.

In 6-12 grade math those subjects and their expected mastery are spread out over years versus weeks.  Yet we teach math the same way at tech schools and colleges as was done in 6-12 grade where the remedial student failed to get mastery but now we expect different results.  Really?   I know a 12 year old more easily learns than a 42 year old (I am reminded about that every day my son and I try to remember a new skill).

Our society needs educated people to maintain our leadership in the world.  We need to be constantly educating our people.   But we need an educational system that works!  Only in education would we say we have a 50% failure rate and believe the answer is more of the same, more courses, more instructors, more repeating!  And when the non-traditional student fights through their 2 remedial courses and 1 course for credit math (usually thinking D for Degree), are they better math students?  Will they apply those skills in the world?  Or did they simply memorize enough to get through.....  What is the purpose?

While some students do just need remedial math as it sits (looks like about 50%).  The rest need something different.  The courses need to meet more, cover less material and push them to success.  I realize I am adding a course, hours and staff; it would take 3 remedial courses versus 2, because the same material must be learned.  Courses need to meet 6 hours per week versus 3 hours.  Less lecture, more guided learning, set lab hours with tutors at a 1 to 8 ratio, we must help students to understand the math.  It is a radical suggestion, but we have a horrific problem, 50% failure.

Yet tech schools and colleges expand, under the disguise of providing opportunity, encouraging students to come back and learn today's skills, they'll help....   Right now they just cash the check....

Friday, February 22, 2013

Videos - just keep posting....

Just gotta keep posting....  That should be my mantra with math videos.  It is so easy tape a concept or skill and so easy to forget to....

Today I recorded a quick 5 minute intro to finding volume about the y-axis in Calculus.  Nothing stellar, but a video that my students can watch again when trying to do problems for practice.  I try to cover ideas too, but it is a skill video.

The big thing is to remember to record!  Not to worry about quality but to just keep getting the videos out there.

My next big thing is to figure an easy way to record myself at home doing skills -- some sort of screen capture, but not using the mouse...  Drop a comment if you have a good idea....

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Common Core - Literacy in All Subjects

Had inservice Friday, it was well planned by our Language Arts people, looking at the Common Core Literacy Standards.  It was interesting to sit through the day and think about how to get my students to read and write more math.    At the end of the day I found standards for presenting, discussing and collaborating.  So my idea to add some literacy standards to my curriculum was to add a presentation on a compound interest project (exponential growth) that my Pre-Calculus students do.  Nothing exciting - but a small step - a continuous improvement step...

Here is the link

How Much... Lesson 4

Monday, February 11, 2013

College Professor Warning....

So my wife forward me an article with a retiring teacher 'apologizing' for the little drone test takers that K-12 education is creating:

A warning to college profs from a high school teacher

Overall I feel this retiring teacher's pain, but I do not accept his case that there is nothing that can be done, that the people at the top (who are woefully ignorant) control a teacher's classroom.  Though I will admit, right now, that it is hard to not end up in a 'teach to the test' quandary.

I believe we educators must scream for reason.  We must create the best students possible!  Our end product is not measured on test, but a student's success 8 to 10 years after HS graduation!  I know that the "high stakes testing/accountability" people are like a pillbox of machine guns, and our jobs as teachers is to attack that pillbox.  While attacking we do not want to be carelessly mowed down, but to take on the enemy and do what is best.  When we get results from our students, they will test ok - even when we don't cover everything - so long as we create problem solvers and life-long learners.  We must plan the best curriculum, knowing the end goal, and make sure we are continuously improving (a concept I often used in my past career).

I also have the advantage of being the only math teacher in district, having control of the K-12 curriculum and having the school board and administration's trust that we are doing the "right" things.  Meaning I teach the skills they need for college/career, and let the test scores handle themselves.  I do agreed that if a teacher is not reflective it is easy to feel the pressure of tests and perhaps teach to it.

As a math teacher I do set aside about 20% of my class time to skills, I believe students need numeracy and recursive practice to maintain previous mastered concepts/skills.  But I do not teach to the test, and when I talk to neighboring math teachers I almost always find myself doing less topics or lessons - and usually having better test results.  That is a result of doing what is right for the students conceptually, creating problem solvers with a solid toolbox of math skills.

So the battle is here, let them test, but when we look at the skills, concepts and traits our students need let us not use the test as a curriculum guide but let us use our end product (a successful student a decade after HS graduation).  Let us not accept creating drones, let's attack the pillbox, be student centered and do what is right.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Numeracy, Accountability - The teacher's balancing act

Without numeracy, math just does not happen....   At conferences I often hear teachers discuss the problem of students hitting High School without the basic skills  - cannot add fractions, cannot do integers, etc.  Quickly the conversation often leads to a comment like "I can't teach fractions, I don't have time."   This is when I know we will probably are going to have a "discussion."

The way I view my job is to take each student on their individual journey, that means differentiation.  It means starting with fractions or integers if that is where the student is at.  And lets think about it - how can a student who can't handle fractions with numbers handle abstract fractions - if they cannot add 1 1/2 + 3 1/3 without a calculator how can they handle a/b + c/(b+1)????

But you can't give a ton of class time -- that I do agree with.  You always review some, but then there needs to be a student accountability system to help them get it.  What I mean is - we, the teachers, need to find a way to make sure the students learn -- and remember grades are not a motivator -- unless it is the choice between an F and D (and even that does not always work).  And we also know simple giving Fs does not make students learn.

They need to be pushed, encouraged, coherised, whatever - our job is to get them the skills and make sure they still know them years later so they can use in college math, or in their career.  That takes a team effort at a recursive curriculum.  Half my Algebra 1 grade is 8th grade and down material.  Half my Geometry grade is Algebra 1 & down, and so on.

But my thoughts now are focused on the student who does  not have numeracy.  Those students, the ones who are truly focused on learning, become tremendously frustrated.  They understand algebra, the idea of balancing equations - but rarely get the correct answer.  They try check, try, check,.....  Come in and ask - they will have 10 problems, 8 they cannot get the solution for, and all 8 have mistakes like -12 - 4 = 8  or  -2*3 = 6. 

So we cannot move on, in a school, in a class, or in a lesson without making numeracy as necessity....

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Traditional/Reform Math Balance -- Stop the Pendulum!

Well - today was the Wisconsin ACT conference.  I been looking hard at my data for about week and the presentation went well today!

Not only was I able to show what Juda has been doing to improve math scores, but I really feel like I am walking between the traditional and reform math - I am nearly dead center between the peaks of the pendulum swing of reform math and traditional.  Taking a little of both and making it work.

The crux of my presentation is using the ACT low band standards to create reoccurring quizzes coupled to student expectation/accountability to  raise ACT scores.  The presentation walks the 3 year path I have taken to raise scores.  The data is pretty good too!  I show a good correlation between the changes that have been done to raise ACT scores from 21.2 (ish) to 22.6 (ish) -- {with R^2 value of 0.68}.

The results are good, it is definitely the traditional thought of math taking about 20 minutes per week to have recursive quizzes that are majority of a student's math grade; but as I finished I dearly wished for more time in my speech today at the ACT conference to describe the other 180 minutes of my class per week.  The mixture of concepts, discovery and large projects with multiple answers (the reform side).

I also think the reason there is success at Juda is the continuous improvement approach we are taking in the math program.  Never moving too fast, doing incremental change with target improvement goals always in the front of our team's mind.  I am very excited now to make the next step.  I really believe we are on our way for another full point of improvement in the next year.  So basically from 21 to 23.5 - that is a 10 percent improvement!  At the same time more of the students are prepared for college credit math.....

So today was a good day, a day to "bask" a little.  But I hope people see it and can use it too.  'Cause as math instructors we need to stop the chaos of the huge pendulum swings - we need to map the plans and make the improvements.