(Bill Hanlon) – We really have to stop making math hard for students to learn. For the last 35 years Nevada has experienced a documented shortage of math teachers. The result of that is students are not receiving the knowledge, skills, understanding or the applications of math necessary to be successful in math.
That’s probably going to get worse with district forcing teachers into scripted programs, good teachers won’t put up with that nonsense and will leave the district.
Districts, like Clark County, buy books or programs to try and “teacher proof” what is taught because they have little or no confidence in their teachers. They adopt a program so they can tell the community they are doing something about our poor student achievement – their actions are nothing more than a CYA that might fool local chambers of commerce – but not the students experiencing these shortfalls.
While I have never seen a book or program that does everything, the CCSD’s new program is three pronged and still MATH LITE because the program, like other purchased programs they bought, has shortcomings. They, not following state law, are trying to require teachers to use the program they purchased, plus a second computerized program, and then a third video program. Then on top of that, not only are the teachers being told how much time to spend on each topic per week – regardless of student knowledge and understanding, they are also being told to “conference” with each student using a district script about test scores.
Let’s be real clear, like the principals evaluating and supervising teachers, central administrators making these decisions have little or no knowledge or understanding of math. Ignorance is bliss.
How does the district make learning more difficult for students? These programs leave out concepts and skills students need to know to be successful as they continue in their study of math. For instance, the division algorithm, which used to be taught in 4th grade – now in 6th, is used for dividing polynomials in algebra, for synthetic division, and for synthetic substitution when either graphing, developing patterns, mental math or solving higher degree equations using the Rational Root Theorem. That algorithm is either not being taught now or not emphasized.
While there are multiple ways of finding common denominators, the Reducing Method is not in the current programs. That’s the method that should be used when the denominators are larger composite numbers and makes finding common denominators and adding fractions a lot easier.
The same algorithms that should be emphasized in elementary grades 3, 4, 5 and 6 for adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing should be used in initial instruction for those operations in algebra. Where are those linkages? The biggest changes that occur in math from elementary to secondary school math is vocabulary and notation.
Too many concepts are currently taught in isolation, without linking them, teachers are not provided opportunities to review, reinforce topics and are not provided the opportunities to address student deficiencies as they teach their assigned curriculum. Whether linking solving equations to the Order of Operations or linking adding decimals to fractions: you know, lining up the decimal points and filling in zeros is finding a common denominator and making equivalent fractions, adding the numbers is adding the numerators, and bringing down the decimal point is bringing down the denominator. Linking concepts makes students a lot more comfortable learning math because they are familiar with the language.
We often see the Pythagorean Theorem, Distance Formula, Equation of a Circle and trig identity cos2x + sin2x = 1 as separate topics, being taught in isolation, so students don’t know they are all the same formula, just written differently because they are being used in different contexts.
Seldom do I see algebraic progressions introduced as just plain skip counting – that would make it so much easier for the students to understand and learn.
Other fundamental skills in math include factoring polynomials, rather than using a systematic approach like Dividing Out Primes to find all the factors and sums of the constants, students are left to guessing. That just makes math frustrating.
In addition to these issues, the “programs” do not introduce new topics using simple, straight-forward examples that work, that don’t distract student learning with needless arithmetic. Neither do they do a good job of providing scaffolding examples so when there are variations to problems, they can readily see how to address them. Linking, using nice numbers, seeing patterns develop just makes math so much easier to learn.
We know the importance of math, students cannot be successful in science, engineering or technology without it. We also better understand the importance of teachers – programs are only as good as the teachers using them. And teachers are pushing back at these mandates and will walk when forced to use something that is not in the best interest of their students.
And finally, teachers are already experiencing low morale with the CCSD’s no consequence policies; grading, safety, and health insurance. Now they are told not to use their professional judgement to address the individual needs of your sons and daughters – their students. That will be just another reason why teachers who really know math and how to teach it will leave the district rather than be scripted like idiots. Those purchased programs should be used as supplementary resources.
It’s past time to break up this school district.
Mr. Hanlon is former Director of the Southern Nevada Regional Professional Development Program, a noted speaker, author, educator, consultant and coach for schools. He was also the coordinator of Clark County School District’s Math/Science Institute and was also responsible for K-12 math audits. He served on the Nevada State Board of Education, Regional Director of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) and as a member of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) States Partnership Board.