Saturday, February 2, 2008

Making Sense Out of The Current State of Mathematics in U.S. Schools

Making Sense Out of the Current State of Mathematics in US Schools
Presented by Zal Usiskin
University of Chicago

Zal Usiskin from the University of Chicago related his drive from the airport using his navigation system (blindly following a given set of directions through an unfamiliar maze of streets) as similiar to the students' faith in their teacher as they guide them through mathematics. Just like us, students like to see and explore what is along the way. He also noted that there are several roads and no one road is the best for everyone.

Some key points made by Mr. Usiskin:
  • Technology can help students learn - not learn first and then use technology.
  • There are many different standards out there, how do we decide which to use?
  • We need to have a benchmark or starting point to judge our progress - 96% success does seem as good if 97% was achieved the year before.
  • With more students taking higher levels of math, (24% of 8th graders were taking Algebra or Pre-Algebra in 1981 while 71% are doing the same in 2007) some key challenges face math teachers. We have to motivate students who are not self-motivated by: keeping them engaged, making connections to earlier learning, providing practice with test situations, giving quick feedback, and using technology.

Some positives:

  • National Scores are increasing.
  • 4th grade students today know 2 years more worth of math than 4th graders in 1973.
  • SAT and ACT scores in Math are increasing although Verbal scores are declining.
  • There is a greater variety of math materials available.

Some Negatives:

  • The performance gap between ethnic groups is still at the same level as 15 years ago.
  • There is a gap in what is offered at various schools based on demographics.
  • Teaching has become more difficult due to conflicting expectations.
  • Economic status is still a major issue.

Some irrational:

  • All children cannot be average or above average. Grade level is the average level of all children in a certain grade. Therefore, all children cannot be at grade level or above grade level.
  • Moving students to different schools will increase performance by raising average scores.
  • Continued growth indefinitely.

Some Imaginary:

  • Comparing our scores to different cultures and expecting the same results.
  • Calling our cirriculum a mile wide and an inch deep can be viewed in different ways.

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