In the introductory article for this new series, I discussed the 3 components necessary to accomplish an improvement in Algebra success. Component One deals with creating a pre-school math foundation. Component Two deals with giving parents of Algebra students the skills and confidence to help their children with Algebra. This article goes into detail about Component Three: Increasing The Effectiveness Of High School Algebra Education. We will be looking at what kinds of things we can still do in the classroom that can have a positive impact on our Algebra students.
Teachers today are better prepared than at any other time in history! I wish everyone knew that rather than believing what they hear in the media. Our knowledge of what it takes for students to learn is many times greater than when I was preparing to become a teacher. The bad press that education is constantly receiving is exactly that–BAD PRESS, not fact. The general public believes that all of education is deteriorating because the publicity says so–over and over. If it is said enough times, people believe it. Public education is better now than it has ever been. Unfortunately, the people in power are using antiquated concepts to judge educational skills that are not antiquated, and they are using defective tools (NCLB) to judge educational results. The conclusions these people make have no merit.
Saying all that about education in general, however, does not change that fact that we truly have a problem with Algebra education. A 50% failure rate says SOMETHING is very wrong. We will not change things with new testing. That’s been tried. We will not change things with new teaching methods. That’s been tried. We will not change things with new textbooks full of new approaches. History is full of changes in mathematical philosophy. We have even started to repeat some of them. So, what’s the answer?
I believe that Component One is critical to increasing success in all of mathematics. Component Two will begin the process of helping with Algebra sooner than waiting for the first component to be in place. In all honesty, until the other two components are in place, we can’t expect to see too much change on the high school level except for a couple areas. If we can remove the heavy testing load and the constant emphasis on mastery of a few skills rather than problem solving, we will begin to see the major improvements our new skills can create.
The other area that can impact Algebra success deals with our students’ attitudes and beliefs. The realities of life have changed drastically for them and they aren’t even aware of the changes. Sadly, Algebra education has been slow to respond to these changes as well. Four years of high level math being required for graduation is a monumental change. The math requirement–a college degree–for a global economy is a monumental change. The problems that now exist for students to graduate from college in even 6 years is a monumental change. None of these issues affected those of us over the age of 25. These are all historically VERY NEW ISSUES. Our high school freshmen are oblivious to their existence. They certainly don’t know how to avoid them.
Algebra teachers all have the teaching skills needed for Algebra student success. You don’t need me giving you teaching strategies. (Unless I come across something really unique and powerful in my research.) What we aren’t doing enough is explaining to our freshmen the harsh realities these life changes can cause, and we are not giving them ways to avoid the pitfalls. More students would be successful if they understood that they MUST BE SUCCESSFUL NOW! Many freshmen think it is no big deal to fail a class–they have lots of time to make it up. They still think they don’t need math to be successful. They don’t understand the harsh impact that even failing one semester of math can have on their future. I know we tell our students some of these things…once. But once is not enough.
This is where this new series comes into play. The purpose of this series is to provide you with topics for class discussions, or skills that need to be mastered that are not ordinarily part of Algebra, or concerns to be watching for, techniques that improve success, problem areas to avoid, etc., that students need to have ingrained into their brain. And, yes, I will tell you how to find to time. Again, I want to stress that I will NOT be telling you how to teach. I will be providing ideas, facts, or skills that should have a major positive impact on the students.
In conclusion, it will take all three components working together successfully to see any major change to the positive. Remember, though, that every single student is important. If a tip or a technique or an idea helps even one student, then it is worth doing!