High School Students Who Can't Multiply and Divide

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by Galois, Oct 6, 2012.

  1. Upsadaisy

    Upsadaisy Moderator

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    Oct 7, 2012

    If the elementary math curriculum wasn't a mile wide and an inch deep, and if teachers had the leeway to teach what was really necessary for future learning (and not to pass that year's FCAT), then more 3rd graders would become proficient in multiplication and division by the end of that year.

    I taught 3rd in a private school. Teachers had total leeway. We did not prep for standardized tests. I set a date for memorization of multiplication facts to 12 and made parents aware of it. All the kids were at least moderately successfuly by the end of the year. Yes, some of them had disabilities.
     
  2. Ross

    Ross Comrade

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    Oct 8, 2012


    We could concentrate on giving the students a full understanding of the basics in math. With that understanding comes confidence in their ability to do the math work. If they have that confidence, then as they move up to more complex math problems they will know that they can succeed. If they know they can succeed in math, then they know they can succeed in other endeavors using math.

    A pox on state mandated testing that drives the math curriculum in the classroom.
     
  3. GTB4GT

    GTB4GT Cohort

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    Oct 8, 2012

    Lot's of interesting debate here centered around pedagogy.

    I am new to this field. I wonder why kids don't have to demonstrate the ability to do 3rd grade level work before moving on to 4th grade, 7th grade level work before going on to 8th grade, etc. Surely there is consensus about what a 3rd grade math student should be capable of, what an 8th grader should be able to do, etc. Preposterous right - to assume a child in the _th grade is capable of doing _th grade work.

    If we did this, we wouldn't be debating the pros and cons of various strategies to reach a student who is several years behind his/her peers.

    Because the educational process is (for the most part) run by the govenment I know simple, common sense solutions are not forthcoming.Instead the teachers will be left to deal with the situation to the best of their abilities.
     
  4. teach42

    teach42 Comrade

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    Oct 8, 2012

    I have yet to work at a school where the majority of students know their multiplication table. It is so depressing. Yes, I've worked in high need schools in the past but now I'm at a "supposedly" average school according to the rankings and it is the same situation here if not worse. What is their excuse for not being able to do this? God forbid we expect them to know basic math and know the prerequisites for the course before coming into it. The students are allowed to use calculators in elementary school. Now not only can they not do basic arithmetic, they also cannot think or reason. I thought it couldn't get any worse but I encountered students who didn't know what 2 divided by 2 is in high school. No wonder they don't understand how to solve equations when I teach it to them. I don't even know why I bother to teach. I mind as well just teach them how to punch numbers into a calculator because it's like pulling teach at this point. I'm teaching an Algebra II class that cannot remember any Algebra I and also is helpless without a calculator. It's going to be such a great year.:(

    I'm not sure what is sadder--that they can't do basic arithmetic or that they can't see why it's important to be able to do it without a calculator. None of my students seem to understand that. They just always want the easy way out. What is also sad is that teachers give up on them and just let them use a calculator for everything once they realize the students' deficits. If one teacher just took it away for a year, they would be able to change a lot.

    Completely agree with the above. I already tried assignments with my students that required higher-order thinking or exploration/discovery. It failed miserably when they didn't have the proper skill sets and foundation and vice versa.
     
  5. PolarBear

    PolarBear Rookie

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    Oct 8, 2012

    This. I work with 3rd graders in a math lab, after spending the day in a High School Study Hall working with 9th and 10th graders. Some of my third graders could run circles around some of the High Schoolers in basic math. I've even copied a multiplication table and basic orders of equations... for my HS kiddos. Granted, some of the HS students are at or above grade level, but that number is so low it's jaw-dropping.

    I have to word this carefully- our HS is in a low-demographic area. Another HS, in a high-demographic area (same District) has the assessment percentages almost reversed. All I can conclude from this is it isn't just the teacher's, or the school's fault. Without strong support at home, it's almost impossible for us to get our kids where they need to be. Or, more importantly, get them to understand why it's so important.
     
  6. McParadigm

    McParadigm Companion

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    Oct 9, 2012

    I don't doubt it.

    Aiming your frustrations in the direction of students is a lot like aiming it at parents...a big waste of time. You can't change the children's history, or their perceptions. You can't change their parents, or even their previous teachers. All you can do is determine if what you are doing is making a substantial difference or not...which is a thread in and of itself. I read a study a while back that tracked 1,500 students for three years. At the end of every single year, their teachers felt significant gains had occurred and that the students were at or near grade level. And at the beginning of the following year, their new teachers always expressed horror at how little they knew. It's not hard to think of a dozen potential reasons for this disconnect, but after I read that I always made a point of going to see my kid's next year teachers a few months into that year and see how they were doing.

    In all of the schools you've worked in? Because you made it sound like this is a recurring problem.

    Most of my work was in a low income area, where calculator use was minimal at best, and the math teachers constantly complained about the kids not knowing the most basic facts. My own children went/are going to a very nice suburban district, and I never saw or heard of a calculator in all their homework/descriptions of their in-class work....whenever I got to "teacher talking" with their teachers I heard frustrations about the general population not knowing the "basics."

    I am definitely of the mind that calculator use is not a great idea under most circumstances....but it doesn't sound like calculators are the source of all of your negative experiences, either.

    Exactly why you and I agree on calculator use. I've said before that, in my mind, one of the subject's biggest values is as an ongoing thinking and problem solving exercise.

    If they've been babied up until this point, they literally do not have the experience needed to understand why they should want anything else. You're not just working with a lack of understanding...you're up against a misperception that has been reenforced over a period of years. This is exactly the kind of scenario where emphasizing scenarios high in horizontal relevance is most valuable.

    Exploration and discovery involve skill sets all their own...initiating such a process among high schoolers who have never had a chance to nurture those skills and who are exceptionally unmotivated regarding the materials (as it sounds like they are) is counterintuitive.

    I used exploration and discovery almost exclusively, along with other features like a student-run help desk and collaborative project-based simulative scenarios. It worked incredibly well...but even at the 7th grade level I had to invest the first three weeks of school to prep, training, short practice efforts with feedback, and a gradual release of those formats.

    Constructivist approaches can't be grafted on to traditional designs or tossed in as occasional stop-gaps between lecture lessons any more than a chapter from one book can be spliced into the middle of a different novel. They require completely different backgrounds and have entirely separate things to say.

    Low income families aren't just facing a financial problem.

    Well over 50% of our base was Latino...a tremendous number of parents had received little to no education, had been forced to drop out to help family, etc. My experience was that those people were FAR more likely to feel appreciative/supportive of teachers than in the upper-middle class school I'd worked in, but that there was a combined set of problems preventing that from helping.

    By the seventh grade, most of their children were already learning things they themselves didn't understand. There was an intimidation factor to that...both in terms of shame and in a total loss as to how to help. There was often a sense of helplessness in general, as the children got older. One kid we were working with, his father had passed away some time ago. At 12, he already towered over his mom. He started staying out late, getting high with some older kids in a gang. Then he would just flat out refuse to get up in the morning. She called the police, finally, to take him to school. They ticketed her and threatened to put all her children in foster care if she couldn't get control of him. Big help, guys.

    Side note, feel free to ignore:
    when I first met my wife she was a single mother in South Dakota, working hard for peanuts. Her two kids were out of control, too...the elder was a big boy at just 11, and was dealing with a pretty intense emotional disorder. He flew off the handle one night, maybe two or three weeks after we met. He grabbed her by the throat, pushed her up against the wall, and screamed. Then he ran out the door. She called me and the police. I was at work, so I got there just as they were leaving...having ticketed her for him being out past curfew and given her a pamphlet on child abuse. So apparently that's quite the thing.

    The world is a rough room. I honestly believe that every second we spend complaining about parents is a second of our life that we have rather stubbornly wasted. You can't change them, you can't undo whatever they've done, and you don't know their whole story anyway. My hairdresser doesn't complain to me that they'd be able to better do their job if only my hair wasn't thinning. They do what they can with what's left.

    (that's a lie, I cut my own hair, and I do complain).
     
  7. teach42

    teach42 Comrade

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    Oct 10, 2012

    Yes, in all of the schools I've worked in. The problem is perpetuated in middle school and high school because teachers realize that their students don't know basic math and eventually give up. They take the easy way out and just let them use a calculator. I often wonder whether it is even worth the struggle because I'm one of the teachers in the minority in the district who doesn't allow the students to use a calculator. Why bother to make my life harder and try to fight the system? The sad thing is that the administrators can actually change it but they don't.

    I just had a meeting with a parent today and her child is one of the students who can't do basic arithmetic and is frustrated with the class. Geez, I wonder why. I would be too if I was learning advanced math and couldn't understand it because I lacked the foundation. As a parent, I would've sat there and thought why my child doesn't have the basic skills and why nothing was done all these years to help her. It's not something that just happened overnight and none of the teachers knew all these years.
     
  8. GTB4GT

    GTB4GT Cohort

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    Oct 10, 2012

    again, you are describing a sympton and not the disease. Treat the disease. Then us math teacher will be teaching students who truly are ready and capable of doing grade-appropriate work. We don't need to eat our own here, which is what the pedagogy debates appear to be.
     
  9. PolarBear

    PolarBear Rookie

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    Oct 10, 2012

    I honestly think one of the biggest things I had to get over, as a noob, was the realization that there are some things I just can't fix.
     
  10. McParadigm

    McParadigm Companion

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    Oct 11, 2012

    Even ignoring the other half of my statement...which was the addition of my own personal experience to yours and which runs pretty much in the opposite direction...you still seem to be suggesting that an entire nation of students struggling to master basic math facts boils down to the following:

    1. Calculators prevent the learning of Math facts. Not a bad premise, all by itself. But it doesn't explain the widespread prevalence of the problem unless...

    2. The majority of Math teachers allow for liberal calculator use, which when placed in conjunction with point #1 and some of your other statements of frustration, that...

    3. The majority of Math teachers are incompetent and/or lazy.

    If all three of those conditions isn't present, then your logic doesn't hold up. You get by without calculators, which means it's possible but a lot more frustrating. So the only reason for all those other Math teachers to rely heavily on them (which they must be doing in near universal numbers, for calculators to be one of the principle causes of unlearned Math facts) is that they either can't be bothered or are unable to learn how to teach otherwise. This seems like it's doing Math teachers a grave disservice. And even then, it won't explain why kids aren't learning the parts of speech, or why reading scores aren't improving. So you'd still only be defining a small part of the problem.

    It seems far more likely that the reason for all this failed learning is a lot more complex. It involves where we are as a society. It involves outside forces impacting education. And it involves the fact that, as molecular biologist and human brain development researcher John Medina put it, "If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom."

    I do think a lot of teachers get wrapped up emotionally in wanting to fix the problems, which is way beyond our ability and expertise. But we are expected to overcome them, and that can feel just as impossible.
     
  11. teach42

    teach42 Comrade

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    Oct 22, 2012

    You're assuming I said every school in the nation. The question was have I encountered it at every school I've taught at and the answer is yes. I never said it was every school in the nation so you're stretching a bit. Clearly there are top ranking schools that have brilliant students. Are you going to even attempt to fix the problem or are you going to perpetuate it? I've no idea what you're arguing anymore because you're going off on a tangent.
     

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