Thursday, April 12, 2007

A meeting of Bay Area math teachers

Dan Greene organized a meeting of Bay Area math teachers today. We were not many, but it was good. We met in a cafe in San Francisco and chatted about teaching basic skills and building classroom culture, about school administrations and useful software for math teachers. Hopefully this will develop into a bigger thing, a forum where math teachers can share ideas and materials, dissect concepts and debate how to teach them, learn more about technology from each other, and maybe find encouragement from knowing that others are struggling with similar challenges. It would make sense that there would be some kind of society of Bay Area math teachers. (Might there be one out there already? If so, it certainly is not very visible! Hello..?! Has anyone heard of such a thing?)

We also talked about elementary math instruction, and about finding ideas and resources by seeking out materials designed for K-4 teachers. Both math and English teachers in high-poverty high schools can benefit a lot from materials and staff development designed for elementary school educators. We have to teach place value and multiplication, reading and capitalization - and the pedagogical approaches designed for teaching these things are hardly dealt with in Single Subject credentialing programs. Not that these programs are generally all that helpful with grade-appropriate pedagogy either, but the point here is about where to look for what we need, and that may well be in the Multiple Subjects teachers' bags of tricks.

Given the level of skill that our students have when they enter 9th grade, one can't help wondering about what goes on in middle and elementary school classrooms. When the students enter without mastering 4th grade standards, is that due to major classroom chaos in earlier years? Long-term teacher vacancies? Lack of subject matter competency among teachers? Anything else? Maybe some time in the future a local math teacher society could have monthly meetings where elementary school teachers could get help to deepen subject matter knowledge from high school teachers, while high school teachers could get input from elementary school teachers on making foundational concepts accessible. Just a thought.

While we may be inclined to think of teaching basic skills as a bit of a hassle, Dan enthusiastically insisted that teaching his Numeracy course is a lot of fun for the instructor as well as for the students. Making remedial instruction as enjoyable as possible is certainly the way to go: Since we'll need to do a lot of it, we might as well do it cheerfully.


Anonymous said...

Snap. Sounds like a good time.

Anonymous said...

1. Poverty
2. No home support
3. Asked to "move on" in Standards before child was able to master skills
4. Teacher dealing with emotional social concerns both in class and child as well as math
5. Lack of teacher math understanding in elementary
6. LacK of salary and impetus for fine folk such as yourself to enter teaching...please transfer to said elementaries and study first hand
7. Poor adopted materials not doing what they say they can do
8. Math is a civil rights issue...seeing it as empowering likely not a group perception
9. Day is not effectively giving the subject the time it needs
10. Teaching to levels not "done" now, "whole group" DI costs teaching to individual rates
Math is self taught way too much, too much depends on home
11. Young teachers see surface....lack understandings of complexities...really
12. Both skills and concepts need to be built. This requires better materials, instructor skill than most areas in poverty provide, combined with abilities to visualize and time to acquire, make models, find alternate ways to instruct...
13. elementary teacher would ask it necessary to have such a snotty sound?
In fact our efforts are not small. When children come to you from very difficult places you build learning as you can.

How easy it is to blame...

H. said...


I am sorry about sounding as if I blame elementary school teachers for everything - I really do not mean that. What I do think is that high school and elementary teachers should meet more, to exchange information for the benefit of both parts. I have been using materials developed by elementary and middle school teachers, and my students have benefited from them - and I suspect that many an elementary math teacher would benefit from, and welcome, opportunities to develop deeper math understanding in an informal setting, as in a coffee shop on a Saturday. Also, high school teachers would likely teach better if they knew more about where the students are coming from - and elementary school teachers would likely teach better if they knew more about what their students will need to know further down the road. In other words, a society of Bay Area Math Teachers of all levels might be useful for everyone. What do you think?

In any case, you've inspired me to go and visit some elementary classrooms as soon as I have time.

Wendy Marguerite said...

I recommend visiting math classrooms at any of the seven KIPP schools in the Bay Area. These schools are designed to address the EXACT issues pointed out in Anonymous's list. Five of the schools in the Bay Area serve students in grades five through eight. The other two are new high schools. The majority of our students come to our fifth grade classrooms two or three grade levels behind—we build that in while planning the curriculum, scope and sequence for the year.

KIPP Bay Area Schools students typically come in scoring in the 40th percentile of test-takers in the country in math. In 2008, after four years at KIPP, these same students jumped to the 79th percentile.

I strongly encourage you to visit a KIPP school in the Bay Area. Better yet, apply to teach at one. Working with students to get them up to grade level—and then to surpass their grade level—is extremely challenging work. But when everyone in the building shares the belief that it can (and will) be done, it happens. Miraculously.