McKinsey Global Institute recently published a report about automation in the US and its effect on the job market. It shows that there will be a drop in demand for labor with secondary or less education (due to Artificial Intelligence, robots, and other automation), and a jump in demand for a college-educated workforce.

Therefore, teachers will be expected to continue to make a push for college readiness to fulfill the market demand. However, according to The Nation's Report Card only 25% of students performed at or above proficient level in math on the most recent assessment. Another report says, "only about a third of U.S. high school seniors are prepared for college-level coursework in math and reading." There is no evidence that this trend is improving, and in 2016, Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, confirmed: “The decline is real."

It may look like a problem of high-school education, sometimes referred as the “Algebra Crisis.” If we look at the research, it has roots in early learning. Alan Schoenfeld from University of California, along with Deborah Stipek from Stanford University, analyzed data from Early Childhood Longitudinal Study by National Center for Education Statistics, and concluded that

Not only do students in the lowest quartile remain there, but the gap between them and their peers widens. By 8th grade, they performed at a level their peers had surpassed by grade 5.

George Duncan from Northwestern University has reported it is early math that’s key for later academic achievement (Duncan et al. (2007)). According to the study, the strongest predictors of later achievement are school-entry math readiness, reading, and attention skills.

This correlates with another topic which is currently under the scrutiny of researchers, and familiar to many educators. Mindset, ‘a core belief about how they [people] learn’, is a term offered by Carol Dweck. According to her findings, there are two types of mindsets determining, but not limiting, a person's ability for intellectual development. The first one, known as fixed mindset, is formed when a person does not believe he or she can do better. It limits a student and makes stem stagnete. This could be caused by educational trauma or by a negative influence of environment.

The opposite to it is a growth mindset, when healthy self-esteem and confidence implicitly affect educational pathway and helps learners to move forward. A growth mindset can be present in any student, regardless of previous achievements, family status or academic background. ‘When people change their mindsets and start to believe that they can learn to high levels, they change their learning pathways (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007) and achieve at higher levels.’

Stanford professor, Jo Boaler, has been working on growth mindset when it comes to teaching math, to include creating great resources available for the teachers to foster growth mindset in their students. Boaler also reported how wrong messages affect early learners, especially girls. In childhood - as young as 5 years old, without knowing the subjects yet - students are exposed to the wrong messages, such as “We are not really a math family,” or “I was never good at math, ask your dad.” These types of math messages impact student, creating negative, often fixed, mindsets in mathematics learning. These messages begin early in education. Summing up the research, college math readiness is an issue - not only because there is an Algebra crisis, but because there is also a primary math crisis.

#math #Elementary

15 comments

428 views

Negative perceptions of math are often driven not by the subject itself, but by an “I’m not a math person” kind of mindset. Research from Jo Boaler and Carol Dweck tell us that this affects students as young as 5 years old. Also, we know that “I’m not a math person” is fiction, without any basis in science. Luckily, educators across the country are changing this stigma, and hopefully soon, “I’m not good at math” will be as strange a statement as “I’m not good at reading.”

As for your thoughts about the abstract nature of math and need for outstanding resources and tools, check out my response to David B. :-)

David, I see your point -- I have similar conversations all the time: teachers and educators want to see how hands-on exploration and math modeling will help with tests that are procedurally-oriented.

The way I respond is by showing that

Just because the assessment is composed of abstract addition facts doesn’t mean that drilling students on abstract addition facts is the best approach. Here’s an example of how students can practice an addition fact with solid context and meaning behind it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I69PTocXwgw

In this video, building the model comes first to establish context for the addition fact that is composed afterward.

The challenge of this approach is the appropriate use of manipulatives -- using manipulatives in a way that will build meaning behind math and connect to abstract thinking.

And I believe that technology is what will help teachers meet this challenge, especially when we are not only expecting hands-on learning, but also that it is tailored to each individual student’s needs (differentiating instruction is important).

-------

In this vein, here’s a recent case study made together with educators from NJ:

https://blog.happynumbers.com/hitting-math-benchmarks-in-k-2-case-study/

The case study questions whether mind-growing lessons that focus on conceptual understanding lead to success on abstract tests that only measure procedural fluency.

Some thoughts on the problems.

1. Teacher lack of confidence and/or dislike of the subject communicates to the student, no matter how zealous the teacher is about not communicating the lack of confidence or dislike. Similarly, parental attitudes on the subject are communicated to the students ("Oh, I was never very good at math." has just given the student permission to not be good at math.)

2. The vast majority of the school systems have not developed a means of addressing deficits in mathematics. The systems have been in place for reading for years. We do not do the same for mathematics.

3. We are demanding too much of our elementary teachers as far as lesson planning. Good, complete, detailed lesson plans are available for K-8 mathematics (for example the jumpmath.org teacher binders). Objectives, detailed rationals, lists of materials, instructions for manipulatives, leading questions, hand gestures, expansion activities, etc. For every single lesson!!!! Stop having every teacher have to reinvent the wheel. Give them an outstanding resource that they can modify.

4. In the haste to embrace the "practical" uses of mathematics, we (the math community) seem to have forgotten the abstract nature of the material, and the need to really learn the methods and rules. A prime example of this is long division. In Algebra II, we address diving rational expressions using algebraic long division. This is suppose to scaffold onto long division from fourth grade. The numbers in my classes have been getting steadily worse, to the point that close to 80% of my juniors no longer remember how to do a long division problem. There are many other topics where the student retention of the material is also bad.

Teacher accountability models and rubrics for grading schools are tied to standardized test scores, and this results in higher stakes for the teachers and administrators than for the students. Perverse incentives are now in place that reward short-term performance at the expense of developing a strong foundation for future math learning. The year-on-year obsession with "learning gains" is big business for computer-based test preparation, computer-based practice, and even computer-based lesson instruction. Much of this preparation, practice and instruction is focused on performing computations and not developing conceptual understanding.

I have enjoyed following this thread, and I appreciate the engagement by Evgeny around clarifying possible questions and / or commenting and sharing insight. While the focus of the post has specific research around what is happening, and perhaps when, along learning trajectories - I can't help but wonder about bigger ideas shared in the most recent post: *"There is a solution. It starts with teaching fraction arithmetic operations within a meaningful context and without resorting to memorized rules. Rules taught and practiced through hands-on experiences in the same way that whole number operations were taught, practiced, and, most importantly, mastered."*These ideas are heavily supported by NCTM Principles to Actions and the teaching and learning beliefs we hold (specific to mathematics). Which then lead to the 8 Math Teaching Practices (not to be confused with the CCSS Mathematical Practices). Good stuff all around, and I think - if I 'm reading and following correctly - we are all in agreement here! Keep the conversation going!

Megan

Conceptual understanding of fractions and operations using them is important and thus, no surprise, it affects success with algebra. And indeed, the “rules” / shortcuts for operations with fractions (remember those butterflies drawings to help remember those rules? ufff...) are harming the learners instead of leading them to explore and understand the meaning behind the math.

Instead of drawing butterflies, students could model fractions (and later operations with them) using a number line, tape diagrams, and area model. Thus, it’s important that before it’s time to learn fractions, students are able to use a number line, tape diagram, and area model as a tool -- and this comes in PK-2, when students are working with whole numbers. That’s why it’s important not to limit modeling just to such (great) manipulatives as base-ten blocks and fingers, but also extend it toward modeling with drawings and geometric shapes.

Research by Seigler, et. al, (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797612440101), and Brown & Quinn (https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ776592), among others, cite difficulty with fraction arithmetic operations as a primary cause of later difficulty with algebra. Difficulty with algebra leads to difficulty with all of the math that follows. The poor test scores recorded at the college and high school levels are indicative of the fact that these students haven't mastered the fundamental concepts that they saw repeatedly throughout middle and high school. Practically every topic in my daughter's "college algebra" course is just a rehashing of what is taught in middle school and beginning of high school: Mostly pre-algebra and algebra with a dash of algebra 2.

In my reading of the research, the problem lies in the transition from whole number operations to operations with fractions--which is soon followed by integers (negatives), and, eventually, irrational, and complex numbers. Prior to the introduction of fraction operations, students have learned and mastered whole number operations over the course of many years including in pre-school and at home. Much of this early learning was through hands-on experiences and took place in authentic contexts that gave meaning to the numbers and purpose to the operations. Whether manipulatives were employed or not, all of these early calculations involving whole numbers could have been easily modeled and confirmed with physical objects and representative sketches to improve understanding, correct misconceptions and instill confidence both in the choice of the operation to perform and in the result.

Contrast the learning of whole number operations with the manner in which we generally teach fraction operations. Or, operations with integers. These are taught primarily through abstract rules for students to memorize. Rules that are very different from whole number operations. Rules that are easily confused and misapplied. Rules that are presented in quick succession without the abundance of time or hands-on experiences that were allotted to practicing and mastering the rules governing whole numbers. This is the crux of the problem.

For many students, mathematics beyond 4th grade is nothing more than a collection of confusing and contradictory rules that are used to manipulate numbers for no apparent reason. Bogus "real-world" and "application-type" problems that are completely foreign to students' lives add confusion instead of aiding understanding. It's no wonder that one of the most repeated question in math classrooms is: "When I am

There is a solution. It starts with teaching fraction arithmetic operations within a meaningful context and without resorting to memorized rules. Rules taught and practiced through hands-on experiences in the same way that whole number operations were taught, practiced, and, most importantly, mastered. It continues with placing the focus of fraction operations on the critical role of factors. Prime factors in particular--despite their near absence from the CCSS. Everything learned about prime factors with proper instruction in fractions transfers directly to operations with powers, roots and polynomials in algebra.

Interested in a brief preview of how this approach can work? Check out this link to a blog post I wrote for Didax in support of the revolutionary new manipulative I have created: http://www.didax.com/blog/prime-factors-for-fraction-success/

For your question related to measuring college readiness in math -- I referred to NAEP because:

1) According to the National Assessment Governing Board, "NAEP should report 12th grade students’ readiness for college-credit coursework."

2) Also according to the National Assessment Governing Board, "NAEP/SAT linking study for mathematics, the average NAEP score for 12th grade students scoring at the SAT college readiness benchmark for mathematics was 163, which is lower than NAEP's Proficient cut score of 176. Percentage of students scoring at or above a score of 163 on the Grade 12 NAEP scale in mathematics is a plausible estimate of the percentage of students who possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities in mathematics that would make them academically prepared for college. A score of 163 in mathematics is between the cut scores for the Basic and Proficient achievement levels in 12th grade mathematics. In 2013, 39% of 12th graders nationally scored at or above 163 in mathematics."

So while the % depends on the cut, and finding the "right" cut is the question, the NAEP assessment result is a plausible way to measure the dynamics over the years and see it decline or improve.

---

For your question on individualized instruction: It's not about some students getting more/less instruction than others, it's about them getting different instruction. As I mentioned in my previous comment, this subject needs another post(s), but getting a bit upfront -- there are studies showing that an individualized model of instruction benefits all students compared to a one-lesson-fits-all model.

I appreciate and enjoy your engagement in the conversation -- thanks for taking the time!

To answer your first question about the criteria for (math) college readiness, this data comes from the most recent assessment by the National Assessment of Educational Progress: https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/

If you check it out, you can see that only ¼ of the students performed at or above proficient level by the end of high school.

---

Regarding the gap remaining through K-8, there is some evidence that this gap could be improved by individualizing instruction for each student. I’ll write a separate post on this later, but here’s something to think about:

Research shows that there is no such thing as a math / non-math person. All kids have abilities to perform in math. It’s about fostering it correctly. For example: the average tutored student scored higher than 98% of students taught in a conventional classroom. This was reported by Professor Bloom in 1984 showing the power of personalized learning.

I agree, students will perform differently, but with such huge differences? No educator wants to see a 3-year lag between the lower quartile in the class and the middle two quartiles (to say nothing of the upper quartile achieving this level 5 years prior!)

First, do we have any agreed upon criteria for (math) college readiness? I'm not quite sure.

Second, in some ways, it seems reasonable that the gap remains through K-8. Even if we have a set of wonderful curriculum and a cadre of great teachers, if "low" students learn so much, you would think "high" students would learn just as much - unless we put an arbitrary ceiling. I guess what we are aiming for is that even "low" students are performing at a higher level than they currently are.

Finally, in part responding to Carlotte's comment, a part of an issue in (K-8) teacher education may be that colleges/universities are not requiring appropriate mathematics content courses for prospective K-8 teachers. Taking College Algebra/Precalculus/Calculus does not necessarily prepare them to be better K-8 mathematics teachers. A lot of schools requires prospective teachers to take "math for elementary teachers," but common textbooks for those courses may not be hitting the target.

Indeed, professional development for teachers is very important -- and it’s great that schools and districts are investing in it, ensuring the elementary classroom experience is a deeper dive into math understanding, and thus preparation for algebra.

In addition to school/district efforts, thanks to the Internet, there are many opportunities right now for PD -- such as this community, Twitter, blogs, webinars, etc. -- and most of it is free!

When I opened up the math section, I was shocked that so many people were retaking it. I had taught 4th-6th grade in NJ, concentrating on teaching math. My top 6th grade students could easily pass the math section of the CSET. Here is where one of the biggest problems in k-8 math is found: Teacher Preparation.

Years before, I worked as a Sixth Grade General Studies Teacher in

Something strange happened when I started teaching math. I actually decided I like it. So, I took a math placement exam at the local community college and did well enough to place into the engineering level Calculus track, something I could have done years before.

I was moved into my former NJ district's Blue Ribbon School, which had/has an amazing math program (pre-high school). I became an Elementary Specialist and I worked with talented Math Specialists. The best part is that there was block scheduling so, there were at least three days where we could deeply focus on math content.

Right now, as I read your blog, I want to scream. My son attends an SFUSD high school. This California District does not want students to take Algebra before grade 9. It is ridiculous. My son is allowed to sign up for an online geometry course this summer or he can spend 5 hours a day over the summer taking Geometry so he can be on target for Calculus before he graduates high school--the district does NOT care how

I also think the CCSS' treatment of fractions and decimal numbers are rather ineffective. I would rather introduce decimal numbers first, develop arithmetic with decimal numbers based on whole number arithmetic. Because decimal numbers are simply an extension of whole number (decimal) notation, the same place-by-place approach works for addition and subtraction. With multiplication and division, students can make use of properties of multiplication and division to use their prior learning of whole number arithmetic. Fractions can come after students' learning of decimal numbers. Students then can build their understanding of fractions on their knowledge of decimal numbers.

In theory, the order can be reversed - fractions first, then decimals. However, in the CCSS, fractions are introduced first, but then students are expected to learn decimal arithmetic before they complete their study of fraction arithmetic. I think we are making learning of these ideas more difficult by putting these topics in a rather incoherent sequence.