Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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The Missing Link



From: Adam Kernan-Schloss (adam@ksaplus.com)
Date: Wed Jan 24 2001 - 17:25:19 EST

Missing Link subscribers will be interested in this new study, underscoring
the need for better teaching of the underlying concepts of key math
topics--the focal point of this show's professional development. Adam
Kernan-Schloss, Project Director

Wednesday, January 24, 2001 |
Better Math Teaching Needed, Report Says
 Education: A long-awaited national study calls for a major overhaul, saying
that instruction in broad concepts and computation should be integrated.

By MARTHA GROVES, Times Education Writer

– A massive overhaul of math instruction in U.S. schools will be
necessary if students are to achieve the skills and understanding required
in today's high-tech world, according to a long-awaited report from the
National Research Council, released Tuesday.
– The chief goal should be to integrate the teaching of basic
computational skills with instruction in the underlying concepts of
mathematics, the report says.
– "Both of these directions are incomplete without the other," said
Jeremy Kilpatrick, a professor of math education at the University of
Georgia and chairman of the panel that wrote the report.
– Although the need for both types of knowledge might seem self-evident,
bitter battles have been waged over which to emphasize more in classrooms.
The fight has pitted traditionalists--advocates of rote and
repetition--against those who favor hands-on activities to help students
make sense of abstract concepts.
– Nowhere has the pendulum swung more fiercely than in California. After
several years of favoring a more conceptual approach, the State Board of
Education three years ago adopted standards that are more geared to basics.
They discourage, for example, the use of calculators by young children,
preferring that elementary pupils memorize such basic computational skills
as multiplication tables. The board recently approved new math textbooks
that tend to emphasize such skills.
– Many districts and schools are grappling with how to put together
curricula that meet the standards without sacrificing more abstract
thinking. The new study offers little specific help there.
– "We still don't have a lot of research pinpointing programs that work
versus those that don't," said Richard E. Mayer, a psychology professor at
UC Santa Barbara who helped write the report.
– Kilpatrick, who years ago taught math at a Berkeley middle school, said
teachers must look to the real world for help in making math seem more
relevant. "If I were a math teacher in California right now," he said, "I'd
be using the energy crisis to help kids look at big numbers like megawatts
and kilowatts and ask questions about how you would price electricity."
– The report emphasized that training for teachers will be key to
bringing students along. One problem is that many teachers themselves do not
like math and are anxious about it.
– "We have large numbers of math-phobic teachers," said Janet Nicholas, a
former member of the State Board of Education. "There's a lot of work to be
– Recognizing that many of the state's teachers are not yet up to the
task, Gov. Gray Davis has plowed millions of dollars into professional
development. His proposed budget calls for spending $830 million over the
next three years to put more than 250,000 teachers of reading and math
through intensive training and follow-up.
– The math report, called "Adding It Up: Helping Children Learn
Mathematics," was written by a 16-member committee at the request of the
National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education. The
panel's charge was to review the diverse research on math learning in
preschool through eighth grade and to recommend steps for policymakers.
– The influential National Research Council is a nonprofit institution
that provides scientific advice under a congressional charter. Three years
ago, the council helped settle the emotional battle over how best to teach
reading, coming down in favor of a balanced mix of early phonics training
and lots of reading.
– The math report's release is timely. After years of emphasis on
reading, math has been moving toward center stage of the national
education-policy debate.
– The report recommends that the nation groom all students to be
"mathematically proficient," mastering much more than disconnected facts and
procedures. That goal, the report says, "is an extremely ambitious one" that
can be achieved only with systematic modifications to math instruction and
new kinds of support for teachers and students.
– Among other recommendations in the report:
– * Beginning in preschool, educators should offer students the chance to
extend their rudimentary comprehension of numbers.
– * In subsequent years, the curriculum should link calculations to
everyday situations to help students make connections. Numbers and
operations should be illustrated in different ways. For example, one-half
could be shown as a fraction, a decimal or a percentage.
– * Educators should teach important concepts in depth, rather than
covering a multitude of topics superficially.
– * Significant time should be devoted to daily math instruction in every
grade of elementary and middle school.
– * Exams should be carefully designed to test students' progress.
– * To help prepare teachers, colleges should create programs that
emphasize thorough knowledge of math and the different ways that children
learn the subject. On the job, schools should give teachers more time and
resources to maintain or acquire understanding of math and improve teaching
– * More scientific research should be conducted on the many new math
programs to see which ones are most effective.

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