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Showing posts from January, 2017

Flaws in the Letter Grade System

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What does it mean when you get an A in a class?  I'm not asking, "What is it supposed to mean?"  I'm asking, "What does it actually mean?"  Does the "A" in Chemistry mean the same as the "A" in History?  Does the "A" in Physical Education mean the same as the "A" in English?  What does a "B" mean; what does a "D" mean?  Did you ever get an "A" in a class--middle school, high school, or college--and then brag to your friends that you didn't learn a thing?  Did you ever get an "A" or a "B" in a class and fail the final exam?  Did you know someone who consistently earned "A's" and "B's" in math classes and couldn't score over 500 on the math portion of the SATs?

Howard Pitler list four major problems with our current system of using letter grades:
There is no consistency from teacher to teacher or from school to school.  Schools an…

Why Is Teaching Mathematics So Different Than Teaching Other Subjects?

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My entire professional career has been in Secondary Mathematics.  As a middle school teacher, high school teachers, department chair, and supervisor; I have been immersed in the field of teaching and learning mathematics.  Whenever conversations arise about the instruction for very weak students or for very advanced students, there seems to always be special considerations for students when it comes to mathematics.  Principals, school counselors, and special educator alike all agree that the teaching and learning of mathematics seem to require very different skills compared to the teaching and learning of reading and history and (perhaps) other subjects.

       Keith Devlin has a relatively simple answer to this question which he explains in his paper written for the Mathematical Association of America titled, In Math You Have to Remember, In Other Subjects You Can Think About It.  Devlin explains that mathematics is often taught as a series of rules that you just have to memori…

When Learning Doesn't Happen, Who's Fault Is It?

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When something goes wrong, is it your fault or is it someone else's fault?

       You're late to work, you fail a class, you break a shoelace, you gain weight, you run out of milk.  Small things and big things; they happen every day.  Are you the kind of person that says, "It's my fault." most of the time when things go wrong; or are you the kind of person who says (essentially), "It's someone else's fault." most of the time when things go wrong.


       Maybe this isn't a fair question.  Certainly there are times when it is my fault and times when it is someone else's fault.  You can't answer such an abstract question with a definitive answer one way or the other.  Well, OK.  Maybe so.  But surely you know someone who almost never takes responsibility for anything that happens in their life.  When they are late to work; it's because of slow drivers and red traffic lights.  When they gain weight; it's because other peop…

Data, Data, Data Leading to High Achievement

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Education and learning is the result of hours of planning and hard work on the part of teachers and students.  Behind the scenes in every public school that cares about student learning, there are individual and teams of teachers that use data to make good instructional decisions.


       In years past, we only had data from chapter tests.  But since the chapter was completed and the instruction has already moved on to the next topic, this data was already "old news".  It couldn't be used to help us to make good instruction decision for right now.  Today teachers understand the power of using data to guide their decisions.  When the public hears about school data, they often think about tests results--probably because that is the most common form of data that is published in the news.  But teachers use all sorts of data that doesn't include test data.

Data-Driven Decision Making        Public school teachers measure student progress in many ways in today's cl…

Teachers Seeking Innovative Learning Strategies

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If students aren't learning, then the teacher isn't succeeding.

       This is a harsh statement.  Clearly there are lots of reasons that prevent students from learning.  Some of these reasons can be due to teacher actions in the classroom and some are outside the control of the teacher.  But the main goal of school is learning.  If the student isn't learning, than we haven't met this main goal.

       Of course, not all students learn in the same way.  When a teachers presents a lesson--be it via lecture, or a game, or discovery learning, or through the use of a task, or some combination of these methods--some students will "get it" and some will not.  And so our best teachers are constantly looking for different ways (different teaching strategies) to help students to learn.  This (indeed) is the part of teaching that very, very complex.  Trying to understand the best way to help students to learn--every student in every class--is the struggle of ever…

Three Cheers for Middle School!

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When I interview future mathematics teachers, some embarrassingly say to me, "I actually prefer to teach at the middle school level."  Then they go on to say that their parents and friends think that they are crazy to be a middle school teacher.  This is because so many people have this image of middle-school-aged children as being wild and out of control all of the time.  I hear this so often; sometimes in silly way and sometimes in a very serious way.  As a longtime educator I can tell you that this image is untrue and unfair to young teenagers.

       Middle school is great!  The excitement and energy of the students is part of the reason that middle schools are so great.  Our best middle school teachers understand how to use that energy to engage students and to foster learning.  When middle school students are respected and appropriately challenged academically, they rise to the occasion and show their best everyday.  Middle schools are the places where you have…