CLEARFIELD – Like the others state- and nation-wide, students at the Clearfield Area High School struggle with mathematics, leading district administrators to research and subsequently implement new instructional strategies.
In the US, more students fail mathematics than any other subject area. Most adults also admit to lacking these skills. However, mathematics has become prevalent in everyday professions and new technology, and a need exists to increase mathematical skills and thinking, said Bruce Nicolls, director of curriculum and instruction.
According to Nicolls, Algebra I is the “gateway class” and opens the possibilities for students. But US mathematics instruction ranks 25th internationally, and teaching methods aren’t necessarily to blame. Instead, it’s believed they’re not effective for half or more of the students.
Nicolls said in Japan, mathematics instruction separates the students and the teacher. For example, the teacher presents a problem and allows the students to work through it and present ideas or solutions. The teacher then engages the students in class discussions of the same.
In Germany, the teacher “owns” the mathematics instruction, showing the students specific skills/concepts. The teacher follows by solving example problems before allowing students to practice and assisting any student in need of help.
“Here, it’s just memorizing steps. But is it important to know the process, the steps, or is it better to have an understanding of it all,” he said. Nicolls said the district’s lower class levels utilize the “Everyday Mathematics” curriculum, which is concept-based.
“We lose it then (at the high school level), and it’s a concern for us. The high school scores more around 50 percent proficient in mathematics on the state tests. We’re taking a look at ways to approach math differently.”
Assistant Principal Tim Janocko expressed dissatisfaction with the high school’s scores on the state tests, such as the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA). Teachers have worked hard to do the best job, he said.
He believed as a state and a nation, educators needed to “think outside the box,” while the current instructional strategies for mathematics simply aren’t working.
During a math training seminar, Bald Eagle Area Superintendent Daniel F. Fisher invited Janocko to observe their mathematics courses. High and middle school teachers went with him, sitting in and afterward debriefing mathematics strategies used there with the BEA teachers.
According to him, their staff recommended “Chicago Mathematics,” while it’s worked well for them. At Clearfield, he would like to see it instituted with “Power Teaching,” together presenting students with alternative ways to think and problem solve.
“When we sat in on the class, the students were happy to be there. It wasn’t staged. Other schools were there,” Janocko said. “It’s going to create some controversy because we’ll be asking the students to do more.
“But we’ve decided that it’s the route to take to get better. We want students to be proficient in Algebra I, Algebra II and Geometry by the 10th grade. Calculus and statistics courses will stay the same.”
When asked by board President Dave Glass if the program would be ready for the upcoming school year, Janocko said they wanted it implemented as soon as possible. He said “Chicago Math” ties into the strategies of “Everyday Math,” and that’s their reason for selecting it.
He said meetings would be scheduled to advise parents of the changes to the mathematics courses affected.