Building on Foundations

One recurring problem that teachers (including myself) face is that of students who do not have solid foundations on material that came before. When students do not have appropriate foundations for the course material, they do not have the same access as other students.

In my college teaching, I have encountered students who cannot multiply by 0, who cannot tell which number is larger when given two numbers involving decimal forms of fractions, who cannot tell if 0 is in an interval, who do not appropriately use equal signs, cannot seamlessly convert a decimal form of a fraction to a percentage, and so on... I have encountered many other educators who feel the same and who then try to teach both the foundation and the curriculum that they are charged with teaching.

It is very heartening to see programs and teachers who successfully fill in the gaps of these students while teaching the curriculum they are supposed to teach. I have encountered many such educators (including volunteer peer tutors). Many of our students and teachers are not, however, navigating successfully the filling in of foundation gaps and the current curriculum. In Jamaica, over 50% are not.

In my opinion, it has not been a successful strategy for too many students to leave both the filling in of foundation gaps and the teaching of current material. There must be more support given to teachers who have large proportions of their student bodies coming in without these gaps. Part of the solution is professional development which imparts strategies of programs and teachers who have successfully navigated such situations as well as the videos that we are currently working on. Another part of the solution could be students who already understand the material. Research has shown a positive effect of volunteering and tutoring other students on the academic performance of the volunteers. This is a win-win scenario for both students.

We welcome other suggestions on how to improve education, in particular math education, for the large proportion of students and teachers who are in need of support.

Discussions of how to move forward in Math: Thing 3 Mentorship Programs

While reading an article on CUNY's SEEK program (here), I was reminded about several discussions I have had recently about math and education and what is needed for low-income children to succeed.  First, The Math Club's Jefrey Blake worked with students from a soccer program that he realized weren't doing well in math. He found as have many others that students seemed to need a mentor more than a math tutor. Students were absolutely capable of learning math with some guidance. Similarly, Future Leaders of Jamaica includes not just financial aid, but mentorship as part of their scholarship program.

Why is mentorship important? Imagine a child with a parent who prioritizes education. Ben Carson's mother was not educated, but made sure that he put his academic work in. If students get financial aid, but make poor decisions that get them off-track, mentors can work with them to make better decisions playing the cards they are dealt. Not all parents are able to do this.

One issue in trying to introduce mentorship programs will be that not enough adults volunteer for such programs. Rather than throw their hands in the air, many schools are using other students who have high achievement to reach other students. Even at the elementary or primary school levels with children below age 11, there are programs that successfully improve academic outcomes by using peer-tutoring and mentorship.

In addition to helping students who are not doing well academically, volunteer academic tutoring and group work has been shown to improve the academic performance of the volunteers and high performing students as well as those being helped. This is a WIN-WIN. Let's utilize all our resources to move forward in Math!

Dr. Linda Bailey-McWeeney is the Executive Director of Reggae Math Foundation, an economist, and an educator. She is currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Economics at College of Staten Island, City University of New York and has been an Assistant Professor at Baruch College, City University of New York, Yeshiva University, and Wagner College. She has a Ph.D. in Economics from Michigan State University.

Discussions of how to move forward in math: Thing 2

"You have to start with Professional Development". That is a quote from a former Jamaican math teacher. In my discussions with anyone interested in speaking about math education, it is always shocking to me that the there are so many people who say things like "I know a teacher in Clarendon. All her students do well" or "There was this one teacher I had. When I had that teacher, I understood math. When I didn't have that teacher, I didn't understand math." Similarly, "students previously thought to be dunce" excelled after using this method.

How, for example, was Richard James able to get a Wayne Wright, a student with repeated math failures, to obtain a pass? (click here for that Gleaner story).

There are strategies and tactics being used with students who have not performed well in the past. These strategies are succeeding and we need to support the sharing of these activities. One way to help us share the work of successful programs through professional development of teachers in Jamaica is to contribute through our Donate page as we work to share what works. If you already shop at amazon.com, please consider switching to https://smile.amazon.com/ch/81-3445051 and Amazon will contribute part of qualifying purchase prices to Reggae Math Foundation AT NO COST TO YOU! You can register at any time and amazon.com will remind you to switch to smile.amazon.com when you are ready to make a purchase.

Dr. Linda Bailey-McWeeney is the Executive Director of Reggae Math Foundation, an economist, and an educator. She is currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Economics at College of Staten Island, City University of New York and has been an Assistant Professor at Baruch College, City University of New York, Yeshiva University, and Wagner College. She has a Ph.D. in Economics from Michigan State University.

Discussions about how to move forward with math: Thing 1

Since 2015, I've been having discussions with anyone interested in math education. There are many people in education who believe that anyone can learn math deeply and well, if they are taught or guided in a particular way. Since most people are not excelling in math, the question is how do we,  who are interested in elevating math learning and appreciation, work together to reach those students who are currently not being reached.  From these discussions since 2015, I wanted to share a few things that have come out in a series of posts.

Thing 1:

While there are many wonderful hardworking teachers in the school system who go above and beyond, too many students enter high schools without the proper foundation. It is, therefore, imperative that the high school teachers are trained to address this deficit among older children, if we are to properly educate those entering the labor force and post-high school educational institutions. Focusing on high-quality early childhood and primary education as the Jamaican government and private sector is currently doing is an essential component of a long-run efficient solution. There are students who enter high school unable to add and subtract. Since addition and subtraction is a foundation upon which the rest of math is built, without it, there is a superficiality of learning that occurs. Teachers are being asked to cover more advanced topics when all the students in the room do not have the proper foundation.  Let's build a system to support students in learning the foundations of math if they don't have it. 

Dr. Linda Bailey-McWeeney is the Executive Director of Reggae Math Foundation, an economist, and an educator. She has been an Assistant Professor at Baruch College, City University of New York and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Economics at College of Staten Island, City University of New York, Yeshiva University, and Wagner College. She has a Ph.D. in Economics from Michigan State University.

Thank you!

Reggae Math Foundation would like to thank all those who supported our Summer 2017campaign, whether by donating or sharing the story.

We have been happily filming Mr. Kippy Chin's classes on imaginary numbers.

Details about imaginary numbers can be found here at Math is Fun.

We look forward to sharing these classes with people who did not realize there was such a thing.

 

 

Building Blocks

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to delve into the world of elementary mathematics, working along with a team of K-12 mathematics education researchers.  As a part of a professional development activity, an elementary teacher taught us (a group of adult 2nd graders) how to add: 257+138.

We were asked to represent the problem with base 10 blocks, an easy enough task for adult 2nd graders such as ourselves.  What became immediately obvious to me, amazingly so in fact, was the strength behind the use of base 10 blocks in helping students make sense of the mathematical task!

Margaret_7_14_17_1.jpg

Easily and almost intuitively, 257 is transformed into 2 hundreds, 5 tens and 7 ones, and 138 into 1 hundred, 3 tens and 8 ones, which makes 3 hundreds, 8 tens and 15 ones. With a little extra thought, 15 ones can be regrouped into one 10 and 5 ones, making 3 hundreds, 9 tens and 5 ones or 395 in total.

Of course, an algorithm (a procedure or set of rules) may be developed later for efficiency, but it may initially look a little more like this, to resemble natural mental mathematics.

What a dramatic difference in learning for children when understanding is built using tools that support true learning, in classrooms where sense-making is the goal rather than memorization.    
I confess ignorance.  But I hope that this is a technique being used in Jamaican primary classrooms, as children learn two and three digit addition and other mathematics concepts, so that they are actively enjoying and making sense of mathematics, and not merely juggling numbers within meaningless algorithms.    

Margaret Campbell is an Advisory Board member of Reggae Math Foundation, the Principal of St. George's College, an all-boys' high school in Jamaica, Hubert Humphrey Fellow (Fulbright Fellowship), and a member of the National Mathematics Advisory Committee, Jamaica.