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!

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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.

Why education is a priority NOW!

Margaret Campbell, Principal of St. George's College and Reggae Math Foundation Advisory Board Member, and I were recently on the #JadeRadioNetwork Radio Show discussing issues related to math education in Jamaica.  Mathematics is the foundation for many other careers and without math, the gate to those careers and often high incomes are closed.  This is important because the economy of Jamaica and other countries will need those careers. If Jamaicans do not learn math properly and accurately, they will not be able to build bridges and roads, etc. and will have to hire people at a premium from overseas, probably going further into debt as we will lack the income to pay for our desire for decent infrastructure. What types of jobs will the majority of Jamaicans be able to perform and what will be the implication for our tax base and the services that the government can provide without going further into debt.

In 10 years, the standard of living of most Jamaicans will be directly related to our investment in EDUCATION of youth NOW. Whether we are struggling to fund education, decent health care for everyone, fix roads, give compensation to farmers after flood rains, fund athletes for a variety of sports without doing crowdfunding, and more in the future, will depend on what we do NOW. Everyone with any capacity to assist children learning to read, write, and do math, needs to step forward. Stepping up in 5 or 10 years will be too late for the world we need to be prepared for within the next 5 to 10 years.

There are opportunities now in technological/virtual services that do not require persons to be in the same country as the customer. Some of these services are being learned very rapidly by interested high school students in the U.S. With similar technology access and a solid foundation in education, our very own high school students can be trained to take advantage and earn an income. This opportunity means that if we invest in the education of our people, we will have prepared ourselves to participate in an economy that can take us places we never imagined including having higher incomes for the average Jamaican and more taxes to create a Jamaica that everyone wants to live in.

This opportunity to lift ourselves out of poverty in a short period of time hasn't been around since the 60s and if we wait to invest in education, while the rest of the world is enjoying great health care, luxurious standards of living, great infrastructure, low crime rates, we will be as we were, wondering why the government doesn't fix the roads, why employees cannot do basic things, and why the service in the fast food restaurant is so lax.

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.

This one's for the Parents

Since learning about the math performance of students in both Jamaica and New York, I've been speaking to many adults about their own experience with math. Everyone has a story, some good, some less positive.

One common thread in stories is from the parents, whether they are comfortable with math or not. Parents say that if their child wanted to pursue a math based career or is not doing well in math at school, they are willing to pay if they can afford it to help the child. Some parents are paying for their child to get ahead even though the child is already ahead.

So what are children whose parents cannot afford tutors or paid online resources doing? Some are getting help from nonprofits, friends, or education departments, while some are dropping out or leaving school without passing math.

So why should you care what is happening to these families? My own brief tenure as a high school math teacher dispelled many myths I had heard about prior to actually teaching. First, these kids are smart, they are eager to learn, and they will work hard if they think that doing so will lead to learning. Second, if given the foundation that they somehow have never gotten, these students can catch up quickly. Third, students who learn math well can join the labor force and do things that will benefit us all.

Last, as non-poor parents, we sometimes worry about what will happen if we fall on hard times and, in particular, what will happen to our children. Will we be able to provide for their health and education so they have a shot at a good future?

The wonderful thing about filming classes of great teachers and sharing them for free online (Reggae Math Foundation's goal) is that it can help both the families with resources for tutors and those without. It's what economists call a public good. It can actually help everyone. We should all be working towards great resources to help in educating every child. It will help everyone!

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.

 

Building a love of math ... and following through

In our last blog post, Dr Howard Kea, who works for NASA, shared a story of how he is building his son's relationship with math. He is using simple addition and subtraction questions and when his son comes up with the answers, he beams with pride.

Yesterday, my own child started telling me a similar story based on a 1-year-old's birthday party we attended recently. He said "When I'm 18, Sandra (not real name) will be 12. That's because right now, I'm 7 and she is 1." We talk about and look for addition and subtraction opportunities in simple ways often as they come up in life.

Other parents I know do similar things. For example, one parent using a GPS notes how much time her family has left to travel on the GPS and asks her child, based on the current time, when will they arrive. These regular interactions with math AND the discussion with the child that they are doing math is something that I see with some families and not others.

The early discussion and stimulation of math love, practice and learning is the first step in a journey to math literate society, but we as a society must follow through too by making math simple at higher levels. Since 2015, when I have been speaking almost nonstop to anyone who will listen about math education, I have encountered several people who thought they were great at math and had planned to become engineers or computer scientists. Most recently, I spoke to someone who had done honors math in high schools. Her college experience was so traumatizing, she now considers hereself "not-a-math" person. 

Her experience contrasts to students of Donald Saari, who in 2008 gave a talk at Baruch College entitled "Is there a New Isaac Newton in my class?" In this talk, he describes how he teaches calculus by telling stories and getting students to see the value of calculus for themselves. He makes it easy for students to relate to the concepts and students leave confident in the value of the concepts in everyday life. 

Our best chance as a society to solve the problems of diseases, environmental challenges, and poverty is to give every student the opportunity to see teachers like Donald Saari, the teachers who make it so easy that people who thought they were not into math discover the joy of their own potential. We need to take the first steps to showing children that math is all around us and we need to follow through and show all students teachers who make math easy.

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.