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.

Math in Our Daily Lives

Math is a language used to answer everyday questions or solve everyday problems.

When my 7-year-old son asked me how old he will be when his 2-year-old cousin is his age now I told him "It's a math problem..." I helped him figure it out by asking him "How many years older are you from your little cousin, who is 2 years old now?" He figured it out to be 5 years difference in their ages.

So I asked him "When your cousin is 7 years old you will be 5 years older, so what will be your age?" He counted it out and replied "12 years old" proudly.

That's how we teach our kids to use math in everyday life to answer questions and solve problems.

Dr. Howard Kea currently works as a Sr. Organization Development Specialist and Executive Coach in the Office of Human Capitol Management, Leadership and Culture Change Office at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Previously, he worked as a Sr. Computer Systems Engineer in the Information Systems Division, Systems Integration and Engineering Branch. He has a Masters Degree in Engineering Administration from George Washington University and a Ph.D. in Leadership and Organizational Change from Antioch University.

There are 1,000 Potential Einsteins and Mozarts with us now

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I recently watched an interview with Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder and CEO, in which at minute 35:50, he says that with 1 trillion people, we could have 1,000 Einsteins and Mozarts. I hope Jeff Bezos will consider that the Earth already has 1,000 potential Einsteins and Mozarts and that in the right environment these children (or adults) would thrive, flower and bloom. I'm not sure how well Mozart would have fared in a school system that had to choose between music, art, and gym as "extras."

I recall the Principal of a highly successful school, where over 90% of the students were minorities, saying "We are not working magic here; we're giving the students what they need." 

Many people think children in low-performing schools are incapable of learning when the more logical explanation is that they're simply not getting what they need to succeed.

When looking into what works and what doesn't for math education, I was surprised to read about programs in the US succeeding for older students, some with a history of failure in math (ST Math, the Algebra Project, WiTSI). I had never heard of them before I went looking. It's even more surprising  that these programs are not more widespread and that with their demonstrated effectiveness, there would even be a question about whether a school would be willing to pay for a teacher to try them out.

In Jamaica, the situation is a bit more grave. A high-stakes Grade 6 exam for a limited set of places in the nation's best high schools has left horrifying numbers of parents worried about their children committing suicide. Most schools on the island have high failure rates for the exams needed to continue to universities or colleges. The competition is stiff and the stress on young children is real.

Jeff Bezos recently tweeted for ideas that would be "at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact." 

 Reggae Math Foundation's mission is to bring quality education to every child through filming and sharing effective teachers... and to provide professional development in schools with creative, dedicated instructors.

This will give our society the best chance of solving global issues in the long run and could potentially save children's lives. I don't think there is anything more urgent than that.

 

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, and Wagner College. She has a Ph.D. in Economics from Michigan State University.

No Solution to Crime without a Solution to Education

I have been tremendously blessed to have had some incredible math teachers. In 1996, I took a class in Applied Econometrics with Professor Al Francis at University of the West Indies, Mona. This was the first time I realized that mathematics and statistics would be useful in the real world. The way I had been taught before was always fun because I loved puzzles, but I never connected the subjects to something that would benefit society.

In that class, I wrote a paper looking at the correlation between the crime rate in Jamaica and the pass rates at the Ordinary level or high school leaving exams in Jamaica. As expected, there was what we call in statistics a negative correlation.  When pass rates went up, crime rates went down; when pass rates went down, crime rates went up. Crime rates and exam pass rates went in opposite directions. 

21 years and a Ph.D. later, I am under no illusions that any analysis done as an undergraduate is a definitive study on the matter. Yet, there are logical reasons to believe that low educational achievement of most of our school leavers and their inability to get decent paying jobs, will make crime a very attractive option from a financial perspective.

It is therefore always disappointing to hear discussions in Jamaica about the need to solve the crime problem that omit any discussion about the need to fix the education problem. I do not see any realistic solution to Jamaica's crime problem without efforts to find a solution to Jamaica's education challenges.

However, the opposite is also true. I see a linear pathway from educating students for in-demand skills based on math for virtual export. If Jamaica can educate students so they learn math at a deep level, there are opportunities for Jamaica as a country to carve out a niche market in math-based services and sell them on-line. This opportunity will not be with us forever. The time to commit the needed resources to solve this problem is NOW!

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, and Wagner College. She has a Ph.D. in Economics from Michigan State University.

Haven't math videos been done? Yes, but ...

The number one question I get when I tell people we want to film videos of amazing math teachers whose students have gone on to do well in life in math-based careers is: Aren't there already videos online? I used to say "Well yes, ..." then I would passionately give my experiences, some negative, having tried to use some of the free online video resources with my students and realizing that for some students, these videos were doing more harm than good. 

Don't get me wrong, there are lots of math resources online and they are helping lots of people. However, there's a but. The products that currently exist, for one reason or another, do not work for all kids. We can certainly do better for these children and their parents than tell them to go figure it out via Youtube. We can actually give them the choice to see the same teachers that students who are doing well see.

Reggae Math Foundation aims to find the amazing teachers who inspire their students to learn and love math and share what they are doing in their ACTUAL classes with the world. We are not making up a new product. We are sharing a product that is already working for many students, inspiring them to feel relaxed and confident with math. We believe sharing these teachers, who love math and teaching, will help students, parent, and other teachers and we believe it should be provided free to anyone who has the desire to learn math.

We need your help to do that!

#OneLoveOneMath

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, and Wagner College. She has a Ph.D. in Economics from Michigan State University.

 

 

 

 

If we help one student learn math, this is all worth it

In 1996, I briefly taught Math at an all boys' high school in Jamaica.  I was the third math teacher students were having that year. The Vice Principal who introduced me joked that if I left they would have no math teacher for the rest of the year.  I met some wonderful young men that year, but one 9th grader stood out. He was the smartest student in the class and he also generously helped other students. I thought he would go on to great things, kind of like the Jamaican version of Elon Musk.

Two years after I left to pursue my Masters at University of the West Indies, I ran into a Math teacher from the school. I smiled as I asked about the student, who was now in grade 11. To my shock, she said that this particular student didn’t do anything at all. It is an understatement to say I was shocked and confused. How could THIS happen to THIS kid? He was, in my view, not only hardworking but also tremendously gifted. I went to see the student to ask what had happened. He said that he tried very hard to understand math in grade 10, but didn’t understand it, so by grade 11 he had given up. Like this student, there are many, many, very bright students who, for one reason or another, are not learning math in their classrooms. The teacher may be reaching other students, but one teacher and teaching style may not be received well by all students. Students who are not being reached need alternate supports.

Some families pay for tutors or extra lessons in this situation, but not all families can afford to do that. Though there are free resources on the internet, they are simply not working for every child and many students sit in school with no effective options.

Reggae Math Foundation would like to give these students different options. There are currently great teachers sharing their love of math all over the world. They teach with a chill and relaxed vibe and they pass this love and relaxed interaction with math onto their students. I believe that had my former student had an option, such as the ability to view not one, but several teachers, he would have seen someone who worked for him.

Reggae Math Foundation is crowdfunding to pay for the filming and production costs for a set of videos. These costs include paying for videographers, editors, and more. If we raise more than the goal, we will be able to film more classes and more teachers. Videos will be placed in an online library at reggaemath.org that is freely accessible to the public.

Reggae Math teachers are those of whom students say “They are the reason I understand math or they are the reason I got a math degree” and things of that nature. Every child deserves to see great teachers. Please sign up for our mailing list to support our campaign by learning about and sharing our activities with anyone who is interested in education and economic development for underserved communities.

#OneLoveOneMath

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, and Wagner College. She has a Ph.D. in Economics from Michigan State University.