February 16, 2015 | by oemb1905
Santa Fe New Mexican, October 29th, 2014
Schools across the country are engaging in a new type of scaffolded approach to mathematics – Close Math. Every student must carefully read a math problem the day before or in class, pencil in hand. After discussing the problem in detail during a short seminar – being careful to use the pencil to annotate and adjust algebraic language as they read and interpret the model – they dialogue about the connection between the abstract nature of the problem and the connections it has to physics.
Busy is the atmosphere in the Close Math classroom, but it is not only a traditional math class that uses the technique. Drawing on research from the Gates’ Foundation which suggests that close mathematical reasoning increases aptitude and apprehension of algebraic concepts, Bloomington High School has adopted the instructional technique in all of its classes, grades 9-12.
Jose Alvino, a Senior, says “I really like how we get to practice math in English … I mean, we like, need more practice you know, so it helps.” Principal Kerry is optimistic, noting that now that every teacher is employing this instructional approach, NWEA scores have risen 10%. Kerry said, “It is amazing how much better kids get at math when schools actually teach it.” Geraldine Romi, basketball all-star and head of National Honor Society, said “before this, we never did any math problems. Now, we get to practice. I can finally get my homework done.”
The approach is not without its criticism, however, as veteran English teacher, Frances Nausbum said, “The demands they make on us are ridiculous … first we need to do narrative essays on bacchant furies, then we have to do five days of assessments, a week of PARCC, and now they want us to teach math! I don’t even know math! I barely passed Geometry.” Superintendent Gross declined to comment, but Principal Kerry countered “Teachers are going to have get used to being uncomfortable, and getting outside of their comfort zone, if students are to succeed at math, then teachers of other content areas might just need to get certified in math.”
Parents’ reaction is mixed, many appreciate the extra practice time that kids get to work on math problems and do note that English, History, and Science teachers often use homework problems from class as the Close Math selection. Other parents, however, wonder if the curriculum might not be suffering because in trying to do so many different things in the class, they feel the teacher can do nothing well. Although the verdict is not out yet, Principal Kerry remains confident, “This is not your parent’s classroom, we need to teach numeracy across all the curriculums.”
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