Sunday, October 14, 2007

Going to the Experts

This afternoon's mathematics panel with students from the Washougal School District was as entertaining as it was insightful. Fourteen students ranging from freshmen to seniors shared their thoughts about the teaching and learning of mathematics with pre-conference attendees.

As mentioned in an earlier blog, the discussion was moderated by Washougal Superintendent Teresa Baldwin. The students she gathered for this conversation exuded an enthusiasm for math. Although, one student acknowledged it was his love of science that led him to a deeper exploration of math ("since math is the language of science" he noted.) But they're also putting their talents to use outside the classroom by volunteering, participating in the Model United Nations or through music and dance.

Perhaps the most telling discussion point of the afternoon came when Baldwin asked the students how they would change math instruction. Here's a quick synopsis of some of their suggestions:
  • Show students how classroom instruction applies in real life situations. ("Repetition gets really boring.")
  • Help ensure students understand tested concepts by making them retake classroom assessments until they correctly answer all questions -- then let them proceed to the next chapter or section.
  • Make sure your teachers are sending positive messages about mathematics in the classroom. What they say has an enormous impact on student attitudes about math. ("It's bad when teachers have negative attitudes about math -- it transfers to the students.")
  • Don't abandon those multiplication time tables! The foundational skills are essential and should be emphasized in elementary school.
  • Teachers need to be able to explain things in different ways and be patient with students who need additional support.

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