Showing posts with label numeracy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label numeracy. Show all posts

Monday, November 24, 2008


Sometimes teaching year 10's you get so caught up in your lesson you miss the bloody obvious.

Today we were looking at distance from origin, Perth to Meekatharra, Perth to Newman and so forth using trip counters and odometers. My students were finding it hard to find the distance between two locations (I forget the real distances so please excuse my made up ones)..

They could understand that the 259km and the 1600km indicated distances from Perth but could not understand how to determine the distance between Meekatharra and Newman. So I tried something similar but with smaller numbers.

When asked the distance between Mary's house and the shops, this time students were able to say 1km. I asked them how they did that and they gave me the answer 9+1=10. I asked if they could think of another way. A sea of blank looks from the new kids in the class. I think to myself OMG. No wonder these kids couldn't do the previous problem. I showed them that subtraction could work and they were able to complete the exercise finding distances between various destinations. By the end it was obvious that they could learn the pattern for solving the problems but did not have an understanding of the underlying maths - thus had forgotten the method by the next problem.

So I went a bit further and used my favourite diagnostic tool. I wrote the following on their page.


And asked them to add one to each number. Thankfully only one student couldn't do this. Then I write 10526 and 52679 at the end of the list and moved to each asking them to say the numbers quietly to me. This was not as successful. This was the trigger to split the class (again) and start these kids on a different programme of work.

The integration of low ability or underschooled students into the mainstream and removal of dedicated remedial classes has meant that many students are falling through the cracks. It is no wonder that some of these kids can be disruptive, disheartened and are having confidence issues. Students that cannot read numbers above 100, can't identify simple operations or understand place value have little chance in mainstream classes. It's enough to make you physically upset and reminds me why I originally intended teaching year 7 rather than senior secondary. The impact of intervention is greater at an earlier age than now.

I have many of these kids next year and have identified areas of focus, we're designing entry tests for new students and aim to improve numeracy with low performing students. It's frustrating the amount of time that it takes to find these issues and detect the underlying factors behind avoidant behaviour. Time will only tell how much success can be made of it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Literacy and Numeracy

Now, I'm going to get myself in trouble here. I'm a little sick of work that should be done in English creeping into Mathematics and the applied subjects such as science, history and geography. If kids can't do basic operations, the Maths dept should be looked at closely. No argument here.

If kids can't capitalise, read a question, put together a coherent paragraph or write a simple report - please don't ask me to teach it in Mathematics. Two of these mentioned drive me batty - reading a question and writing reports especially when I teach that abomination subject Mathematics in Practice ("MIPS").

Don't get me wrong , I quite like teaching MIPS and its bastard brother Modelling. What I hate is the way kids struggle with the literacy components of both subjects. As a lower ability subject with a project basis, students have to be able to read the question, investigate the topic and write a report. Given that we teach the maths immediately prior to each assignment you would think it would be obvious how to do the assignment. Whooah betty.. nothing can be further from the truth.

The kids typically, if they read the question correctly can do the maths. Can they write a coherent report.. Very few.. who is responsible for teaching them how.. Maths?? Do I look like a competent English teacher with the cool shirt and students hanging off every Shakespeare bound word? Uh.. no.. I'm the guy with the shorts and sandals and socks and short sleeve shirt and ugly ties, possibly with an unkempt beard.

Science, History and Geography are hamstrung with teaching and reteaching concepts that should be covered competently in Maths and English. They have a real right to complain - they should be complementing our teaching and reinforcing topics NOT TEACHING CORE MATHS AND ENGLISH CONCEPTS! Whole child responsibility.. bah humbug.. someone must be responsible for each facet of learning - distributed responsibility is no responsibility.

Which leads me to a question raised by a few - where does responsibility lie for the teaching of core concepts. I would suggest that HODs and district supervisors are necessary as is a deputy or principal presence in the classroom from time to time. A chain of order that is responsible for maintaining standards across learning areas by subject specialists. These people can and should identify flaws, reward excellence and assist with raising standards across the board.

Why don't we have this? well.. maybe that's something we can all look into.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The blame game - why do our students lack numeracy

Of great concern is the lack of basic knowledge of students entering year 11 & 12. It can be said that with the advent of calculators that the need for basic skills has diminished - and this is probably true in courses like yr 12 Discrete mathematics where students can pass (and even do quite well) without sound algebra skills, similarly in yr 12 Modelling. Now that these courses are gone I question whether this will be possible going forward.

Yet the issue starts well before year 10. Kids without sound tables and operation skills find fractions difficult. Students without fractions skills find algebra difficult. Students without basic skills in algebra find yr10-12 a constant struggle.

Although teachers can teach the content, there is now too much content in the curriculum to purely rely on the 40-50mins four times a week - the need for parents to go over the content especially in early years cannot be understated. The thought that kids go to school to learn and when at home have interaction with TV and Playstation is fraught with danger - danger that often isn't realised until yr 10.

I would also hesitate to say that the lack of well trained numeracy experts in the primary field is an issue. This may be a holdover from the lack of male teachers in primary (and we are now in the gap before mathematics confident female teachers enter the primary sector). This transition where the majority of female primary teachers are confident in teaching mathematics and pressing students beyond level 3 mathematics in year seven should (I would hope) occur in the next five years.

If parents put in the basics to allow students to fall into reasonable learning curves in school, students are leagues ahead - as with literacy and students that have reading modelled to them at an early age.