Monday, November 12, 2012

Math Anxiety Linked to Physical Pain?

Math taks help us teach children to teach themselves math
From November 2 to November 8, three stories in Time Magazine, The Atlantic, and even Wired Magazine have discussed recent findings that math anxiety can activate pain areas in our brain.

But that is changing for students in several schools I’d like to highlight. First up is the new Education Achievement Authority (EAA) district in Detroit, Michigan.

The EAA has turned the tables on teaching, with the letters “SCL” (standing for “student-centered learning”) ringing out of the mouths of principals and students across each of the fifteen schools. I just flew back from a visit to the EAA where School Improvement Network caught on camera the trials, difficulties and successes of this new education model.

Where math is concerned, I saw a class of 12-year-old kids listen carefully to their teacher when she turned down the radio for a few moments of brief instruction about changing centers. The kids quickly and quietly changed their activities and got straight to work. They weren’t mindless automatons; they were engaged. They wanted to switch and learn math skills in several different ways. When the kids switched, the radio went back on, and the children kept learning.

This teacher (soon to be highlighted in an upcoming PD 360 video) had excellent classroom management, to be sure. But that’s not her secret to a great classroom atmosphere in an area that has had chronically terrible behavior for decades. Her secret is that she and the EAA are providing students with methods to teach themselves, with significant support from a teacher, and thereby eliminate the anxiety over math or school in general.

The second example is from South Jordan, Utah.

Kalina Potts is a teacher who is teaching multistep word problems in her math class (you can watch the video for free here). Potts is teaching her lesson by using Common Core Math Standards 4.OA.3 and MP.1, 3, & 4.

“I think the hardest part is just figuring out what you’re supposed to do,” says Stephen, a student in Potts’s class. “The math problems itself like division, multiplication, and everything like that isn’t so hard. It’s just figuring out which one you’re supposed to do with which numbers and everything like that.”

In other words, Stephen and his classmates aren’t just following steps—they are learning how to learn. So rather than becoming anxious about whether or not they done the problem “right,” the students are learning for themselves how to solve a problem and why they choose to solve it that way.

It is my estimation that the fear we experience when confront with math problems is that we are faced with real-world issues and no homework instructions for how to accomplish them. But in both the EAA and in Ms. Potts’s class, students aren’t just learning how to follow directions; they are learning how to own their own experience with math.

What are some of your favorite methods for teaching math? How are math tasks going on your classrooms? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

Friday, November 2, 2012

To Believe in Education Again

Last week, the Huffington Post published a blog post titled, “Wealth of Intelligence Can Lead to the Wealth of a Nation.” At first glance, the article appeared to be the average post about the need to help more of our students pursue interests and careers in math and science to compete with other countries in those subjects.

However, instead of talking about STEM and how to raise student test scores, the author, Ronnie Cameron, called on the everyday people in students’ lives to create a cultural change that would shift the emphasis from what policies need to be in place to community influence on the education of our children.

Specifically, he made his point clear with the following statement:

“We need to refocus our attention on school and its importance. We have to create a culture where education is of utmost significance and that it is the key to economic freedom and success in this country. Respect and collaboration with our nation's educators is necessary. They are the vehicles to our country's future because of their influence on our young ones. But we can't leave it all up to them; a thirst for knowledge and curiosity has to be created in the home and community.”

While the government and other interest groups are doing their best to support students in the classroom, these cannot be a substitute for the influence of parent, peer, and mentor support in the after-school hours.

“The idea that all children and young adults can’t succeed is asinine. If there is a culture in place that expects success by everyone and that is constantly reverberated by media and public figures, it will make it ‘popular’ to do well.”

Cameron’s plight is noble, but how do we make changes in culture to make a lasting impact for our children?