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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: math

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December 31, 2014 at 12:26 PM

Guest: New math textbooks are the right choice for Seattle schools

Ted Nutting

Ted Nutting

Earlier this year, the Seattle School Board changed the kind of math textbooks used in our elementary schools, selecting texts intended to be used with explicit instruction. Under explicit instruction, teachers are expected to actually teach rather than turn students loose to discover mathematics principles on their own. The board picked the Math in Focus series, a version of Singapore Math.

Seattle Public Schools began using reform math textbooks in the 1990s. In that approach, students are supposed to learn by discovering mathematical truth in the process of solving problems. They typically work in groups, noting their thoughts in journals and portfolios, and using calculators constantly as they complete discovery-type projects. Advocates have touted reform math as a way to get kids excited about math and create a culture of learning.

Unfortunately, this approach was based on an unrealistic vision rather than on fact. It has been a failure both in Seattle and in the U.S. as a whole; our math students have fared poorly in comparison with those of other developed countries. On the most recent international math test, the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the U.S. finished 36th of the 65 countries participating, behind virtually all other developed countries. Earlier tests showed similar results.

During the last seven years, my students at Ballard High School consistently performed better than their peers at other public Seattle high schools on Advanced Placement Calculus exams. Since 2011, when state end-of-course tests were established, I have taught only one class that has a state test and is required for graduation — Algebra 1, our school’s lowest-level math class, in the 2011-12 school year. My students earned the highest passage rate in the district on that test.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: explicit instruction, math, Seattle Public Schools

September 5, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Fantasy football in the classroom can reap real-life gains in math

Excited children show their Seahawks spirit during an assembly last January at Kimball Elementary School. Photo by John Lok / The Seattle Times.

Excited children show their Seahawks spirit during an assembly last January at Kimball Elementary School in Seattle. Photo by John Lok / The Seattle Times.

Finding students a bit sluggish on this, just the third day of school in many Seattle-area districts? Could it be that they were up late, watching the Seahawks season-opener against Green Bay? Football may leave you cold, but consider the volcano of statistics, the numerical slicing and dicing used to predict outcomes. All of it is built on math.

Fantasy football? Even more so.

For the uninitiated, the game works like this: You pick an assortment of real-life players for various positions on your imaginary team  quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, for example  then rack up points based on the players’ actual performance on game day.

Yes, it’s pretend-play for grownups. But teachers find that fantasy football can energize students who are otherwise less-than-motivated by traditional math. Even the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has suggestions for incorporating football into lesson plans (baseball and basketball, too).


Comments | More in News | Topics: fantasy football, math, Seahawks

August 14, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Study: Dropout risk goes up with higher math/science hurdle

Nancy Ohanian / Op Art

Nancy Ohanian / Op Art

The decades-long push to boost the number of math and science classes high-school students must take to graduate has raised a question: Will students who already are struggling to meet the current requirements drop out if the bar is even higher?

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis recently suggested that the answer is yes.

Their study, published in the June/July issue of the journal Educational Researcher found that students were more likely to drop out of high school if they had to pass six math/science classes to graduate (11.4 percent dropout rate) than if they had to pass two (8.9 percent dropout rate).

“I think our findings highlight the need to anticipate there may be unintended consequences, especially when there are broad mandates that, in effect, make high school coursework harder,” said one of the study’s authors, Andrew D. Plunk in an article about the study published by the university.

African-Americans and Hispanics were especially affected, he wrote.


Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: dropouts, graduation requirements, math

July 23, 2014 at 9:00 AM

5-minute recap: Video chat on what’s working in math education

Last Thursday, the Education Lab team hosted a Google+ Hangout about elementary math education and the successful strategies used at Lakeridge Elementary in the Renton School District. The discussion stemmed from our July 15 story about how the school’s use of cognitively guided instruction and ongoing teacher training has led to a turnaround in student math scores.

Miss the live video chat? The five-minute recap below shows some of the highlights. What you’ll see:


Comments | More in Math and science, Video, Your voices | Topics: Google Hangout, instruction, Lakeridge

July 14, 2014 at 5:12 PM

Video: Making math make sense at Lakeridge Elementary

Our most recent Education Lab story examines how a focus on ensuring students understand math concepts has helped raise students’ math skills at Lakeridge Elementary in the Renton School District.

With assistance from UW researcher Elham Kazemi and some of her colleagues, Lakeridge educators have design many math lessons as carefully guided conversations in which students talk through their reasoning and critique each other’s ideas. The results? In two years, the school’s performance on state math tests jumped from the bottom 5 percent to somewhere near average.

Check out the video below, and go here to read the full story.

[do action=”brightcove-video” videoid=”3672457848001″/]


Comments | More in Math and science, News, Video | Topics: Lakeridge, math

June 30, 2014 at 5:00 AM

New course can help vault students into college-level math

Photo by Eric Jacobs for The Seattle Times 2006

Photo by Eric Jacobs for The Seattle Times

One of the most vexing problems for community colleges is the number of first-year students whose math scores don’t measure up.

About half of all students who graduate from Washington high schools and immediately enter community college require remedial math  usually called “developmental math”  before they can begin fulfilling their college-level math requirements.

This fall, though, 11 school districts are piloting a new math class for high-school seniors who have struggled with the subject. Under an agreement with the state’s public colleges, students who get at least a B in the class, called “Bridge to College Mathematics,” will be admitted into college-level math, said Bill Moore, who is overseeing the project for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

The course is being developed in cooperation with the SBCTC, the state’s four-year public colleges and with high-school math teachers, Moore said. Several Seattle public high schools are part of the pilot.


Comments | More in News | Topics: common core, math

February 26, 2014 at 5:00 AM

To raise math scores, hire a good English teacher

Schools that want to boost long-term student achievement in math might want to pay more attention to the quality of their English teachers.

A new study out of Stanford University, which looked at the performance of 700,000 students in New York City, found that students who had studied under strong language arts teachers scored higher in math at the end of seven years than could have been expected.

Good math teachers, the researchers said, had only small effects on students’ English scores.


Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: math, Stanford

February 24, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Stuck on a math problem? WSU’s math center offers instant help

A white-coated math lab tutor helps students at WSU. Photo by Shelly Hanks.

A white-coated math lab tutor helps students at WSU. Photo by Shelly Hanks.

Even college students stumble over math. More than a year ago, Washington State University decided to make it easier for students to get immediate help whenever they got hung up on a problem. The program, WSU says, is helping students advance quickly through the required college math track.

The Mathematics Learning Center offers free tutoring for students enrolled in undergraduate math courses and is open 56 hours a week. Tutors dressed in white lab coats roam the room, looking for raised hands. The tutors are either math majors in their last years of college or graduate students working as teaching assistants.

Tutors at the math center are adept at helping in all levels of math. About 10 to 15 percent of WSU students require a developmental math class because their skills aren’t yet up to college level-math.


Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: higher ed, math, Washington State University

January 22, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Math struggles start even before kindergarten, state says

Don’t just worry about the old math — or the new math. Or whether students use calculators, or don’t have them.

New data from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) suggests that the state’s math problem starts before children line up for their first day of kindergarten.

Courtesy Washington OSPI

Courtesy Washington OSPI

For the second year in a row, kindergarten teachers in hundreds of schools observed their students and rated their school-readiness skills — everything from how well they hold a pencil to whether they recognize letters and can count to 10.

Three-quarters of those kindergarteners were deemed school-ready in five areas: social-emotional, physical, language, cognitive and literacy.

But in math? Only a little over half had the desired skills.


Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: early learning, kindergarten, math

January 15, 2014 at 12:19 PM

Guest: Tech professionals are an untapped resource in math education


Jim Fernandez

Bridging the gap between students of different races and economic classes has been a goal of many public school systems for several years. As educational funding remains tight in our region, schools must get creative and look for other resources to accomplish this goal and raise student performance.

One place to turn: the retired and working professionals in various fields in our communities who are willing to volunteer on a regular, long-term basis to help our next generation succeed. What we’re lacking is an organized system that school districts could use to recruit community volunteers and match them with receptive teachers.

In 2012, I decided to retire early and become involved in public education as an unpaid volunteer. With advanced degrees in mathematics and computer science, and experience both as a college math professor and an IT professional, I am well aware of the mathematical knowledge needed for a successful technical career.

I specifically wanted to work with teachers and students in an environment where resources were limited and needs were high. My search led me to Cleveland High School in Seattle, where the academic program was transformed several years ago to focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) for all students. At Cleveland, nearly every student takes a math class and a science class each year. For the past two years, I’ve spent most school days assisting math teachers and working with students on their math assignments both in class and during tutoring sessions.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Math and science, Opinion | Topics: Cleveland High School, math, STEM

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