Needles High School

Math program generating excitement

The excitement is rising regarding the new College Preparatory Mathematics and has teachers and administrators ready to teach it and even try and take part in a class. The board of trustees approved using the new textbooks at their June 23 meeting.

The excitement that is building is based on the program’s ability to help teachers, students and parents; but also how it’ll help teach state standards and how it’ll help in a paradigm shift in thinking of how math should be taught.

District superintendent Mary McNeil, Ph.D., said she’s excited enough about the new textbooks and supplemental materials she may try and clear her schedule so she can take calculus.

Karen Smith, math teacher at Needles High School, said she loves the new books. “This was the math curriculum that I chose, I voted for,” she continued.

In Smith’s eyes, the texts are teacher, student and even parent friendly, she said. There is a lot of hands on learning and there is a lot of support for teachers, parents and students.

A portion of the excitement stems from simply having materials. The first year of implementing Common Core meant having to work with printed out books and limited resources if any.

This year teachers will have a full program to at their disposal. McNeil said when she went to purchase the program, which was selected by the middle and high school math teachers, she told the organization she was buying the entire program. This means there are textbooks for students, teachers’ guides, supplemental books for teachers and students and more to help with instruction.

McNeil said she doesn’t want her teachers to have to worry about shopping or having to spend their time and energy coming up with materials to help teach math. She wants them to focus on teaching and leave the shopping to administrators.

When teachers can teach and connect with students that’s when learning happens, McNeil said. The last 15 years or so in California teachers had to wear so many hats it’s been distracting from teaching and that’s part of why students have struggled, she continued.

When the new standards were being created, it was decided to eliminate many in favor of fewer, much more in-depth standards, she continued.

There used to be many standards but none seemed to include application, problem solving or critical thinking, McNeil said.

The idea behind the new standards is it’s assumed a student will know how to multiply, but the student now needs to know how to apply the knowledge in different situations, McNeil said.

It’s also felt the new materials will help address many parent concerns related to the new standards and curriculum. Smith said there are great student online resources to help with all the learning components.

If there is something a student doesn’t understand, the online resource will give a sample question and tips on how to answer the question, Smith said. There is also a parent portion that helps explain how to help students. Parents will have access to what the students are doing in class so they know how to be helpful to their kids, she continued.

Smith said she understands parent concern over not being able to help students but at the same time, that’s the entire point of the new curriculum … to get students to think the problem over and solve it for themselves.

That way of teaching and learning is vastly different from how math has been taught for a period of time, Smith said. Students do need to fail some in order to learn what they need to and that in turn means they’ll have a deeper understanding of why a process works the way it does. Students can’t learn all the steps they need to if they don’t do it on their own, she added.

There were concerns about the writing element. McNeil said she can understand why parents were concerned but the writing portion in math again comes from the business and science communities that helped create the new standards.

She said businesses were hiring employees who couldn’t find solutions because they hadn’t learned to be problem solvers or couldn’t explain what they’d done. The new books include learning a vocabulary and helping students understand mathematics on a deeper level by having to explain it.

Smith said the program expects students to keep learning logs and to keep those logs from year to year. The reason for that is because books will tell students to refer to a previously learned lesson from the year before. If students keep revisiting their own work, they’ll have a better understanding of how the math works and will be able to draw from their experiences, she continued.

Having materials for everyone will help increase learning and McNeil said the goal is to get students into more of the higher level math courses and believes this program will help.