Five or six years in the future, more Foothill College (California) students will be ready for college math courses, if FAME (Faculty Academy for Mathematics Excellence) proves successful. The Silicon Valley community college’s Krause Center for Innovation is helping middle-school teachers improve their math knowledge and learn more effective instruction strategies. The Los Altos Town Crier reports:
The Silicon Valley continues to experience a shortage of engineers from its own backyard, because most students are not prepared for advanced math, according to Rebecca Salner, spokeswoman for the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which funds FAME. In fact, 70 percent of its students fail to master Algebra I by the end of eighth grade, she said.
“Many students get bored with math,” said KCI Executive Director Gay Krause, a former middle school principal.
“A lot of teachers in the middle-school level had limited math training, one course training,” said FAME Program Director Joe Chee. “They know how to do the math problems but don’t have conceptual understanding to explain why the answer is wrong and to diagnose (the problem) when students aren’t getting it.”
Most teachers adopt the rote methods they learned from their own teachers, concentrating on procedure instead of showing students how to apply the underlying concepts, Chee said. Teachers present students with a simple problem and show them how to solve it, leaving students to replicate the solution in answering similar questions without full comprehension of the fundamental theories.
FAME reviews pre-algebra and algebra concepts and educational strategies. Inspired by math lessons in Korea, instructors show teachers how to use math problems based on real-life situations to encourage critical thinking.
“We find the kids who do the creative ways first do better,” Chee said. “With schools forcing them toward test prep, that kills creativity.”
Middle-school students are more likely to understand and enjoy math if teaching is designed for differences in ability, the institute believes.
Students work individually through 10 “modules,” starting at the beginning with whole number concepts. The math students must write out each problem, box their answers and correct every mistake on their work.
. . . After the students take their assessment tests, the teachers meet and re-shuffle the classes. Students are grouped by their progress, so they will always be amongst peers who are around the same level.
Foothill hopes students will get on track in middle school, succeed in high school math and show up in college ready for college-level math.