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Final Research Report: Making it OK to be Good at Math

Greg Willmott (EDU-660511-04-11FA1) Child & Adolescent Development Empire State College December 18, 2011

become my personal mantra. it is imperative that students in the 6th – 12th grades have an expectation to. I think. Cotic and Zuljan 2009. excel in mathematics. . on at least three occasions during our on-line discussions in the MAT program my peers have made similar comments. The genesis of my research is that there seems to be a general understanding or acceptance that “it is OK to not be good in math”. will readily admit that “I am/was not good in math” as opposed to the number of people who would disclose “I am/was not good at social studies/English/etc. Obviously. Technology.”. several topics appear to be prominent. Review of Literature My research focuses on the factors and teaching methods that are deterministic to a student‟s performance in math. Bellamy and Mative 2010. There were far more papers that dealt with teaching math strategies specifically to special needs students. but as that was not the focus for my research they were not included. In fact. Gerstein and Clarke 2007. One of the reasons for my decision to go into the education field. Rapp 2009. Jacobs 2005. with Math as my content area. Vasquez 2004). So. Richards 2005. My unscientific observation is that more 2 people. My research uncovered a fair number of published peer reviewed papers that addressed the question of effective strategies for teaching math (Abbasi and Iqbal 2008. both young and old alike.Making it OK to be Good at Math Introduction “Making it OK to be good at math” may. to pursue these areas one must have an aptitude and general liking for math. From the research. and be encouraged to. to me. Engineering and Math) as their area of interest. Farren 2008. is the significant need for more students with STEM (Science.

First they exert an influence on the actual math achievement. p. 2009) “Teachers of the elementary levels are beginning to understand that their students develop at different rates. their negative belief about their own ability in mathematics is hard to change. And second. 955. sequential methods. “these self-concepts have a greater impact on future course selections than on the actual math grades” achieved. it is important nonetheless. Learning Styles and Rates. As mentioned earlier. It is also imperative that any failures are seen as temporary. “Mathematics concepts are most often taught using auditory. Because mathematic topics tend to build upon 3 themselves.” (Norfleet James. These types of individuals then tend to be the ones who continue with higher level math concepts and many end up as math educators. Thus it is our job to make sure we treat every student as an individual and constantly challenge ourselves to come up with new and different strategies to teach a given topic. 2008) These early self-concepts are more predictive in math education than other subjects and have a two-fold impact. (Steffen.Making it OK to be Good at Math Early Experiences and Self-concepts. this is especially true in math where concepts tend to . meaning they may learn differently and at different rates. they may be detrimental to both academic and emotional progress” (Rapp. especially early on. As Farren states. “if students fail to experience success. both positive and negative.” (p. 2010) Thus it is important that we as math teachers give our students every opportunity to succeed. Not only are these methods ineffective when used with visual-spatial learners. early experiences. 2007) All teachers need to be reminded that every student is unique. Even if the success is relatively minor. The challenge is that students learn differently and at different rates. Math achievement tends to come more easily to students who think in a linear and sequential process.8. so best practices in education should differ as well. have a strong predictive influence and can even dictate the future achievement and interest of students in mathematics.

we may not be able to control our student‟s ability but I believe we have the responsibility to affect their motivation and attitude and the research agrees. Attitude determines how well you do it. The teacher‟s attitude (as perceived by the students) and their ability to make the course „interesting‟ by student interaction was cited as determining factors in student achievement in mathematics. (Abbasi. I believe . attributed to former football coach Lou Holtz. that‟s why it is important to remember the importance of communication in our classrooms. As one student stated. Motivation determines what you do. “(In) grade 10 I began to think that what they were teaching wasn‟t important and a majority of what 4 we were learning was not going to be used in the real world so I became bored in class. “In my experience. S.” (Bellamy and Mativo. Make Math Relevant. 2009). may be cliché but it is one that resonates with me." This quote. Motivation and Attitude. So if the student does not grasp a fundamental concept early on. 2008) It is proven that providing multiple real-world examples. mathematics educators need to do a better job of incorporating real world examples into their lesson plans. As teachers. attitudes.” (Farren. beliefs and emotions of the student play an integral role in the learning of mathematics. Many students who struggle with math skills report that the skills that they are trying to learn have no relevance to the real-world. "Ability is what you're capable of doing. 27) Too many students give up trying to achieve in math because they do not see benefit to understanding advanced math concepts. Ability. Though a challenge. as part of the lesson plan. p. has a positive effect on math understanding and achievement.. K.Making it OK to be Good at Math build upon each other. it makes it that much harder for that student to stay with the pace of the instruction and thus that much easier for them to “give up”. & Iqbal. 2010 p. As Farren states. “Real life situations are the key to learning. J. 6.

Primarily these studies approach the issue from the question – “why aren‟t more women pursuing math intensive fields?” Steffens. particularly in adolescence.25) Effect of Gender.individual and social expectations have a large impact on the gender differences in math.947) Reading this research I found one very interesting fact . p. outnumbering male students by the turn of the millennium.” (2010. and they exceed by far the actual performance differences. Weiss & Pasley (2004) further this idea. beliefs and emotions are an underestimated domain that often goes unchallenged in the classroom. These studies found that boys have a higher self-expectation or self-concept for math ability than girls. Jelenec and Moack state that “During the last decades. Another area where considerable research has been done on factors affecting math achievement is the topic of gender differences. However. fewer women than men enter math-intensive fields such as engineering or computer science. boys‟ have higher math self-concepts relative to girls‟. 7). “They concluded that effective mathematics and science instruction invited „students to interact purposefully with the content‟ and included „various strategies to involve students and build on previous knowledge.” (2008. with percentages ranging below one third in the United States and one sixth in Germany.‟” (p. 5 .Making it OK to be Good at Math that a student‟s attitudes. p. women have caught up with men on postsecondary education. and this can be attributed to several factors including “socialization processes linked to gender play” (O‟Shea). As Steffen et al discuss.

The two teachers I observed followed different approaches. (2010. Due to the limited observation period of 32 hours in one semester. The expectation is that because students learn differently and at different rates. the more the teacher varies their instruction the more successful they and their students will be. p. Instructional methods. as that topic is broad and deep enough that it requires a full report unto itself. 359) The other teacher followed the preferred . I have focused on these areas: 1) Types of instructional methods and styles used 2) Strategies employed to make math relevant and interesting 3) Teacher attitude toward their students and the subject itself and 4) Student involvement and social interaction as part of the lesson plan. In particular. Two areas noted in the research were omitted in my observation discussion. employs what Santrock would describe as authoritarian style restrictive. focusing on keeping order. A much longer term and longitudinal study would be necessary. my host teacher. I also choose not to include gender differences in this report. During my observations. it was not practical to observe early experiences and self-concepts and be able to relate them to achievement. and from 6 the advanced track. The main teacher I observed. I am observed two different Integrated Algebra classes where students in the 9th and 10th grade are given two years to prepare for the Regents Exam.Making it OK to be Good at Math My Observations My observations have consisted of approximately 32 hours of classroom observation at the High School level. The limited discussion I could provide here would be a disservice to the topic. My main observations have been in classes with lower achieving math students. where students will sit for the exam at the end of the 8th grade after 1 year of instruction. This differs from the traditional track where 9th graders sit for the Regents exam after 1 year of instruction.

step-by-step process. An area where both were similar was the teaching method used. Next the students. This is the traditional teacher-led method where first the teacher explains the steps as the student follow along on the worksheet. use of physical movement in the lesson plan. the second example I cited. This is probably what most of us remember from our math classes. Then the students. These approaches include using more creative and holistic thinking rather than the traditional logical. 2010) Clearly. . It would be interesting to see how their respective class test scores compare to see if there is a significant difference that could be attributed to one style vs. sequential method. where the teacher followed the authoritative style 7 and was more engaged verbally with the students.) as well as some other ideas as simple as allowing for extra processing time to help those students who may benefit from alternative teaching methods. work on the problem set in the worksheet. under the teacher‟s direction. based on memorizing the steps. It is easy to understand why the research indicates that this is the preferred teaching style. It‟s about patterns: seeing interesting relationships about numbers” (2009).Making it OK to be Good at Math authoritative style. include art as part of the math curriculum (depth of field etc. fill in the worksheet as they complete a couple of sample problems together. was a much more comfortable and welcoming atmosphere. where she engaged “students in considerable verbal give-and-take and show(ed) a caring attitude toward them”. the other. They both followed what Rapp refers to as the “Auditory. Rapp makes a compelling argument for alternative approaches for those who are more visual-spatial learners as he states “math is not about memorization or drill or speed. Rapp and others suggest alternative approaches to the auditory. These methods would incorporate the creation of math games. (Santrock. sequential” instructional method.

we must continue to work to reach ALL of our students. Again. In my estimation.Making it OK to be Good at Math As the research states. more than one need is being met.” (2009) In addition. trying to give a real world example of deriving the inverse to logarithm is a tough assignment. I found a reference to the following book Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the . many students who are gifted and/or visual-spatial learners have a raised awareness of and sensitivity to global issues. My purpose for this observation is to see how the instructors make the subject of math come alive for their students. As the saying attributed to Albert Eistein goes. By teaching math concepts in the context of social justice. “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Sadly. Strategies employed to make math relevant and interesting. so we know what doesn‟t work 8 for many students – let‟s be brave and try something new. this continues to be a challenge for the teachers I observed. As educators. providing real world examples will probably always be a challenge for math educators. I would encourage all math educators to think outside the box and be inclusive in their teaching methods. Some ideas presented include the following by Rapp. many students who struggle with math feel alienated to the whole subject as it is not interesting to them and they do not feel a connection to math‟s role in the real world. As noted earlier. Let it not be acceptable for students to become frustrated based on a one-dimensional teaching strategy. “Give math problems a real world application. so only problems similar to what the students will see on this standardized test are included in their lesson plans. some of the concepts that need to be covered – especially at the higher levels – are very theoretical. having negative experiences has a long and profound impact. Clearly passing the Regents exam is the primary goal for these teachers. For example. this is not good enough. Simply relying on standardized test examples is not satisfactory.

to change them so that they would see the world of physics as beautiful. Teacher Attitude. by Eric Gutstein and Bob Peterson. William James said "It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which. Thus. My observation so far has shown that the teachers both display a relatively neutral to positive attitude. the greater the likelihood that the students will be engaged in actively learning math and more motivated to achieve. 9 My expectation is that the more the teachers interact with the students on a personal level and show a positive attitude toward the overall subject of math – the better the student‟s experience and attitude will be toward math. which I just don‟t get. in discussing his first job as a high school physics teacher. to help them see the beauty of the world around them in a new way. and would understand that physics is everywhere.Making it OK to be Good at Math Numbers. His lectures are legendary at MIT and were so well known that even students who are not registered for his class regularly attend. that the subject continues to be of interest to themselves. How can you do something without enthusiasm? While it may sound naïve and sophomoric to expect that teachers demonstrate enthusiasm in the classroom." The same holds true in the classroom. will affect its successful outcome. neither has displayed a great affinity toward the overall topic of math. However. 2011) His lectures are so popular that there is standing room only in the 400-seat lecture hall. I take great comfort knowing that there are teachers in this world like MIT Professor Walter Lewin. if for nothing else. In 2007 Lewin went viral when MIT posted . Lewin says. more than anything else.” (Lewin and Goldstein. “My goal was to impart enthusiasm to my students. that it permeates our lives. This may be a great way to introduce some social awareness into math lessons and make it interesting as well. Math instructors should continue to seek to add interest in their lesson plans.

My belief (hope) is that all teachers have some aspect of enthusiasm for the subject they teach and that they should use that enthusiasm in the classroom every day. This teacher also included an interesting body movement aspect to her class. Here. the more learning will occur and thus enhance their experience and increase their achievement. as described by Vygotsky‟s with his zone of proximal development are then able to solve “a range of tasks that are too difficult for an individual to master alone. she integrated the different characteristics of slope into a „Simon Sez‟ game. In addition. he has also become a best-selling author. Student involvement and social interaction as part of the lesson plan. Thus my expectation is that the more students can interact. He was featured on the first page of the New York Times and today his on-line lectures gather over 3. the more opportunities for scaffolding are presented to all students for enriched learning.000 views a day. Students given the ability to work with a more skilled peer or teacher figure. 2010. Both have allowed for time to work on problems but one has them work alone and the other encourages them to break into teams to work on the problems (or as Weis and Pasley would say “to interact purposefully with the content”) and then each team is then tasked with answering the question on the chalkboard. over one million a year. All based on his charismatic and enthusiastic approach to teaching physics. My observation concurs with the research that the more students are involved in the instructional discussion.Making it OK to be Good at Math 10 videos of his lectures online. The students stand and . My observation has shown that one teacher uses considerably more social interaction time than the other.101). but that can be mastered with the guidance and assistance of adults or more-skilled peers" (Santrock. Social interaction in the classroom is important especially with new or difficult concepts. p.

So when asked to show a line with positive slope the students would hold their arms out straight but with their right hand higher than their left. She said that there are always 4 points on the Regents exam regarding slope. Plus. small. . when asked to show negative slope they would raise their left arm and lower their right and so on to show zero slope (arms at same level) and no slope (one arm straight-up and the other straight-down). just the satisfaction of being the last one still going. evidence that adding this approach is effective on a number of levels – not the least is that it adds 4 points onto her students‟ test scores each year. As math educators. We should be encouraging our students to socially interact as part of the curriculum. as the students would cheer for their friends etc.Making it OK to be Good at Math they use their arms to represent the line of a graph. as not only did it add physical movement (a great addition for visual-spatial learners). I commented to the teacher afterwards indicating what a great concept. Math can be seen as a boring and stale subject to many. during an 80 minute block it provided the students with a natural break where they could move about. Conversely. The students loved the game and it also incorporates other movements and of course the need to listen to the vital words of „Simon Sez‟ before each command. yet convincing. The goal of course is to last as long as possible without a mistake. it added social interaction. No prizes are 11 given. she said that none of her students had erred on those problems. it is our job to change that perception. Not only will this make the class more interesting but it will also give students the ability to learn from each other. I thought this was genius. which sometimes proves more beneficial than the best laid lesson plan. In the 6 years she has been incorporating this game into her lesson plan.

poor leadership. proficiency in your content area is important. enjoy being with people. . lack of inspiration and other forms of incompetence – will lead to dissatisfaction. The teaching profession is similar to other professions in that the people who are the most successful are the ones that go above and beyond the basics of their job description and look to incorporate enthusiasm. just because someone has an aptitude for something does not mean that they will succeed in that area. in the NFL 40% of the current head coaches never played a down of professional football. in that this subject does not come naturally for many students. the offices or the athletic fields. poor results and general unhappiness in those same environments. has further strengthened my original perceptions on the teaching profession. To be an effective teacher requires one to be multi-faceted. nor will a successful salesperson be an effective sales manager. then comparing that with the research. With the right leadership and motivation great things can happen in those places. and be well-organized. Having spent 23+ years in the corporate world and 15+ years coaching. (In fact.Making it OK to be Good at Math Reflection 12 Having the opportunity to observe these classes and teachers. Math educators have additional challenges. innovation and fun into what they do. However. In many cases. the opposite is true. but you also must be a good communicator.) Teaching is more than just being smart in your given subject area. True. or a great athlete become a great coach. Conversely. just because someone is strong in math does not mean that they will be a good teacher. Likewise. I conclude that classrooms are no different than the boardrooms. we must not let that fact discourage us or them from believing that they can achieve at the highest levels of mathematics. For example.

as math educators. must make it OK to be good at math.namely adding different teaching techniques beyond the classic audio-sequential instruction method. make mathematics come to life for your students by using interesting and real world examples for the different math concepts.Making it OK to be Good at Math The research. supported by my observation.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson . shows that math achievement can be positively affected by incorporating several different teaching strategies and methods . encourage your students to socially interact with you their teacher and their classmates in the classroom and lastly to be genuinely interested and 13 enthusiastic in your own personal teaching of mathematics. “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. We.

Avoiding Math Taboos: Effective Math Strategies for Visual Spatial Learners. Twenty-five years of research on gender and ethnic differences in math and science career choices: What have we learned?.Making it OK to be Good at Math References Abbasi. V. Technology Teacher. OH. How Learning and Teaching of Mathematics Can Be Made Interesting: A Study Based on Statistical Analysis. W. Bellamy.W. & Zuljan. Rapp. (2009). & Goldstein. E. Merrill. New York. (2004). Farren. 505-515.. J. (2010). Educational Studies. 6(2) Article 4. & Jacobs. & Mativo. Eggen and Kauchak. M. A Different Angle for Teaching Math. (2009). (2008). K. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development.. 14 Bleeker. New Jersey and Columbus.edu/education/tecplus/vol6/iss2/art4 . Free Press. doi: 10. 96(1). A Reflection on My Teaching Practices Using Students' Math Moments. W. 26-28. & Iqbal. (2011) For the Love of Physics: From the End of the Rainbow to the Edge of Time – A Journey Through the Wonders of Physics. Upper Saddle River.bc. Jacobs. (2009). 35(3). E.1002/cd. TEACHING Exceptional Children Plus. M. S. 40(4). M. J.151 Lewin. 97-109.. 297-310. NY. 11(4). International Journal Of Mathematical Education In Science And Technology. (2005). College Quarterly. 69(7). M. M. S. J. Journal Of Educational Psychology. 2005: 85–94. (2010) Educational Psychology: Windows on Classrooms (8th Edition). J. Problem-Based Instruction in Mathematics and Its Impact on the Cognitive Results of the Students and on Affective-Motivational Aspects. Cotic. Achievement in Math and Science: Do Mothers' Beliefs Matter 12 Years Later?..H.. J. Retrieved 11/07/2011 from http://escholarship.

190-199. Steffens. 61(5). & Noack. Jelenec. 102(4). 38(2). P. Journal Of Educational Psychology. S. . 24-28. C. M. NY.. A Report on the Effectiveness of the Developmental Mathematics Program M. Mathematics And Computer Education.Y. Weiss. J. (2004). & Pasley. Inc. I. (2010). (2004). 947-963. (2010) Adolescence (13th Edition). P. John W. New York. What is high-quality instruction? Educational Leadership. McGraw-Hill Companies..Making it OK to be Good at Math 15 Santrock.. Vasquez. On the Leaky Math Pipeline: Comparing Implicit Math-Gender Stereotypes and Math Withdrawal in Female and Male Children and Adolescents. Math Project--Making Your Mathematics: Knowing When and How to Use It.

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