HS math: are we stuck?


The Common Core writers dreamed of US classrooms embracing student-centered, engaging mathematical modeling problems that solidified in grade 11 and then diversified in grade 12.  So why are we still seeing topics like, synthetic division, rationalizing binomial divisors and fifth roots in most high school textbooks, prompting teachers to maintain a drag on real progress?  Why are so many schools still turning off and failing large numbers of Algebra 2 students?  Why has our experience coaching cooperative learning so rarely gotten past Kagan? Hammering monotonous procedures can actually be made easier when students can envision why the math they are now learning may lead to abilities to solve real problems.

Here are some ways to put traction on the ultimate goal of motivating students to master 21st century problem solving within 21st century contexts:

  1. Adopt a curriculum that is truly aligned to the CCSS.  Most teachers don’t have time to study the nuances of the standards themselves. Fortunately EdReports.org does and can help identify rabbit trails in textbooks.
  2. If unable to purchase good textbooks, pull these common weeds to free up time to grow modeling skills. 
  3. Encourage teachers to develop the ability to effectively coach explorations and modeling by replacing a single direct instruction lesson with a simple exploration.
  4. Move forward in modeling with 3-Acts
  5. Embed motivating information about  STEM careers (connect math thought processes with interesting careers as opposed to inoculating students with boring word problems).  Embedding STEM is becoming a social justice issue.

While it would be helpful to have some video footage for teachers to be able to wrap their minds around what coaching looks like for specific activities in their textbooks, we certainly can learn much by observing each other.  In the past, teachers who lacked faith in the value of discovery learning were known to give up, supply answers, and then talk about the futility of explorations. Decades of research says otherwise, and so do my observations.  We need to move forward, for the sake of our students as well as the credibility of our profession.

2 thoughts on “HS math: are we stuck?

  1. Lane-
    Thanks for sharing these thoughts. This is why I do the work we do. Too many high school classrooms are stuck in ritual and routine. I would also argue that we need to let go of some the traditional content we’ve always taught and embrace more modeling and problem solving. Keep fighting the good fight.


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