The Achievement Gap and Middle School Math

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 27 2013

Yes, many adults can correctly use fractions

I recently read a post by a teacher who was concerned about the Common Core’s apparent focus on making sure that kids are understanding the math they are learning, as opposed to simply being able to just calculate correctly right away.

I have a strongly differing interpretation of a story she shares about her son solving a division problem. He gets an answer only after several minutes have elapsed and he has created his own (correct) method for solving it. She thinks this is an epic fail (why didn’t he just long divide?!), but I think this is an epic educational victory!

Here is my full response:

One Response

  1. Thanks for this post- I left this comment on Diane Ravitch’s blog:

    I research how secondary mathematics teachers and calculus students understand division and fractions. I can assure you that despite being able to compute answers to problems stated without context, most of the calculus students I speak to are unable to draw a picture to explain what division means. They also have notions about fractions such as they must be always less than one, and that division always makes smaller and multiplication makes bigger.

    This really matters because division is the foundation of understanding rate of change which is essential to understand Calculus and how to apply it to real quantities in science classes. I’m actually taking graduate science classes in addition to my mathematics course work to make sure that I’m not just imagining that having a strong quantitative meaning for rate of change and division is important. I promise you that I see my Geophysics teacher using it every day. I’m not sure if Diane Ravich agrees with this poster, but I certainly hope she is aware that students come to college and high school(I taught high school math for four years) with very few meanings for the computations they know. And I think it is certainly possible that people have been taught how to multiply and divide fractions and forget when they don’t understand them. I know that I have taught students algorithms that they forget despite massive effort and practice on my part.

    I’m not suggesting that we don’t teach algorithms or that kids don’t memorize their times tables. However, I think it is awesome that this fourth grader understands more about division than many of the Calculus students who I have interviewed. My results have been accepted to three math and math education conferences and I have video data and analysis to back up my claims.

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Closing the achievement gap with middle school math

Metro Atlanta
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