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Local teachers support new math standards
Elected school chief plans to roll back program exposing students to complex math
East Hall Middle School math teacher Wes Macloskie works on a problem on the classroom board. - photo by Tom Reed

Hall County parents may have noticed a letter in their mailboxes in recent weeks about the changes to Georgia’s math practices and how it is impact classroom instruction.

“We were just saying it has been a challenging time but that our teachers have aligned the curriculum and found the resources to use,” said Melissa Stewart, a Hall math teacher on special assignment.

For the past two years, the state has rolled out a more accelerated math curriculum known as Georgia Performance Standards, Stewart said. Students are encouraged to grasp concepts in areas such as algebra and statistics sooner than before.

The state’s hope was that increasing the exposure of all students to complex math would help boost Georgia’s standardized test scores.

“Students are doing more math than they’ve ever done before in high school,” Stewart said.

The math overhaul, and its use of more “real world” applications, has resulted in new opportunities as well as new challenges, Stewart said.

Traditional courses such as Algebra I, Algebra II and Geometry were replaced with Math I, Math II and Math III. The new courses incorporate principles from algebra, geometry and statistics all three years.

Stewart said that although the textbooks teachers use align with state objectives, they are nontraditional, and some parents are having difficulty helping their children at home.

“That’s why we provided the supplemental materials on the website,” Stewart said.

The letter sent home to parents provided online resources and if Internet access is an issue, teachers can make a copy of the notes or provide help sessions.

“The former textbooks gave multiple examples and lots of drill and practice. Classrooms now are more activity-based and students have more of a role of being active participants,” Stewart said.

The quicker pace of instruction has been a learning curve for both students and teachers.

Chestatee High School math teacher Darrell Skogman said he’s found pros and cons with the new approaches to teaching math. The standards encourage teachers to use a constructivist approach, in which children discover the concept and make connections rather than copy a theorem from the board for example, Skogman said.

“It takes time for kids to discover mathematics,” Skogman said. “But when teachers buy in, there’s a definite advantage to that approach. It gives kids the opportunity to study math at a deeper level.”

Gainesville High School teacher Andy Miller said the integrated math is helping his students see how topics such as algebra and calculus are interconnected and why they are important.

He believes it’s too early to tell from test scores if the curriculum is meeting the state’s goals.

“I actually think the telltale thing will be acceptances to colleges,” he said.

Stewart said teachers have created their own supplemental materials and outlines online, to help and collaborate with their peers. Some have created blogs or websites to share quizzes, lesson plans and worksheets.

“The state gave us something called Frameworks and that’s a guide by which to teach students but sometimes that’s not enough. We pull other resources to get what we need,” Miller said.

Math standards in Georgia will see another shift in the next few years as the state adopted the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards, a national standard for math and language arts.

Stewart said the program won’t be fully implemented until 2013 and it closely resembles the standards used now.“It may just be a readjusting of the standards. What was taught in 11th grade may be taught in 10th grade. That’s a plus for us because we don’t have to reinvent anything,” she said.

The state’s newly elected school superintendent, John Barge, has stated that if he completes his agenda, there will be changes to the new high school math curriculum. Barge, a former Chestatee High principal, said he would like to eliminate the Math I, II and III and return to traditional math practices.

Miller said he’s not convinced that decision would be good for schools.

“Colleges said they want us to do the integrated approach and that’s what we’re doing,” he said. “I think we’ll get the kinks worked out.”

Skogman said regardless of the changes, he likes the attention math is receiving as change tends to drive innovation.

“I think it will encourage teachers to be better mathematicians and get teachers excited which in turn, gets the kids excited. That’s never a bad thing,” he said.

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