Here's what I wrote.
Therese Harrah is in algebra this year and thinks about half her classmates could take the class. She also thinks there's a big fear of math out there that students could overcome by taking good notes, following directions and taking the problems one step at a time.
"People think it's really hard because of all the equations, variables and exponents," Therese said. "But as soon as you learn how to break down the solutions in different parts, it's not that hard."
Poor Therese has already bought the "blame the student" meme. It's the kids' fault they didn't do well. They need to take better notes, follow direction better and solve the problems systematically. Isn't this the teacher's job? To, you know, teach how to do this stuff?Lo and behold, four months later Terese Harrah (or at least someone from St. Paul who found this blog by googling her name) has responded.
Algebra really isn't very hard. So long as you've mastered elementary math. Then it's just a matter of "learn[ing] how to break down the solutions in different parts" according to little Therese. Of course, you learn how to do this by being taught how to do it. It's only hard if you're not taught how to do it well. And, if you're not taught it well, you can forget about calculus. And, if you can't do calculus well, then you can forget about a career in math, science, or engineering -- i.e., the high-paying careers.
umm... excuse me?? i'm that "little therese". not kidding. i'm the girl in that article. i didn't say that it was the students fault, but, c'mon, not every 8th grade student is perfect! do you expect evry student to take perfect notes and always study for tests? no way! it's not the students fault, or the teachers. mary hoffman is a great teacher who actually got me to enjoy math. she works hard and loves her job. so it's not the teachers fault, and it's not entirely the parents fault either. it's a combination of all three. i don't pay attention in class, i get a poor grade. the teacher doesn't teach, i get a poor grade. the parents don't help or support, it affects my grade. so don't go around saying, "poor little therese got it wrong" when in fact you don't have YOUR story straight!I think Therese has been reading The Education Wonks.
I'll just point Therese to this post and see if she can figure out the correct solution for herself by breaking down the
Parental support is always a good thing. But, if the material was being presented properly in school, the need for parental support would be greatly diminished. Parental support is a crutch for inadequte teaching.
Of course, students do need to pay attention. But, how well they pay attention is a function of how well the material is being taught and how well previous teachers have taught previous material. As it turns out, kids who have difficulty manipulating algebraic expressions usually haven't learned how to manipulate fractions all that well either. So what are they doing in algebra class? I'll answer that: not paying attention because they are lost.
In order to do algebra these kids have to learn not only algebra and all the math they didn't learn in previous years. Learning algebra is difficult enough by itself. The problem is exacerbated because these kids are likely lower performers and have a difficult enough time in the first place.
This is a common misconception about how kids learn. Teachers make this same mistake all the time, so you can't blame Therese for faliing into the same trap.
Many teachers believe that lower performers are something like crippled children. They can walk the same route that the higher performers walk, but they need more help in walking...From Student-Program Alignment and Teaching to Mastery, pp. 14-15.
The information these teachers receive about low performers is that they do not retain information, that they need lots and lots of practice, and that they don’t seem to have strategies for learning new material. Ironically, however, all these outcomes are predictable for students who receive the kind of instruction these students have received. High performers receiving instruction of the same relative difficulty or unfamiliarity would perform the same way. Let’s say the lower performers typically have a first-time-correct percentage of 40%. If higher performers were placed in material that resulted in a 40% first-time-correct performance, their behavior would be like that of lower performers. They would fail to retain the material, rely on the teacher for help, not exhibit self-confidence, and continue to make the same sorts of mistakes again.
Don't feel bad Therese, even the mighty EdWonk has stumbled on this same issue.