Because Math’s Too Important to Leave at School

Scholastic’s Math Hub has a great new post on the importance of parental involvement in a child’s math education.  In fact, a recent study found that the higher the level of parental involvement, the greater the student’s understanding of cardinal numbers by the time they enter schools. Even more compelling, additional research indicates that a student’s math knowledge at the time they enter school is often a predictor of their math performance through at least fifth grade.   Here are some other findings worth noting on the connection between math performance and the early introduction of mathematics:

  • A child’s knowledge level is highly related to the complexity of early childhood parental instruction.
  • Findings show that children learn to recite the number sequence before they understand the cardinal  meanings of the number words.
  • Parents who talked more about number with their toddlers had children with a better grasp of the cardinal meaning of numbers at 46 months.
  • Researchers found a correlation between cardinal number knowledge at 46 months and performance on vocabulary comprehension task at 54 months.
  • Number talk that references present objects was more predictive of children’s later number knowledge, especially when talking about large sets.
  • We’ve written much on the importance of keeping students engaged in learning year round, particularly in mathematics where the pernicious effects of summer learning loss are felt across the socioeconomic spectrum.  But this recent research points to an equally important lesson on the importance of introducing students to math at an early age.

    Our own contribution to facilitating parental involvement in mathematics is our own online tool, Math at Home.  Math at Home allows students to locate targeted math resources to help review and supplement current or past lessons.  Because access is 24/7, students have access to math lessons at their own math ability level year round.  Though many of the lessons and activities are targeted toward K-12 students, a number of the resources can be used with pre-K students to introduce them to numbers and basic mathematical concepts. 

    With more studies showing the importance of pre-K math education, it’s our hope that more parents will begin introducing students to math conceps at an even earlier age.

    Welcome Back: Starting with Success

    A brand new school year is here, offering teachers, students, and parents the opportunity for a fresh and positive outlook for the coming months in the classroom. In the article Starting the School Year Right in the August edition of The School Administrator, Thomas R. Guskey emphasizes that the first two weeks of school are critical for students and parents to feel good about what the students know and what is possible to achieve in the coming months.

    Many teachers try to formally or informally assess the ability level of students at the beginning of the school year.  But Guskey cautions that the first assessments need to “help students experience successful learning” during the first two weeks of the year.   It may be important for the educator to firmly establish what students know rather than what they don’t know.

    Guskey’s right.  Educators can help put students at ease early in the year by ensuring that the material they receive is at or near their ability level.  With regards to reading, many students across the United States are assessed in the spring and many states report Lexile measures as an indication of a student’s reading level.  The student Lexile measure allows educators to match students to targeted material, a useful way to develop student confidence and promote motivation. 

    Because reading levels in a single classroom vary considerably, teachers would be well-advised to differentiate material so that students are able understand the text and experience success.  The Lexile Framework for Reading offers tools to measure text as well as ‘Find a Book’ tool, which provides the Lexile measures of trade books and textbooks in all kinds of categories and genres. Matching the text measure to a student Lexile measure can be a strong asset for helping struggling readers be successful.

    Similar to the Lexile scale, the Quantile Framework for Mathematics utilizes a scale that places the math level of students and the difficulty of the math skills and concepts on the same scale.   The Quantile measure for specific mathematics skills and concepts can be found at the Quantile website where the topics are aligned to state standards as well as to the Common Core State Standards.

    When student Quantile measures are available from state assessments or other products aligned to the Quantile Framework, then targeting student needs in the mathematics classroom becomes much more manageable, allowing content to be tailored to the student ability level as well.

    Dr. Guskey offers numerous suggestions for facilitating positive experiences for students. Critical stakeholders include not only students and teachers, but also parents and administrators. This community of supporters has a strong influence over the long-term success of our children. We often speak of differentiating instruction to meet the needs of our students. But differentiating can mean much more to the students if they recognize their abilities and use that information to grow into motivated and self-assured students throughout their academic career.

    More on Khan Academy

    Here’s Wired on the innovative work of Salman Khan:

    Khan Academy is an educational website that, as its tagline puts it, aims to let anyone “learn almost anything—for free.” Students, or anyone interested enough to surf by, can watch some 2,400 videos in which the site’s founder, Salman Khan, chattily discusses principles of math, science, and economics (with a smattering of social science topics thrown in). The videos are decidedly lo-fi, even crude: Generally seven to 14 minutes long, they consist of a voice-over by Khan describing a mathematical concept or explaining how to solve a problem while his hand-scribbled formulas and diagrams appear onscreen. Like the Wizard of Oz, Khan never steps from behind the curtain to appear in a video himself; it’s just Khan’s voice and some scrawly equations. In addition to these videos, the website offers software that generates practice problems and rewards good performance with videogame-like badges—for answering a “streak” of questions correctly, say, or mastering a series of algebra levels.

    We’ve written before on Khan’s work.  By offering a free, virtual classroom available to anyone with a few minutes and an Internet connection, Khan Academy provides students with easy access to information on their own terms.  And because the lessons are videos, students are free to review again and again, allowing them access to the content as often as needed.  This means that students can move at their own pace, moving ahead when ready or reviewing material where necessary.  Khan Academy stands in stark contrast to the assembly line model of traditional classrooms and represents individualized instruction where students are free to move ahead as they master prerequisite material.  And it appears to be paying off:

    Initially, Thordarson thought Khan Academy would merely be a helpful supplement to her normal instruction. But it quickly become far more than that. She’s now on her way to “flipping” the way her class works. This involves replacing some of her lectures with Khan’s videos, which students can watch at home. Then, in class, they focus on working problem sets. The idea is to invert the normal rhythms of school, so that lectures are viewed on the kids’ own time and homework is done at school. It sounds weird, Thordarson admits, but this flipping makes sense when you think about it. It’s when they’re doing homework that students are really grappling with a subject and are most likely to need someone to talk to. And now Thordarson can tell just when this grappling occurs: Khan Academy provides teachers with a dashboard application that lets her see the instant a student gets stuck.

    …The result is that Thordarson’s students move at their own pace. Those who are struggling get surgically targeted guidance, while advanced kids like Carpenter rocket far ahead; once they’re answering questions without making mistakes, Khan’s site automatically recommends new topics to move on to. Over half the class is now tackling subjects like algebra and geometric formulas. And even the less precocious kids are improving: Only 3 percent of her students were classified as average or lower in end-of-year tests, down from 13 percent at midyear.

    Those results are worth noting.  Khan’s work is inspiring and is likely just the beginning of the work that can be done with virtual classrooms.  We’ve incorporated Khan’s work into our own tools on the Quantile Framework for Mathematics website.  In Math at Home, for example, students can select textbook chapters and lessons and search for supplemental material by which to review their primary lessons.  In many cases, they will find a variety of Khan videos available to help review core skills and concepts.  If you haven’t already, be sure to take a look.

    Raising Standards: Fighting The Coming American Worker Shortage

    A familiar topic these days is the state of our economy, particularly the volatile job market.   But as many employers have made clear, there is a disturbing shortage of skilled workers when it comes to positions that demand strong skills in math and science.  According to this recent article from CNNMoney, executives from major corporations are voicing their concerns on the standards set for today’s students in science, technology and mathematics.

     The group of executives, called Change the Equation, notes that only one fifth of today’s 8th graders are proficient or advanced in math, citing figures from national educational assessments.

     That’s cause for concern.  It appears that our country’s lead in math and science (which are prerequisites for careers in technology, engineering, and the sciences) has weakened considerably.  And without some change in our current trajectory, we will soon face a severe deficiency in homegrown talent

     The CEO-driven initiative launched last fall as part of the Obama administration’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign in response to forecasts that the U.S. will be short as many as 3 million high-skills workers by 2018, according to a Georgetown University report issued last year. Two thirds of those jobs will require at least some post-secondary education, says Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

     The good news is that the Common Core State Standards offer more rigorous standards across content areas, including math and science.  If adopted, the US can expect a higher set of standards to ensure that students graduate ready for the demands of college and career.  Not surprisingly, many employers support raising academic standards as a way to prevent excessive outsourcing and having to choose from within an unskilled workforce.

    To tackle the predicted lack of qualified workers, Raytheon Co., a major defense contractor, has developed software to help state educators, lawmakers and others develop tailored plans to improve math and science education and workforce policies. Like other defense contractors and many government agencies, Raytheon needs homegrown talent because national security guidelines do not allow for easy outsourcing of work or importing workers.

    We too recognize the importance of disciplines like mathematics in preparing students for the demands of the contemporary workforce.  Math at Home represents an attempt to keep students focused on math year round.  Math at Home allows educators, parents, and even students to match themselves to targeted math resources (games, worksheets, video tutorials, practice activities, etc…) based on current textbook lessons. In addition to linking to targeted math resources, Math at Home allows students to create multiple resource lists, which they can then share (through e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter) or save for a later date.  It’s our hope that Math at Home can play a small role in keeping students engaged in math activities all year and in helping prepare them for the rigors of life beyond high school.

    Using Social Media to Support Instruction

    Earlier this year we mentioned how educators are using social networking sites including Facebook, Twitter and others to extend instruction outside of the classroom, even in cases of inclement weather.  As reported this week, teachers in California are continuing to incorporate social media into their English classes.  “Rather than just the teacher reading student work, an entire class can read, review and give feedback on other students’ writing.”  Teachers claim that using social media as an educational conduit has also encouraged participation from students that are often too shy to raise their hand in a more traditional classroom setting – giving a voice and outlet to all students. 

    And the utilization of social media sites as a tool to supplement instruction is not limited to the English classroom.  At MetaMetrics we’re trying to incorporate popular social media outlets into our own tools.  Our Math at Home utility, which allows students to locate targeted math resources at the right level of difficulty, now includes social networking features.  Based on the Quantile Framework for Mathematics, “Math at Home recommends various resources that students can add to their list of favorites.  Students can then print, email or share their list on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

    In addition to encouraging participation in the virtual classroom during the school year, social media sites also support year-round instruction efforts by making resources available to students from any place at any time.  This is especially critical during the summer months when research shows so many students are susceptible to summer learning loss. As social media sites near ubiquity we hope that students will take advantage of these tools to review and solidify their skills.

    Rethinking Math Education: An Experiment with Video

    We’ve written before on how organizations like Virtual Nerds or individuals like Salman Khan are capitalizing on easy access to video and then harnessing the Internets capability to rapidly disseminate short chunks of information through multiple channels.  The ability to access specific, targeted material – and repeatedly view on-demand content – means that many students are able to engage with the content in a setting of their choice, a setting hopefully free of other distractions.  Plus, accessing information on-demand means that students are able to free up valuable mental real estate; students don’t have to be distracted by monitoring social cues or focusing on facial expressions, or even worrying about the speaker’s perception.  Instead, the student is free to focus almost exclusively on the actual content.

    Here’s Khan at a recent TED talk explaining what he thinks may account for the appeal of his math videos.

    Khan is not alone.  Vi Hart has garnered recent acclaim for her ability to take high-level, abstract, mathematical concepts and render them both accessible and fun.  Hart offers her visual work and explanations through both YouTube and her own site.

    Video formats – like the Khan Academy YouTube videos and those created by Virtual Nerds – offer math students a valuable way to reinforce their current lesson or access more in-depth explanations in a setting of their choice.  That sort of accessibility and ease of use were a part of our thinking in making both Virtual Nerds and Khan Academy videos available through our own Math at Home utility.   Math at Home allows parents and educators to link students to resources at a targeted level based on the Quantile Framework for Mathematics.

    If you haven’t already checked out this valuable new resource, be sure to take a look.

    Video Tutorials Now Available in Math@Home

    Here’s some good news for students who are struggling with mathematics: our free Math@Home web utility now includes Virtual Nerd video tutorials. The instructional videos provide students with the extra help they need to understand the textbook lessons being taught in school. It’s like having unlimited access to a personal tutor in the comfort of their own homes!

    Plus, each Virtual Nerd tutorial has a Quantile® measure to describe the difficulty of the math lesson. This ensures students are matched with videos at the right readiness level for their unique abilities.

    Access to the Virtual Nerd video tutorials in Math@Home is free.  However, subscriptions are available for students and parents who want to access more interactive tutorials on the Virtual Nerd website (access is free for registered educators). Each of these tutorials features an expert tutor and diagrams to explain all of the steps necessary to solve math problems spanning Pre-Algebra through Algebra II. They also allow students to determine the level of support they need. By clicking on a diagram or a specific step, term or symbol, students can launch other tutorials on those topics that require more instruction, and then continue with the main video. Check out this YouTube video for more details.

    Math@Home uses Quantile measures to connect students with a variety of family-friendly math resources, like books, worksheets and websites, that best match their ability level and the textbook lesson they’re studying in school. In addition to the Virtual Nerd tutorials, the utility also provides access to instructional videos from the Khan Academy.

    Why not get started now? Visit Math@Home and simply enter some basic information—the student’s state, grade, and Quantile measure or comfort with grade-level mathematics—to search the growing library of video tutorials and other resources that can help students practice mathematics at the right grade and ability levels.

    Increasing Instructional Time

    Much has been recently written on the PISA(Program for International Student Assessment) test results, which were released last month.  PISA is distributed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (based in Paris) to 15 year old students in most industrialized nations.   As The New York Times reports, students in Shanghai ranked first by a substantial margin, while “the United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects.”

    This is disappointing news.  As President Obama recently stated, whoever “out-educates us today is going to out-compete us tomorrow.”  If the PISA test is any indication of our current standing in the global education sphere, we have cause for concern.  Thomas Friedman of the NY Times claims that we have “been getting out-educated” for years and asserts that the only way to bring students in line with international standards is through reform.  He’s not alone in calling for drastic change.  Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan says:

    Incremental change isn’t going to get us where we need to go.  We’ve got to be much more ambitious.  We’ve got to be disruptive.  You can’t keep doing the same stuff and expect different results.

    The good news is that some of that change is already occurring.  A recent Newsweek article highlighted a network of schools that, since its inception, has been embracing change and seeing results.  We’ve mentioned  KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools in the past and commented on their approach to education, particularly their focus on extending the school day and abandoning traditional school calendars by requiring summer school programs for all students. 

    We’ve long advocated mitigating the well-documented effects of summer learning loss by adding instructional time to the school year.  Our own Dr. Malbert Smith has written on the consequences of our current traditional calendar, which limits educational time to far too few hours a year. 

    Our own contribution to the crippling effects of summer learning loss is to provide educators and students with access to educational resources year round.  Find a Book, for example, allows students to match themselves to targeted texts within their areas of interest.  On the math side, Math at Home allows parents and students to select targeted math resources based on the textbook in which they’re currently working.  If you have not yet used them with your student, be sure to give them a try.

    Welcome Back: An Open Letter to Educators

    If you’re like me, the start of a new school year brings mixed emotions. Summer vacation seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. Some of the books I hoped to have read and the projects I intended to complete will have to wait for another day or maybe even another summer. On the other hand, the new school year elicits feelings of wonder and excitement. Schools across the country open their doors to fresh beginnings and intellectual journeys that ignite curiosity and creativity in this latest generation of learners.

    My recent blog post, “Back to School,” discusses August as being, according to the census bureau, the second biggest retail month of the year, due, in part, to large numbers of citizens preparing for the return to school.  As important as this time is for our current economy, the real importance of the return to school is that it resumes our national goal of helping every child achieve their full potential, dreams and aspirations. As an educator, this is the most exciting time of the year for me. In fact, I always think of the start of the school year as the real New Year’s Day. 

    While we hope this is an exciting time for you as well, we also realize that the start of the school year brings unique challenges. The critical role you play in our country cannot be overstated. Educators have long been considered one our most undervalued resources. My hope is that one day you will be treated in a way that is commensurate with your responsibilities. After all, there is no greater responsibility than enabling our children to realize their potential. And there is no bigger challenge than preparing our diverse student population with the knowledge and skills necessary to compete and succeed in post-secondary life. As we start back to school, I pledge to you that MetaMetrics remains dedicated to helping you “fight the good fight.” In doing so, I want to remind you of the various free resources we offer:

    1. We Thought We Should Mention”—Our blog is a great way to stay current on topics that affect you – everything from education to technology to the world of assessment and measurement. I encourage you to read it often and to share your comments.
    2. Common Core State Standards—We offer a variety of resources to help you better understand how Lexile® and Quantile® measures support the Common Core State Standards’ goal of preparing all students for college and careers.
    3. Find a Book”—Our free book search utility allows you to build custom reading lists based on an individual’s reading ability and interests, and then locate your selections at the public library nearest you.
    4. Quantile Teacher Assistant – Our online QTA tool locates resources for educators that can help differentiate instruction for struggling math students and identify those skills that are most relevant to the topic of daily instruction. This tool is aligned with state mathematics curriculum standards to make it directly applicable for use in the classroom.
    5. Math@Home —The new and improved Math@Home will offer students an improved way to locate targeted mathematics activities and resource.  We expect this utility will launch in the next few weeks.

    On behalf of everyone at MetaMetrics, I hope you have a great year and we look forward to working with you.

    Malbert Smith III, Ph.D.President

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    MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.