Archive for Sunday, August 19, 1990


August 19, 1990


The days of simple addition drills at the blackboard may not yet be gone in Kansas classrooms, but they're quickly slipping away.

At the same time and with teachers' blessings high-tech tools like calculators are being viewed as necessary learning tools just like textbooks.

Elementary and secondary mathematics education in Kansas is changing and educators say it'll never be the same.

"It's the dawning of a new math curriculum for the state of Kansas," said John Poggio, who, as co-director for Kansas University's Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation, has been involved in the development of methods of assessming the new curriculum.

According to Poggio, also a KU professor of educational psychology and research and associate dean of the School of Education, Kansas is shifting away from a mandate of education that stresses learning minimum skills and moving toward an expanded mathematics curriculum that emphasizes problem-solving thinking.

THE FIRST assessments of students taught the new curriculum will occur this spring, he said, when all Kansas fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders approximately 120,000 students are to be tested.

Kansas' new math curriculum shares many similarities with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' plan for teaching math, released in 1988-89, and it addresses a growing national concern about students' math and science skills.

Last year, the state adopted standards that parallel the National Council's plan, grouping them into three grade categories kindergarten through fourth grade, fifth through eighth grade and ninth through 12th grade.

According to a state education official, mathematics education is of "great concern," thus propelling it to the forefront of curriculum issues here.

"KANSAS ranks pretty well when you look at ACT scores. . . ," said Sharon Freden, assistant commissioner for Education Services for the state of Kansas. "But remaining stable is not good enough. We must improve."

A major concern is the accomplishments of female and minority students in the field, which Freden said is seen as "a real problem" in Kansas.

She said textbook publishers already are trying to address such concerns by revising the content of their books.

Gladys N. Sanders, mathematics coordinator for Lawrence public schools, agreed that it's a new era for mathematics but emphasized that "new" does not mean "experimental."

Sanders, who chaired the committee that wrote the state mathematics standards for students in grades five through eight, also was a trainer for the Kansas Mathematics Academy held recently in Olathe as part of the Kansas Mathematics Improvement Program, of which the new math curriculum is a part.

PRELIMINARY work on the improvement program began in 1982.

"I'm really excited about it," Sanders said. "We hope to get kids turned on to math."

Lawrence schools have been involved with the improvement program since 1988, when teachers piloted a transition math course.

The district adopted the course, which includes pre-algebra, pre-geometry and applied arithmetic areas not given as much priority before and Sanders said it has met with much success.

"The problems are very rich problems, very exciting problems," she said.

Other school districts across the state have begun the program as well, Freden said, noting she expects that number to grow as the pressure to keep pace with innovations in math education grows.

SANDERS described the state's new math curriculum as directed away from drill and practice, and low-level thinking skills, and toward higher- level thinking skills.

It focuses, she said, on problem solving, communication, logical reasoning and mathematical connections.

"It will involve the use of cooperative groups and more emphasis on real life application of mathematics, so when it's learned, it's learned in context (instead of in isolation)," she said.

"Reading is a key issue."

For example, instead of simply working a problem such as 337 divided by 15, the students will be told that 337 students are taking buses to an event. Each bus can hold 15 students. How many buses will be needed?

And they'll have plenty of hands-on experience, working with manipulatives in various math problems. Manipulatives are physical objects, like dry noodles or beans, that students can use during math lessons to better understand their calculations.

FREDEN SAID she expects less emphasis on memorization and repetitive working of one kind of problem as a consequence of stressing the application of mathematical knowledge.

Additionally, the use of technology including calculators will be encouraged. Already, she said, calculators are issued to students along with textbooks for some district classes and all classrooms in the district are equipped with calculators.

Under the new curriculum, even students who have not mastered certain basic math skills can be advanced to higher level courses.

"They should be given a calculator," Sanders said. "The calculator is the great equalizer."

The new curriculum also will mean a shift for teachers, who are now spending extra time in training and in revamping lesson plans.

"They will become more like a coach or facilitator not one who has all the answers and lectures," Sanders said. "But that doesn't mean that teachers don't teach."

SHE SAID Lawrence teachers have been especially responsive to the new curriculum, volunteering their time and energy to learn more about it through various meetings such as last year's Monday Night Math Madness.

Some elementary teachers spent free time last week at Deerfield Elementary School dyeing macaroni and other items to be used as manipulatives during math, she said.

Poggio said he considers the new curriculum as focusing on those students "at-promise for success," rather than "at-risk for failure."

At the KU center, in the School of Education, Poggio and co-director Doug Glasnapp will develop the curriculum assessments.

Those assessments, he said, also will focus on a student's thinking process as well as the accuracy of his or her actual problem solutions.

"Now it's very much a process approach," Poggio said. "It's the process, not so much the answer. We're very excited to build some of these assessment tools."

HE SAID the measure of success actually hasn't been defined yet but will be determined by the policymakers and educators. It will not, however, involve competency testing, which Poggio said "died a quiet death two years ago."

In Lawrence schools, although the state no longer requires it, competency testing in math and other academic areas continues.

Determining the new curriculum's success is an area which will be studied carefully, he said. They'll also be assessing the assessment tools, Poggio said, noting he expects it will take a couple of years to "iron out" the system.

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