Thursday, June 27, 2013

Building Better Math Teachers

  It is very difficult to train, maintain, and retain teachers of all kinds in the US due to the expression of teacher value through testing. This could not ring more true for teachers in Mathematics from Preschool through College. While it is difficult to find good teachers in any subject, it is even more common to not be able to find enough teachers to teach Math. There are many factors involved in this scenario that include the tendency of our society to steer clear of math to not being able to properly train our teachers to be ready for the rigors of math education.
Gender stereotypes are still hurting our Math Education’s progress that will make the US more competitive with countries like Japan and Germany. Teachers who are anxious about the subject can pass on their anxieties to other students and girls pick up on these emotions better than boys, perpetuating the stereotype. However, since more students are going to college, researchers have found out that there is no difference in the test scores between boys and girls
  Most elementary education teachers, up to 6th and 7th grade Maths, are required to take a minimal amount of Math Education classes. It may seem that our children up to our middle school students might be ill-prepared for testing or problem solving if teachers are only required to take one or two classes of Math. In contrast, they receive more time in learning how to teach. Many times, it is taken for granted that college education curricula are not cohesive or extensive enough to cover all the K-6 learning standards in two semesters. The higher learning levels, which include Algebra through Calculus, receive more classes but not enough time in perfecting their teaching methods.
  While Schmidt makes some valid points in his evaluations, there are additional ways to attack the problem while building better college Math teacher curricula. Here are my suggestions for preparing better Math teachers for tomorrow’s classroom:
1.      Match the new teacher with a veteran teacher. Mentors can go over lesson plans and observe new teachers in the classroom in an informal way to provide immediate feedback. School systems that rely on feedback from Principal Evaluations are too far and few between.
2.      Hire new teachers as assistants to veteran teachers for the first three years of employment. This is the same idea as a mentor program and may aid in longer time in training. Plus, school systems can allow the new teacher to experience teaching various math subjects without being tied down to one particular classroom.
3.      Build training programs for in-service days specifically geared to reviewing Math material. Even English and History teachers should participate. There may be ways to design an Interdisciplinary Unit for the whole grade to follow.
4.      Allow teachers to build and experiment with various styles of learning. Do one unit based in Multiple Intelligence and another unit based on Inquiry and yet another based on a Theme. Build a portfolio and journal of new teacher works.
5.      Require new teachers to obtain their Master’s Degree in Teaching Math within a time limit. Not only will this boost the school system in how many teachers with Master’s Degrees it employs, it helps new teachers commit to their chosen subject area.
If school systems widely implemented ideas like these, they may find themselves with a strong set of teachers who are capable of building skills and students and may reduce the amount of teacher over-turn in the field.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Gardening as a Learning Experience

  Do you remember when you were a kid playing in the dirt? Did your mom fuss at you for getting covered in mud and hose you off outside before you could come in the house? Good times. Great memories!
  When we were kids, we did not think of such things as work or a chore. Over time, some of us lose our curiosity about the outdoor world as we trudge through daily life. We lose touch with nature and what made us, as children, question why things happen.
  Working out in the yard utilizes two of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences; kinesthetic and naturalist intelligences. Pulling weeds requires your brain to activate on two levels. The naturalist intelligence has to determine which plant is a weed and which is a plant that you want to keep. When you pull the weed, you may have to dig deep if  it is a particular type of weed, like crabgrass, especially if you don’t want it to return. I have discovered, through sore muscles the day after, that I don’t use my kinesthetic intelligence enough.

The next time you think about working in a yard, I am sure your kids will get more than they bargained for and a few new neural connections to boot! Interaction with the natural world may even help boost their science scores! Here’s a few ideas:
§  If you live in an urban area, try a container garden! I live in a suburban area and have deer problems, so I container garden on my back porch. We even grew a watermelon!
§  Have your kids help design a flower or vegetable garden that they can call their own. Show them pictures on the web of what weeds look like and show them how to use the gardening tools.  
§  Identify native birds and animals. Build a birdhouse or feeder. 
§  Build a weather station. My family has done this several times with PVC piping and inexpensive supplies from a lawn and garden shop.
There are immediate health benefits to playing with nature.
§  The exercise! It may help get your kids out from in front of the TV and reduce their risk for obesity.
§  Fresh fruit or veggies will help teach kids how to eat a healthy diet. 
§  Improves hand and eye coordination and develops fine motor skills. 
So what are you waiting for? Grow something today!