I wish I had the solution to this one. I’m now the only upper-level math teacher left at work, and I’m having to give myself weekend crash courses in Algebra II just to make up the gap. Before now, I’ve only had to cover algebra and geometry, which was fine by me.
Being the one nearly all of the high-level math students go through has been something of an eye opener. I had an Algebra II student recently who had no clue when it came to the basics of linear equations and graphing them. This is one of those foundational skills that you really shouldn’t be leaving Algebra I without. I have students who can’t build an equation to solve a word problem. In fact, they shut down when they see word problems, almost as fast as they shut down when they see a fraction that they have to solve without a calculator.
And we wonder why we’re behind in math and technology.
It’s quite a bear to wrestle, but for the sake of our future, it’s one we need to take very, very seriously. I agree with the many articles I read that say we need to completely revamp math education in this country. We need to consider what the students need to learn, and at what level they need to be able to apply what they’ve learned. This may mean more authentic assessment opportunities. This may mean changing the nature of math education to focus on exploration and guided discovery rather than, “Here’s how to do this problem, now go do a hundred problems like it.”
The math team that I was a part of before I became its sole member was focused on trying to explain to students why various concepts in math work. Many students found it incredibly helpful because they suddenly had a logical reason for doing their work in a particular way. When they are confronted with a word problem, they are able to think about what the problem actually is, which gives them a better chance at setting up the necessary equation correctly. Some of them even thank us for the background information, wishing their own teachers would do the same for them.
It going to take a bit, and a willingness to embrace change, but we can get there.