It’s the latest thing in education: Teaching teachers the subjects they’re going to teach. The Vermont Math Initiative focuses on building the in-depth math knowledge of elementary teachers, reports Education Week.
“You can’t teach what you don’t know,” said Kenneth I. Gross, a professor of mathematics and education at the University of Vermont and the director of the initiative.
Teachers can’t teach through games and activities if they don’t understand the underlying math concepts, Gross said.
“If the teacher doesnít know the math they are trying to get out of the game or activity, no math comes out of the activity at all,” he said.
Like many in the program, Jackie Bailey, a 3rd grade teacher at South Burlington Elementary School, was “math phobic” when she enrolled.
Now, she excitedly pulls out colorful examples of the calculus work she has done with her students. “I never imagined I would have come this far,” she said.
The program tries to balance content (what to teach) with pedagogy (how to teach). But the university’s education department has pulled out, leaving the program to the mathematicians. Too much content for the ed profs, apparently.
Another Ed Week story reports on the rise of science specialists in elementary schools. Again, many elementary teachers, trained as generalists, aren’t well-prepared to teach science. The emphasis on reading and math tends to squeeze elementary science out of the curriculum.
I have to say that my elementary school ignored science till fifth grade, which featured the duck-billed platypus. We did very little history, geography or social studies before fifth grade. In those idyllic pre-testing days, we concentrated on reading, writing and arithmetic.
Update: David Klein, a math professor at Cal State-Northridge, writes about California’s major math mess. At his campus, the ethnic studies departments run remedial math classes in which everyone passes. Klein fears the cycle of remediation will continue.
Math professors who teach the arithmetic course for future elementary-school teachers, such as myself, are required to allow all students to use their calculators on the exam that tests their understanding of how and why arithmetic “works.”
Students cannot use calculators on the state’s math exams.