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  • Joanne Jacobs

Teacher tries 'just-in-time' math for students who didn't learn the basics

A veteran teacher at Denver's George Washington High, Joe Bolz knows his students didn't learn much math when their middle schools closed. Now they're in high school, trying to learn Integrated Math 2, a mix of algebra, geometry and other concepts.


CPR's Jenny Brundin explains how Bolz is using "accelerated" or "just in time" strategies to teach grade-level skills -- and the middle-school skills they need to solve problems.


“What skills kids learn in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade are really foundational and heavy,” said Mary Pittman, president of the Colorado Council of Teachers of Mathematics and math project director at TNTP.


Students learn more when they're taught at grade level, even if they haven't yet mastered some concepts, she believes. However, writes Brundin,"she said the strategy is difficult, takes a deep understanding of math, and takes high-quality learning materials, which not all Colorado districts have."


Math scores are way down everywhere, writes Brundin. In Colorado, fewer than a third of eighth-graders are on grade level in math.


Bolz's students lost social skills and self-confidence, he tells Brundin.

Bolz’s math class is fast-paced, chock full of competition, games, and working in small groups – all hammering home the ‘slope’ concept. Group work is particularly important, especially for sophomores. Bolz said that age group was hardest hit by the pandemic because practically their entire middle school was online.
Really just getting them to learn to talk to each other and to engage with each other and work with each other….that's been a bigger struggle this year than has been in the past for me,” he said.
. . . He checks in with a student working on a problem, asking if they can perform 75 x 2 in their head. They can’t.

After-school tutoring might help his students, but only if they show up, says Bolz. That will take a push from parents.


Many worry that fewer students will be able to enter STEM careers, because they won't have the math.

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