Thanks to Facebook’s Memories feature, I had the opportunity to revisit this post from three years ago. At that time, a friend queried me as to my thoughts on a video titled “Why is Math Different Now?” My reply provided my thoughts as to the methods contrasted in the video.
I agreed with Dr. Raj Shah that finding partial products is a superior method for building conceptual understanding even though it differs from the compact algorithm most people learned in primary school. Additionally, the use of partial products enables a connection to be made to area via a geometric depiction, as illustrated in the video.
You might ask why am I making this Facebook Memory a blog post? My short answer is contained in my reply of three years ago where I optimistically stated that over time we should have more math literate citizens, given the introduction of methods such as Dr. Shah shows. However, I included a caveat using a mathematical acronym as follows: “IFF those who tend to resist change do not derail the effort” where IFF means ‘if and only if’ in mathematical vernacular.
Based on what I’ve experienced, and read in various periodicals, I believe I may have been overly optimistic. Resistance to change can be a very effective means to slow the advance of harmful policies, plans, and/or practices. However, resistance can also impede legitimate progress that offers the chance for more meaningful learning to occur. Yet, as nearly everyone spent time mastering one method of multiplication, and many may not have known why it was taught in the first place, or whether another approach may be superior, the familiarity they possess dominates their thought process leading to a near bandwagon effect in rejecting what is unfamiliar in spite of it offering a path to a more mathematically literate citizenry.
As I look back on my time as a high school mathematics teacher, I am proud of what I accomplished in spite of the multitude of difficulties I encountered along the way. I’ve written about many of them in prior posts.
I believe data speaks volumes; hence, I share the AP Exam pass rates for my AP Calculus AB students over the seven years that I taught the course. I have additional data specific to the AP Exams, placement tests I created and used each year, and a host of other outcomes on a variety of common assessments I used with each cohort. I will share that data from time to time.
For now, let’s look at the AP Calculus AB AP Exam pass rates for students at my school for academic years ending in 2011 through 2018.
The red dot represents the pass rate for AP Calculus AB students for the 2010-2011 academic year, which was prior to my arrival. The blue dots indicate the pass rates for my students for each year after I arrived except for my last year. The green dot reflects the pass rate for my last year.
Over this period of time, the national, average pass rate for AP Calculus AB was around 58%. Before I arrived, the school’s pass rate was a little over half of the national average. When I left, it was two-thirds higher than the national average with not much room for improvement. Overall, the pass rate rose nearly 225% during my tenure.
I would call this a success in teaching AP Calculus, especially when I never even had heard of AP until I ended up teaching this course in my first year as a mathematics teacher.
After nearly a decade teaching mathematics to high schoolers as a vocation, I recently decided that a healthier work-life balance as well as a higher level of respect is needed; sadly, both rarely present themselves to teachers in our country.
Furthermore, I have resigned myself to the belief that developing high school students of mathematics to their fullest potential by holding them to high expectations is a fools errand unless the school and community shares a common belief on how to do so.
And while I could have kept on as a high school teacher, doing so would have required me to teach in a manner that I feel is ineffective at best and deleterious at worst. So, I’m going to teach business courses part time at the community college level, referee water polo games, tutor students in mathematics and physics, blog about my experiences teaching mathematics, and build out a consultancy role spanning education, technology, and business.
Wish me luck!