Category Archives: Math

What skills do students really need to compete in a global economy?

STEM learningThe alarm bell has been sounding for a while now about a shortage of skilled STEM workers in the U.S., with business leaders often calling on schools to do a better job of preparing students for a hypercompetitive global economy. As a result, we’ve seen a dramatic, nationwide rise in STEM initiatives—from large federal programs like Educate to Innovate to your local elementary school’s afterschool robotics program.

Others, however, say there is no evidence of such a shortage and that other factors are at play, such as businesses not being willing to pay higher wages that would attract more skilled workers. Some critics have even suggested that focusing too much on math, particularly algebra, is taking away from other, more critical skills students need to be learning.

So what’s an educator to do? In the December 2016/January 2017 issue of Educational Leadership, McREL’s Bryan Goodwin and Heather Hein try to get some answers by taking a look at what the research says about the skills gap and how to best fill it.

There is evidence, for example, that the skills employers across multiple industries are most looking for are critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and communication. The skill they’re least interested in? Applied math. Other studies show that the bigger issue may be the way math is taught: A 2004 study, for example, shows that American teachers often downgrade complex, heuristic-type problems into simplistic, formulaic ones that don’t engage students in real problem solving. Another, more recent study seems to bear this out—college students identified as needing remedial mathematics actually performed better when they were placed in more challenging statistics courses, which researchers say were more practical and engaging.

To succeed in a global world, the authors conclude, students need both hard and soft skills, basic and applied knowledge, and, perhaps most important, not just computational skills but the creative thinking needing to solve real problems.

Read the entire column.

Posted by McREL International.

Sometimes the best technology is no technology

In 1989, I became the principal of a technology magnet school. Nine years later, I was named an Apple Distinguished Educator. As the lead author of Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works, 2nd Ed. (2012), I remain an active proponent of technology-infused learning. Technology enables learners to do or create things that might not otherwise be possible. Knowing all of this, you might ask why I, of all people, would ever advise educators to restrict technology in the classroom.

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GreenSTEM: Inspiring and empowering learners to change the world

How do we teach our students to pursue a line of inquiry that connects personal, community, and global decisions to an understanding of relevant science, technology, engineering, and math? “GreenSTEM” is an engaging and innovative approach for both students and teachers.
In an effort to distinguish traditional science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs from those with a focus on ecology and sustainability, some educators have recently been adding “green” to STEM programs. The concept is so new that a standard definition of GreenSTEM—one that fuses the real-world connections intrinsic to STEM learning with the deeper concept of sustainability—has yet to be penned.

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Our 10 (or 11) most popular blog posts of 2014

Educators face many challenges each day—large and small—that when addressed effectively have the ability to inspire better teaching, leading, and learning. Our staff continually ask themselves the same question you might ask yourself: As educators, how can we make a bigger, better difference in student engagement and knowledge?

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Do school structures create obstacles for STEM learning?

STEM is a hot education initiative these days, with numerous schools investing energy and resources to create more, and more robust, learning experiences for students in science, technology, engineering, and math, all with a goal of boosting student interest and readiness for post-secondary STEM education and careers. Yet despite the investment and focus, research studies show that many of these efforts fall flat, producing few, if any, gains in student achievement and interest.

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Taking some of the stress out of professional development

For most occupations, routine continuing education is necessary to keep current with new and changing policies, procedures, and technologies and is critical to job expertise and career advancement. Why is it, then, that educators too often view professional development (PD) opportunities with a touch of dread and angst?

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An AWSM way to increase middle schoolers’ math success

How does student work inform instruction? I read Katrina Schwartz’s MindShift blog post, “How Looking at Student Work Keeps Teachers and Kids on Track,” and immediately found connections to McREL’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) study of a formative assessment model for middle school math, now completing its third year. Not only does Ms. Schwartz highlight the use of student work as a method for improving student learning and teacher practice—a cornerstone of our study—but she also relates this to mathematics.

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What’s STEM got to do with it?

Meaningful careers. Financial stability. Happiness. That’s what we all want for the future of our students, right? This might feel like an abstract, far-off concept when working with elementary school students. However, the foundation built during these formative years is exactly what supports achieving those goals. How do we cultivate the curiosity, tenacity, and student empowerment to help our students realize that future? Think: Science… Technology… Engineering… Math.

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Data Snapshot: National differences in ELL NAEP mathematics scores

Most of the commentary following the release of national NAEP scores last week focused on flat performance among the nation’s 4th grade students. Of course, reading past the byline yields more interesting fodder for discussion.

In the case of English Language Learners, NAEP captures national variation in achievement that’s difficult to ignore – and explain. Using NAEP data and published ETS ELL statistics, I pulled together a couple of graphs comparing 4th grade ELL performance among those states with the nation’s largest ELL populations (Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas) and those states with the nation’s fastest growing ELL populations (Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Nebraska, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee). Among the latter states, rates of ELL population growth between 1994 and 2005 ranged from just over 300 percent (Nebraska) to just shy of 715 percent (South Carolina).

 

LargestELL

 

FastestELL

While you might expect both groups to demonstrate relatively similar patterns of achievement over time, NAEP outcomes suggest otherwise. Clearly, this is more than a demographic story: several states with fast-growing ELL populations seem to be doing fairly well (North and South Carolina, Kentucky) in comparison to more heavily populated states that are lagging behind the national leaders (Arizona, California, Illinois, New York). And internal variation within each group? All over the board. Critics have pointed out that NAEP is sensitive to differences in curricula and standards in addition to more controversial policies (namely, distribution of instructional resources and social promotion).  Obviously, graphs are just a starting point, but it’s worth pointing out that an honest NAEP discussion should serve as a starting point for uncomfortable questions about educational equity.

Jane Barker is a Research Associate within McREL’s Research & Evaluation department.