Thursday, November 06, 2008

Math specialists are becoming essential in elementary schools


Elementary schools are turning to “math specialists” to strengthen the presentation and drill of mathematics concepts. Many elementary school teachers, almost by temperament, live in a people-oriented world somewhat foreign to the intellectual rigors of math, it seems. Schools have long employed traveling reading specialists (we had them when I want to grade school in the 50s), but mathematics specialists are becoming more common.

The Metro section of The Washington Post, p B1, on Thursday Nov. 6 runs a major story by Michael Allison Chandler, “An Addition to the Classroom: With Undertrained Elementary Teachers, More Schools Turn to Specialists”, link here. The story has a picture of a lesson concept of showing simple addition of whole numbers with dice. Physical illustrations or object sets are also very helpful in introducing equations in algebra in middle or high school.

It was not completely clear from the article how the licensure requirements for math specialists map to those for teachers. It would appear that someone with an extensive math background (such as a major) would be expected to complete the 180 clock hours in Virginia. The University of Virginia has a 33 credit hour program for math specialists that includes 18 hours of mathematics and 9 hours of education (one course of which is “curriculum advanced theory (mathematics)”, link here.

Another site discusses the Virginia Mathematics and Science Coalition which offers an NSF Institute program to prepare K5 mathematics specialists. The link is here.

I subbed very little in elementary schools, but in one class a young male mathematics specialist came at the end of the day.

The job of a mathematics specialist is still very “people oriented” and involves communicating with kids, many of whom will say they need a lot of “help”. I noticed repeatedly that, even in high school, certain groups of students were very intimidated by math, such as word problems in algebra.

What I recall from my own grade school days was drill. In second grade, we learned all the multiplication tables. It was big progress to go from the "6's" to the "7's". But it wasn't hard to see that, rather than just memorize a table, one could get the next entry with successive addition.

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