Middle School Math: Technology, Policy, and… Equity?

Elizabeth DeCarli at PACE/SVEF Middle School ConferenceLast Thursday my colleague Andres Marti and I were invited to present at the Middle Grades Math: Why Algebra Matters & How Technology Can Help conference at Stanford University. It was a meeting of policy wonks, Silicon Valley movers and shakers, educational researchers, administrators, and even some real live classroom teachers. We did five-minute demonstrations of TinkerPlots and Sketchpad as part of the Digital Tools portion of the day. Even though we’ve both done many presentations of Key software, presenting in front of 400 people and professional video cameras was a bit nerve-wracking!

The theme that emerged during the day was that the current nexus of rapid technological change, constraints on education funding, and the adoption of common standards is creating the opportunity for a disruptive change in education. There seemed to be agreement on this dynamic, but plenty of disagreement on where it should lead us.

The first keynote speaker at the conference was Ted Mitchell, from the NewSchools Venture Fund, a non-profit that funds educational initiatives. He spoke of funding innovations that improve effectiveness within our current educational system, as well as innovations that challenge our current system. He also espoused the view, shared by California policy makers, that most 9th graders should take geometry or algebra 2 rather than algebra 1.

Phil Daro offered a different perspective, arguing that topics from middle school mathematics, such as rates, proportional reasoning, interpreting graphs, and measurement, are the most important mathematical concepts for people who aren’t going into STEM careers. He asked, “Why are we spending less time on the most important mathematics?”

Daro also noted that in high-achieving countries like Finland and Singapore, standards and student performance are closely aligned. If many students are failing to meet a standard, then perhaps that standard should be taught at a higher grade level. Check out the Silicon Valley Education Foundation’s blog for a continuation of the ongoing debate over mandating algebra 1 for eighth graders.

My favorite talk of the day was the Keynote by Jeremy Roschelle. He emphasized the importance of using technology in collaborative ways, not just for the hyper-individualized learning that seems in vogue these days. He noted that educational research doesn’t support the notion that a particular representation (verbal, visual, etc.) can be matched to a student’s “learning style”; rather, it’s important that students make connections among representations. Finally, he emphasized that technology, curriculum, and professional development must be integrated to be effective.

One thing I’m puzzling over: Women are well-represented in leadership roles in the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, and the California Math Council. And Stanford University, the host of the conference, has leaders such as Jo Boaler in mathematics education research and Linda Darling-Hammond in the policy realm. So I don’t know what to make of the fact that all of the keynote speakers, all of the moderators, and nearly all of the panelists were men. To bring it full circle, here’s my exploration of the conference speaker data using TinkerPlots.

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About Elizabeth DeCarli

I worked as a high school math teacher for nine years at James Logan High School, a huge (over 4000 students!) public high school in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was fortunate to start teaching during an exciting time in math education––I had the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues on implementing an NSF-funded curriculum, and I worked as a technology coach, helping math teachers integrate Sketchpad and other engaging programs into their teaching. Before teaching, I worked at one of the early educational software companies, Computer Curriculum Corporation. I've been at Key for six years, first as an Editor, and now as the Mathematics Product Manager.
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6 Responses to Middle School Math: Technology, Policy, and… Equity?

  1. Pingback: dy/dan » Blog Archive » Panel Remarks: Why Algebra Matters And How Technology Can Help

  2. avatar S Jaggar says:

    I am so glad you brought this up! And not just to us here on the internet but to the people in the room who were at that conference who needed to think about it! I’m stunned at the inequity in the conference. At my middle school, the math and science teachers are all women. There are a few male teachers — PE, history, english. I would hope that in the future, the organizers — I would start thinking about how to get the word out to more local, female teachers. This is the sort of conference I would have loved to attend…. had I known about it… and I’m only down the road in Santa Cruz.

    • Thanks for the support! There were teachers in the audience, but I don’t know how the conference was advertised to schools. The only two women panelists were also the only classroom teachers on the panels––go figure!

  3. avatar Nancy McLaughlin says:

    Please add my name and email to any blog notices or discussion boards. I believe that NSF funded curricula like CMP3 and IMP coupled with technology – multi media are the way to transform the math class and improve attitude and learning.

    • Nancy,

      Thanks for the reply – we will definitely add your name to the email list. Sounds like you have a passion for transforming math in a way that helps students really make connections – exciting to hear!

  4. Pingback: Testing...1, 2, 3: A Review of Recent Blogs about Assessment | Sine of the Times

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