published Monday, January 25th, 2010

New ways to make numbers add up

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Nancy Lance

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    Staff photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press Seventh-grade math teacher Jamie Bloodworth uses her laptop to help advanced math student Sara Prokosch with a problem on Thursday. Mrs. Bloodworth uses a curriculum that does not match up with present textbooks provided by the state of Georgia.

After Georgia rewrote public school standards for 2006, math teachers discovered the textbooks didn’t match up with the new curriculum.

Teachers identified creative ways to teach without a published math book that meets the standards.

“I use old textbooks from a plethora of subjects because of the way it’s changed,” said LaFayette Middle School math teacher Jamie Bloodworth. “A lot of the eighth-grade stuff (under new standards) is in old high school books, like the old Algebra 1 books.”

“There’s (material) on the Web site for the state department, and it’s useful. There’s just not enough of it,” Mrs. Bloodworth said.

State resources tie directly to the new standards, she said, and the Internet and a program, “Study Island,” also provide assistance.

Using diverse information sources has an advantage, she said — even though it’s more work — because her students apply math skills in “several different contexts.”

“Even if I were to have a textbook at some point — and hopefully they will come up with something — I would continue to pull from a lot of sources because I’ve seen how productive that is,” she said.

Math classes at Southeast High School in Whitfield County have gone “bookless,” math teacher Tom Appelman said.

“We had to decide if $150 per student was a wise way to spend our money,” Mr. Appelman said.

He and his fellow math teachers believe students mainly used textbooks for homework, not for learning, he said.

“We decided to spend our money on technology,” he said. “That put the onus on us to create our own curriculum.”

The locally developed curriculum “aligns right on” Georgia’s curriculum, he said.

“It takes a lot of work the first year to put all this stuff together, but after you have it together it’s no different” from marketed materials most teachers use, he said.

NEW STANDARDS

The mismatch arose across all math subjects with Georgia’s new curriculum standards, particularly at the high school level, said Nancy Lance, director of curriculum and instruction for Walker County Schools.

“Previously, we were teaching Algebra 1, Algebra 2, geometry; later on statistics and Algebra 3, calculus,” Ms. Lance said. “Now our courses at the high school have been integrated. So we now have math 1, 2, 3 and 4. In math 1, you’re going to have algebra, geometry, statistics and probability, all blended together in that course.”

Math 2 includes another “blend” of courses, she said. Math 3 is to be implemented in the next school year.

Curriculum changes in other subjects didn’t create the textbook mismatch at the level that happened in math, she said.

Because Georgia’s math curriculum is unique when compared with other states, “very few (textbook) companies even tackled this challenge,” she said, and when they did, “our teachers found that there was not a close enough match to warrant making a purchase.”

Similar issues arose at the elementary and middle-school levels when teachers discovered that some concepts in textbooks were introduced in other grades, earlier or later, than in the state plan, she said.

But the elementary and middle schools books still don’t match perfectly and teachers use them only part of the time, she said.

Students do well in either case because teaching is focused on the curriculum, not the textbook, she said. But parents often are surprised and confused when they try to help a child who doesn’t have a math book, she said.

A collection of other sources and materials costs about the same as a new textbook, at least $100, she said. The state provides only $40 or so, leaving the difference to the local system, she said.

Catoosa County’s high school improvement specialist, Trish Shrimpf, believes the new curriculum adequately teaches math.

“I believe that the (Georgia Performance Standards) is preparing our students to problem solve in ways that textbook learning cannot always deliver,” Mrs. Shrimpf said. “The tasks provide teachings for math concepts but vital skills in deeper thinking and approaches to solving problem situations; skills that are so important beyond school.”

“RACE” TWIST

The federal Race to the Top Program could help the textbook mismatch in the long run, Ms. Lance said. Georgia applied on Tuesday for a $462 million award from $4.35 billion in federal stimulus funding.

The Race to the Top’s “Common Core” standards for math and other subjects could force Georgia and other states to adopt another curriculum, she said.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The initiative worked to develop common standards in English-language arts and mathematics for grades K-12, according to the National Governors Association Center’s Web site.

Ms. Lance said she and many other educators believe “Common Core” standards and Georgia’s standards won’t be very different.

That should mean there will be plenty of textbooks available once enough states have signed on, she said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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