Talking Math

A successful math initiative used in some elementary schools will expand to some middle schools. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports some teachers in the Houston Independent School District will be trained in a different approach to teaching math.

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HISD math teacher Linh Hoang has a handful of students in front of her to demonstrate the Houston A-plus Math initiative.

"Now first of all can someone tell me what's that fancy math term that we can use when we refer to these letters. Vanessa. A variable. Variables. What is a variable. Jessica. A symbol for a variable. A symbol for a value. Good. Great."

The students and the teacher each have sectioned trays with colorful insects, lady bugs, grasshoppers and...

"Follow as I read it. Jack's collection two grasshoppers, twice as many ladybugs as grasshoppers, nine insects in all. What do you first gather from the problem?"

Hoang and the students then talk through the problem, dividing up their insects. All that information is plugged into several algebric equations. Houston A-plus Executive Director Michele Pola says that's the idea behind the K-5 Math initiative.

"The goal of these teaching strategies is to move beyond rote memorization of time tables, for example, the emphasis is on helping students see the relationships between numbers, both hands on problems and through thinking and talking through their answers."

The program has been around in elementary schools and now with the support of ExxonMobile it's expanding to several middle schools in HISD. ExxonMobil Foundation President Geral McElvy says the need for such approaches to math teaching is evident.

"Now recent studies have shown there's been erosion in the educational competitiveness of students in the U.S. in math and science. When our graduating 12th graders, and this is across the country, are measured are measured against 21 other industrialized countries, they scored below the average in the areas of math and science."

The math initiative has provided results in the elementary schools. For the nearly two dozen schools that have had the program, students who met state standards in math have grown from 47 percent in 2003 to 66 percent in 2006. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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