Compelling problem of practice: My Algebra students have difficulty with mathematics reasoning.  When learning an algebra skill, students can solve problems in basic form and follow the structure of an example on daily assignments, but they struggle with application of those mathematical operations outside of isolation.  Specifically, students have difficulty applying mathematical skills to word problems, real-world situations, or struggle with multi-step applications of the skills.

Rationale: Mathematics is the oldest and most universal part of our culture which we share with all the world.  It has its roots in the most ancient of times and the most distant of lands and has been used to solve the problems of civilization for centuries.  Many high school students in my math classes asked the long-standing question, “When will I ever use this?”  But the truth is we use math everyday. Students use math to solve the most-simple or most-complex of problems that they can encounter in their school or professional careers.  But simply having the ability to “do” math does not help the students calculate how many yards of mulch to order, or calculate how to plan for retirement.  It is mathematical reasoning that allows students to take the concepts and skills of “doing” math and apply them into their lives everyday.

Although it seems so obvious to math elites, math learners struggle with the application of mathematical skills outside of the “plug-and-chug” homework assignments, I’ve even found that some students can do the problem and then not be able to explain what it is they actually did or why.  Through this techquest, I hope to find a solution that will help students not only strengthen their skills, but be able to apply those skills to word problems, real-world situations, or multi-step applications of the skills they already know.  By improving math reasoning, it will improve student comprehension and confidence in the their mathematical abilities, but also provide students with the foundation for continued problem-solving beyond school and into their futures.

Carolyn McCarthy
11/4/2010 03:31:06 am

This is a really neat area to tackle. I searched high and low for an applied mathematics series for my special ed HS students, and actually found one filled with real problems (farmers fields, figuring out ratios for medical solutions...) from Ohio in their career tech programs. Using interactives from a site such as Thinkfinity could be very useful as well. At times I actually had some of their parents or people I knew in fields that used the mathematical formulas in their work come speak - or these days teachers Skype with them live from their classroom. Having plumbers, carpenters, maintenance personnel, landscapers... - maybe provide podcast interviews explaining how they use the formulas in their work. Perhaps scenarios on a web site, video clips showing it in action... Sounds like project-based learning resources would help.

11/4/2010 11:06:09 am

Many students in Algebra have this very same problem. I hope that we can help each other in solving this problem. The only way that many teachers have tried to get over this problem, is that they simply keep doing word problems to try to get the students to learn "practice makes perfect." I think it's great that you are trying to find new ways to teach math reasoning skills because obviously having them try the same thing over and over again isn't teaching, it's guessing. I hope I help a lot with resources!

Corey M.
11/9/2010 09:33:26 am

Hi Lori,

You've chosen a "problem of practice" that I would imagine math teachers have been dealing with since time immemorial - that is to say, application.

I'll be really interested to see what kind of applications of technology you apply to the problem. The math teachers I teach with at Holt have dumped what you termed the "plug-and-chug" method for an approach that is centered on the application of what students are learning. Students have been reluctant and the number of failures high, but it looks like the approach is becoming more systemic across grade levels and understanding is improving.

Good luck with your TechQuest, If you don't mind I'll probably share your results with some of my colleagues who teach math.




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