Sunday, June 6, 2010

Kids & Math These Days

I've been assigned this summer to "tutor" my 13 year old brother G in math - he just finished Algebra 1 in 7th grade (they get them going really early these days!). Every summer we always have these cheesy workbooks that just make you practice what you already know so you don't lose your skills, but I can see he's fallen slightly behind in all that they've tried to jam into the little tweens' heads this year. I understand that schools want kids to learn math faster, but they obviously aren't doing a thorough enough job when not everyone is understanding and they continue to build on an unstable foundation.

Alas, here I am helping my brother out with math for about an hour each day and going over all the topics he's learned, but in more depth and making 100% sure he gets it all. What a joy it is to see things click in his head that never had in school, and watch him after one week be able to find his own mistakes, understand what he did wrong, and fix them! I love it. 

We've been using this program I downloaded a free 2 week trial for - the full version is $120 - that allows me to formulate my own worksheets with problems the computer comes up with. The process is basically 
1. Choose a topic (Compound Inequalities, Mutliplying Polynomials, Factoring Quadratic Expressions ... )
2. Choose the number of problems and the difficulty level
3. Preview problems and add to the worksheet.
In the middle step, you can actually customize very specific details of each type of problem, and decide to make the questions free response or multiple choice. At the end of adding all the problems, you have the option to mix them up at random, provide a detailed heading, and even print an answer sheet. This thing is awesome!! If I ever become a teacher I am totally investing. But for now it's awesome because at the end of each day of teaching G and doing practice problems together, I can observe what he specifically needs to practice, and generate a worksheet that caters to those needs. 

On top of that awesome program, from "Kuta Software", I've been having him keep a log of all the rules that he commonly forgets or gets wrong, and I've found that actually helps him make less of those mistakes. I really feel that most kids need individualized attention in math, because it's impossible to get a class where everyone moves at the same pace. Even if something needs to be explained in a different way that takes 2 extra minutes, it makes such a difference in the long run, but realistically you can't do that for every kid in a classroom setting. No wonder fewer and fewer people are entering college on the proper math level (or so it seems, I'm not certain on any facts), when curriculums are rushed and classes are full of kids. To propel math education, it needs to be one or the other: Fast-paced curriculum with a small amount of kids to get more individualized attention, or larger classes that move slow enough for everybody to keep up. 

I really hope someone understands that besides me and acknowledges it in schools. And who knows, maybe just Utah is bad and other schools around the country are doing it right. If so, then Utah needs to get with the program and start teaching the right way. Or else I'm gonna have to get a teaching degree and change things myself! 

Oh, and here is a cool screenshot of that program I was talking about. Click on it to get the full view:

If anyone is interested, the program is available HERE for Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1 & 2, and Geometry.

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