Rethinking Middle School Math

I just wanted to start by giving a shout to all the educators out there. The past year has taught us many things. We have all had to learn patience, flexibility, compassion, and hopefully, we have had a second to reflect and think about what positive changes can be made from the pandemic.

The Impact of Lost Instructional Time

During the past year, my school has been through a revolving door of learning styles. We have been virtual, hybrid, face-to-face, and combinations of them in short periods of time. Having less time than “normal” with my students, and being virtual at times has presented some challenges in covering my curriculum at the depth and pace I am accustomed to. I have had to prioritize some topics and I have had to remove some topics due to lack of time. I feel fairly confident in saying that most teachers have had to do the same. I guess this is what spurred on the new hot topic of “learning loss.” It is not a term that I use myself, but I understand the idea behind it and I am concerned about how the last year has affected our students’ learning.

The “Race to Calculus”

Another hot topic in the math community is the “race to Calculus”. It seems like many students, parents, teachers, and administrators think it’s imperative that students take Calculus in high school if they want to have a successful future. Apparently, that means that students need to take topics like Algebra or higher in middle school to accomplish that goal. Schools start tracking students at a young age to accomplish that goal. That means that the standards at certain grade levels, usually the middle school levels, are either skipped or rushed through. Those topics like operation with fractions, integers, and others are important for creating number sense and succeeding in high school. I have always found this idea of rushing or skipping topics confusing because they weaken the foundation for those math students. Not only do students need time to develop an understanding of these topics, but they also need time to “play” with them.

Building a Strong Foundation

Keeping in mind how the pandemic has affected education and also thinking about why we don’t need to rush to calculus, I think now is an excellent opportunity for us to rethink middle school math. In my opinion, we have been afforded the opportunity to make some serious changes. If we want our students to succeed in the future, we need to make sure they have a strong foundation. Now is not the time to keep doing “what we always have.” The pandemic has affected our students, which means we need to reanalyze our plan for success for them. I recommend we stop the “race to Calculus” and give our students the opportunity to build a conceptual understanding of the topics that are addressed in middle school. If we continue to fly through the curriculum in the less than ideal settings that the pandemic has created, we are going to set our students up for failure. If we want our students to succeed we need to give them time to learn and play with those important math topics in middle school. The pandemic is giving us an excellent opportunity to make a change, that I think will help our students.

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About the Author

Nick Corley

Math Teacher