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Showcasing Kelly Young and "Math Competency"

"I believe that learning mathematics is similar to learning to play an instrument or learning a sport," Kelly Young told Education World. "It takes a lot of practice and not everyone learns at the same speed."

A student strings beads to represent the digits of pi.

For that reason, Young's seventh grade math students at Papillion (Nebraska) Junior High find that she has some unique classroom policies. She does not grade daily homework, she allows her students to use their notes on some tests, and she permits retests. She adopted all those approaches with one aim -- more effective learning.

"Our students come to us at different levels of math competency and with different experiences in the schools they previously attended," Young explained. "Some of them doubt their ability in math or have had bad experiences in previous classes, and some have parents who tell them that they couldn't do math either, making it okay for them not to be able to do math. To me, where students are at the end of the unit, chapter, quarter, or year is what really counts, not how much or how little they struggled along the way. I work very hard to ensure that when I put a grade on a report card it truly reflects a student's mastery of the concepts."

Seventh grade math students create transversals and parallelograms with spaghetti!

Young assigns homework almost every day, and it is comprised of a set of practice problems that addresses new concepts learned during the day and review problems from previous lessons. The students also complete a writing problem in which they must explain their problem solving technique in words. At the beginning of class, students correct their own homework and earn points for completing the work. Although other teachers warned that students might not do their homework if it wasn't graded, Young finds that only about three students out of more than 100 don't complete their homework on a typical day. If they can offer a reasonable explanation, she has them do the homework by the end of the school day.

Hands-on activities also help Young's students grasp math. In one recent lesson, advanced math classes strung beads to make pi key chains. By the next day, many of the students could recite the first 20 or 50 digits of pi by looking at the colored chain! In her regular math classes, students glued spaghetti on paper to make transversals and parallelograms. Young often looks beyond the textbook to find activities that reach visual or kinesthetic learners.

"When I give a test, I hope that all my students are able to master the concepts," said Young. "However, sometimes they fail, and I don't believe that my teaching should end there. I don't believe that I should accept that failure and move on. I feel that I still have a responsibility to help that student overcome whatever obstacle is getting in the way of success."

When tests involve many formulas or rules or contain a great deal of information that students are encountering for the first time, Young lets her students use their notebooks or note cards. When a student fails a test, she considers it a signal that she and the student need more one-on-one work with the concepts. The student comes to her classroom before or after school or during team study hall to review and practice.

"Before students can retake a test, they must have a review session with me, correct their answers, explain in writing what they did wrong when they solved the problems on the test, and then do another set of practice problems on their own," Young stated. "Only after all those tasks have been completed, and I think that they can master the test on their own, do they retake the test."

Objective sheets for each student with lists of concepts within the chapters help Young track her students' mastery of mathematical content. She updates the information on those sheets when students retake tests, and the recorded level of mastery plays a role in determining students' grades.

Photos courtesy of Kelly Young.

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Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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