Engagement Needed to Make Common Core Work
An online educational program aims to help students become fluent in the application of math.
Consider this situation: You want to improve your abilities as a free throw shooter in basketball. You get to the gym, but learn you must wear a blindfold and ear muffs while practicing your shooting. Are you going to practice very long?
This is the very problem that faces students who are learning mathematics in the United States, says Bob Sun, CEO of First in Math.
"The primary reason that students do not practice math is because there is no immediate feedback," Sun says. "Without feedback, it is a meaningless activity."
Programs such as First in Math, which has been operating since 1988, are designed to be highly interactive, challenging practice tools that will make math fun for students and lead to the procedural fluency now stressed in the Common Core Standards Initiative, which will be coming to Cobb County Schools in the coming school year.
As opposed to old standards, where conceptualiztion was the measuring stick of progress, Common Core will also consider the student's application of the math he or she learned in the equation.
Does this emphasis on practice mean hours and hours of math homework?
According to Sun, the ideal ratio for practice to conceptualization is somewhere near 5 to 1, which would mean for every hour of math learned, 5 hours of math should be processed. Sun realizes the impossible demand of this ratio, but asserts that the average sixth grader has an hour of homework a night, split between four subjects; the 15 minutes of math practice this student performs is woefully inadequate.
Sun's First in Math program uses the concept of "deep practice," which breaks down complex concepts into easy to understand segments. With repeated practice on the smaller pieces, the larger whole can be understood and practiced.
It is also important to give students the proper "entry point" into the curriculum; if the abilities of the student surpass the challenges he or she is facing, that student will be bored and unengaged in the learning process. If a student's abilities are surpassed by the challenges, he or she will feel anxious about learning.
School boards and school districts nationwide have been adopting programs such as First in Math to encourage lifelong learning and improved math practice skills. Cobb County has used First in Math for about three years, and it is hoped the tool will allow students to excel under the new standards.