Murray Siegel Maricopa
Murray Siegel [File]

Last month’s column looked at how the teaching of math in the elementary grades has reduced the number of students taking advanced math classes in middle and high school and limited the number of Americans educated to fill STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) jobs. The two primary problems are the use of mixed ability groups in elementary math classes and the lack of proper experience for college faculty who prepare future elementary teachers.

So, what can be done to overcome these two problems?

Few college faculty who teach math to future elementary teachers have ever taught math in an elementary classroom. We expect those who teach surgical methods to have recent experience performing surgery, and marketing faculty should make contributions to current marketing campaigns, yet we do not require relevant experience for faculty preparing students to teach math in the elementary grades. This can easily be overcome.

The simple answer is for colleges to mandate that all faculty who teach mathematics courses for future elementary teachers actually teach one class each day for one semester every three years in a real elementary classroom. This will allow these faculty to offer a more realistic understanding of the dynamics of the elementary classroom.

To excite students about mathematics and steer them toward STEM careers, each elementary school should hire a well-qualified teacher of advanced math classes (AMC). This teacher would conduct AMC by grade level, to accelerate mathematically able students and prepare them for challenging classes in high school and beyond. This teacher can also be a mathematical resource for all teachers in the school building.

The AMC students can then take calculus in high school, which has been proven to enhance success in college calculus courses and lead to successful completion of STEM degrees.

The second method, assigning an elementary math specialist to each elementary school, has been used successfully in Texas. Qualified teachers could be provided with appropriate professional development. The specialist would teach an advanced math class in grades three, four and five. All classes in a particular grade would have math at the same time.

For the remainder of the school day, the specialist would work with individual students or small groups, especially in remediation.

The specialist would work with teachers via conferences, classroom observations and lesson demonstration.

Besides having a qualified teacher responsible for teaching mathematics to the most able students, using a specialist would reduce the size of other math classes since some students would attend the advanced class. Concerns may be raised before either method is adopted but the overriding concern must be to develop the math skills of more American children who will be the scientific leaders of the next generation.

Murray Siegel, Ph.D., has more than 44 years of teaching experience and volunteers at Butterfield Elementary School.

This column appears in the February issue of InMaricopa magazine.