In Focus: Math in Schools


By Karen Wilkinson

Triplicate staff writer

Norman Newell didn't struggle in his algebra class last year. The 17-year-old Del Norte High School junior said he works well with numbers and unknown variables that come with the territory.

But this year's a different story. On Tuesday he had a andquot;Dandquot; in his geometry class and said he's considering additional tutoring to avoid retaking it.

andquot;Algebra was a lot easier,andquot; Newell said. andquot;Numbers are easier for me than shapes.andquot;

Similar sentiments soon may be coming from more students, as the class of 2008 and those after them face a new challenge before they can nab that diploma geometry.

In 2004 the Del Norte County School District added the math class to its high school graduation requirements, after state and federal test scores andquot;triggered a conversation state-wide about the merits of adding a third year of math,andquot; Superintendent Jan Moorehouse said.

Geometry andquot;is used frequently in the workplace, especially in construction-related fields,andquot; she said.

Juniors not enrolled in math automatically are penalized on the math portion of standardized tests, which drive down a school's state academic performance index and federal adequate yearly progress scores, said Don Olson, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

But the perception that geometry is more difficult than algebra, because it comes next in the sequence of math courses generally taken in high school, isn't necessarily true, Moorehouse said.

andquot;In fact, geometry is on a par with algebra and may even be more concrete than algebra, thus easier to comprehend,andquot; she said.

Math teachers tend to agree, though they're concerned with the andquot;top-downandquot; approach that seems to be more common as state and federal education mandates filter into Del Norte.

andquot;Sacramento is too far from my classroom to have an understanding of what my kids need,andquot; said high school math teacher Randy Mitchell. andquot;It seems the lead is coming from Sacramento, (and) maybe it should be the other way.andquot;

Though the additional class seems to raise the academic bar while helping schools' test scores, that bar may be too high and unrealistic for all students, teachers say.

Geometry is rigorous and emphasizes vocabulary, theorems and andquot;they even go as far as proof writing,andquot; Mitchell said.

That reasoning led to an new math class that's being tried out for the first time this year geometry concepts.

Patrick Smith teaches those two classes at the high school and said his students, while not as motivated as those taking geometry, are doing well.

andquot;It's broken down into smaller, more basic pieces,andquot; Smith said, adding he hopes to increase the hands-on activities.

Lief Anderson, 16, said geometry concepts is easy and andquot;a lot better than regular geometry.andquot;

The counter side of the geometry concepts classes, however, is that though it fulfills graduation requirements, the class doesn't count for university-bound students.

Even so, students enrolled in geometry concepts are andquot;a different clienteleandquot; than those in geometry, Smith said.

But the class can help transition students into geometry, said math teacher Tim Bradley.

andquot;It's kind of more user-friendly,andquot; Bradley said. andquot;Geometry concepts is more relatable and doesn't go as in-depth.andquot;

And geometry isn't as scary as it seems, Bradley said, depending on whether one is stronger at verbal or math skills.

andquot;People who tend to like English like geometry it uses the same part of the brain,andquot; he said.

But freshman Hilary Littke, who says she seems to be better at math than English, noted her geometry class is quite the challenge.

andquot;It's a lot harder than algebra,andquot; she said.

The Del Norte Triplicate
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