They did it 'My Way' | March 12, 2010 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - March 12, 2010

They did it 'My Way'

Math program developed at Foothill College brings deficient students up to par

by Kelsey Mesher

On any weekday morning, the students in Scott McGhee's first period class at Graham Middle School are working diligently on their math skills. And though it looks like a typical classroom, the lessons are different here, with students working on different concepts and at varying skill levels, all at their own pace, under a new program developed at Foothill College.

Graham's "Math Accelerated Program," or MAP, is modeled after a similar program at Foothill, "Math My Way," which seeks to help students who are missing math basics fill in the blanks. Faculty at both Graham and Crittenden Middle School worked closely with Foothill instructors to develop their own version of the program, specifically for younger students.

Students at the middle schools were selected based on their California Standards Test (CST) scores. None of the students in the program — about 350 children district-wide — were proficient in math on the CST.

"These are kids that are struggling, that have never been successful historically in math," said Kim Thompson, assistant principal at Graham, who was the director of a condensed MAP program last summer.

Although there is a significant age gap between the students, the classrooms at Graham, Crittenden and Foothill look almost alike: Students work individually through 10 "modules," starting at the beginning with whole number concepts. The math students must write out each problem, box their answers and correct every mistake on their work.

There are no grades in the typical sense: To pass an exam at the end of each module, and move on through the program, students must score 87 percent or better.

"The philosophy is the kids will master the standards," Thompson said. "You don't move on without mastering."

After the students take their assessment tests, the teachers meet and re-shuffle the classes. Students are grouped by their progress, so they will always be amongst peers who are around the same level.

"The kids love the switch," McGhee said, acknowledging that it has been an adjustment for the six math teachers at Graham, who now use their planning period to coordinate the switches and discuss student progress.

"The time management is a big issue," said Mike Ruth, a seasoned math teacher who is new to the district this year. "The math teachers basically gave up their planning period. I've never worked somewhere where teachers voluntarily do that."

"It's definitely a positive for the kids," he added. And the students seem to agree.

"It's kind of fun because different teachers have different ways of making you reach your goals," said Jose Cruz, a seventh grader in McGhee's class.

And while for some it may seem like the switching could incite competition, the students insisted the MAP classes were more about camaraderie.

"The reason most of us are in here is we've missed something somewhere," said eighth grader Peter Knight.

McGhee said another major boon of the program is simply teaching the students how to be students.

"I've never, in 13 years of teaching, had beginning level students show so much work," he said.

McGhee said he is hoping for more hard data to support what he believes is true: The MAP program is working. After their first trimester assessment, he said, 85 percent of students were advanced or proficient at their level of study. About 30 students will exit the program next year into their regular grade-level math, he said.

"They came into the program three to four years behind, and in one year got on grade level," McGhee said.

"They have a lot more confidence now in math than ever before," he added.

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Posted by Joe C, a resident of North Whisman
on Mar 14, 2010 at 8:49 am

I liked the story overall. It's good to hear about successes in our schools, and how caring teachers and school leaders are providing better instruction to students who have been underserved in the past. But I didn't like the subheadline - "Math program developed at Foothill College brings deficient students up to par." The phrase "deficient students" has a negative connotation that casts aspersions on the students. Many students across the country have difficulty learning pre-algebra and algebra concepts and skills, especially when taught using traditional methods. Instead of "deficient students," you could have said "students who were falling behind" or "students who need extra help."

Posted by Observer, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 14, 2010 at 9:33 am

I guess it will be tough when deficient students get to high school or college and eventually find out, one way or another, that they are falling behind, never caught up, or just not particularly good at math, algebra or calculus. Best they learn now what deficient means. It doesn't necessarily carry a negative connotation unless the self-esteem police get involved.

Posted by math mastery parent, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 15, 2010 at 1:36 pm

My child has been in this program the whole school year and I disagree with the positive light this article sheds on Math My Way for several reasons.
Students have to rewrite EVERY instruction and EVERY question....this takes a tremendous amount of time that I think should be spent on learning math, not penmanship and the ability to copy something that is already usable(the worksheets have space for the students to put answers on them but they have to recopy everything). What would take ten minutes actually takes 30 mins because they spend most of the time recopying instructions, headings and questions.
Many of the worksheets that are handed out clearly state at the top that it is THIRD grade math...this is detrimental to the self-esteem of the seventh grade students. Teachers tell the students you are doing third grade math. It is not third grade math, it is MATH plain and simple.
Assignments come back and forth from school to home several times until they are "perfect", even if one answer is not boxed the student must start a new page with new headings and rewrite that whole question just to box the answer.
Students skip around the modules to find pages they can complete quickly to please their teachers and then don't really know what they have done and haven't done. Very confusing.
Students are basically taught by reading the instructions at the top of each page. There are no hands on manipulatives, no real world connection, no direct teacher instruction.
Final complaint to's BORING, really really boring and these are the students who we need to get excited about learning...
I do like the idea of going back through previous curriculum and reteaching the basics and giving students time to master these at their own pace.
I also commend the dedicated teachers who I am sure have spent many years developing their own way of teaching math that now conform to this crap.
My biggest concern is that my child will have wasted two years in this program and may still only have copied enough headings, instructions, questions and boxed answers to be told "good job, you're doing fifth grade math now!!" (but my child will be headed to high school??)

Posted by Ken & Barbie, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 15, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Careful now, math mastery parent. Rock the boat in this district and they'll throw you over. You can't go against the official party line, especially once The Voice makes it part of the agenda.

Posted by math mastery parent, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 16, 2010 at 9:04 am

Oh Ken/Barbie, that may be true, but luckily I can swim and so can my kids:) "Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted counts"-Einstein.

Posted by 'B' math student parent, a resident of Jackson Park
on Mar 16, 2010 at 8:44 pm

My child is now a 'B' student in math at her grade level. The first trimester she received a 'C' in math. Her teacher used some of the diciplines mentioned in this article and her grades began to improve. Like some parents, I did not understand why they had to rewrite everything over and over again. Fortunately I thought about it more and realized that nearly everything we've learned throughout our lives has been through repetition. Whether it's learning to walk, muscle memory in sports or brain memory in scholastics, it seems to work. For the parent that felt it to be a waste of time; be patient and don't pass on your negitivity to your child. In time they will begin to understand and that will be your reward for your extra time spent working with your child. Your child's reward will come with the confidence that they can do much more than they thought they could as long as they make the appropriate effort. That lesson will take them even futher in the 'real world' when they graduate with a real education.

Posted by math mastery parent, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 18, 2010 at 10:49 am

B parent,
All that glitters is not gold. Whether my child had an A or and F in this program, it would not change my opinion about it's methods. Grades are subjective. They repeat each worksheet and test until they pass. It would be hard not to "improve". Real life is not a worksheet. I would rather spend time watching my child do math than copy instructions and questions. Negativity? Nah....just the ability to think and evaluate critically and the acceptance that sometimes we have to do things we don't agree with, but that doesn't change who we are. Math Misery should be the real name of this program. Let's see if the program is still around two years from now....

Posted by Steven Nelson, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 18, 2012 at 8:47 am

Forward 2 years - The program is not around. It is now replaced (tah dah, fanfare) with Enhanced Direct Instruction (EDI). A copyrighted, proprietary program that will, of course, save us. And keep the EDI consultants in the $.
There are extremely good points to both these paths. EDI is fine for regular, more efficient, Direct Instruction, the tried and true 3Rs process with kids near the same level during the regular school year.
The Foothill program, Math My Way, also proved itself with our MVWSD remedial students working in a jr. college environment (how cool for them to be AT COLLEGE) where they got individualized help over a summer program.

Posted by Igor, a resident of Slater
on Oct 18, 2012 at 9:37 am

Maybe this is all Graham math teachers are qualified to teach, or rather, they probably couldn't handle anything more advanced and forward thinking. They are teachers for a reason. If you raise the quality of the instructors, you raise the quality of the instruction.

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