Saving Mathematical Minds


Most schools teach math according to grade level and age. But studies how that US schools still lag behind foreign counterparts especially in math. A lot of proposed education reform involves additional time and expensive resources that our already stressed school systems cannot afford. What are our other options?

 Introduce Ability Based-Math Block

Something that all schools can implement—which doesn’t cost a cent—is ability based math block. If—before the start of the school year—we give students math evaluations and uncover the true ceiling in their knowledge and skills across many mathematical areas, we can place our students in the best math block according to their ability, not their age. Based upon these evaluations, we can then schedule math classes to happen within schools at one or two common times—across all classrooms—and ask our most mathematically talented teachers to teach the most complicated math classes.  Using this approach for math groups, we expect there to be a three or four year age difference in the various classrooms, and let kids do whatever they are ready for—even if the seven year old is placed in a math class which features content typically taught to ten or eleven year olds.

 The Benefit of Ability Based Math Block

  • Smaller ability range in every classroom and therefore a better way for each teacher to teach students what they are next ready to learn.
  •  Highest ability mathematical students are not limited by age expectations or national norms that undershoot their potential.
  • Struggling students don’t have to sit and be overwhelmed in classes that aren’t at their level; they can learn what they are ready for.
  • The total learning experience becomes more relevant and the teaching experience more successful.

Allow Subject Based Acceleration in Math  

Subject based acceleration is a no cost intervention in education with potential. An example of subject—based acceleration in practice would be to let students ready for algebra as fifth graders take algebra as fifth graders.  Many parents and teachers voice concerns that the student who engages in accelerated learning will not have a balance in their social skills education but the evidence about subject based acceleration does not support this fear. Another challenge is scheduling. For example, administrators may be concerned that a second grade student can’t go to math when the fifth graders have it or an eighth grade student can’t go to the pre calculus class because of schedule and logistics because math doesn’t happen at the same time. Another example would be the middle school student who doesn’t have a way to get to and from the high school for the higher-level math course. Thus, we circle back to a “math block” shared timeslot again. This may be more difficult to manage in the beginning, but once there is a system in place, it could be a worthy thing to attempt—especially in an era where STEM learning is so needed and is being so emphasized?

At Acera, we believe in “outside the box” thinking and creative problem solving. With math education needing serious reform, math blocks and subject based acceleration are a no cost solution that offer serious benefit to school systems looking to improve education on a limited budget.

For more information, this report includes data on the benefits of subject based acceleration.

John Henry Annabelle on WeDo