Every math educator knows the two classic clichés: Parents who can’t remember how to help their kids on homework, and “How will they ever use this, anyway?”
The St. Joseph School District is trying hard to make this state of affairs go the way of the dodo bird, if one might get away with using a tired joke about biology in explaining the goal. This has been a two-year project, led by Dr. Angela Dorsey and Dr. Marlie Williams, with support from Kristen Mendenhall, Erin Wilkinson, Kelly Robb, Amanda Ueligger, Deb Wehr, Kaleb Johnson, Amy Weiser, Tori Turner, Colin Pettegrew, Tammi Parrott, Lucy Mize, Mandi Tolen, Danyelle Gonzales, Shawna Gilliland, Sheila Weed, Christie Jackson and Bob Nash. The Board of Education endorsed the new math curricula on Monday.
“We’re just so used to math being a set of rules and procedures that we follow,” said Dorsey, K-12 curriculum adviser. “And that you are taught those rules and you have to memorize them. The disadvantage of that is, if you treat math as a set of rules, you really miss the beauty of what’s happening.” That beauty has been understood for centuries, first in Ancient Greece and China, and preserved and enhanced in the Muslim world. It is for this reason that all numerals in use worldwide today are based on Arabic script. The word “Algebra” translates in that language as “the union of broken bones,” parts of a logical whole.
The new curricula means to use such practical concepts to illustrate every lesson. According to Williams and Dorsey, students will use geometry and trigonometry to design the floorplan of a house. Statistics might be presented in relation to sports and data research, useful skills to have in this time of NCAA March Madness. The “How will they use this?” question is to be answered every step of the way.
“Not only do you learn the procedural side of math, you learn the conceptual side,” Williams said. “And then, you apply it.”
Memorization for its own sake is done with. Memory of formulas and methods still will be important in test preparation, but the real world is as much about knowing where to find information and how to use it once found as it is about knowing things off hand. The new curricula embraces that idea. To the extent parents need a refresher course in helping with homework, it will be online at https://www.sjsd.k12.mo.us/.
Board members Tami Pasley and Lori Witham, who have each taught math for years, cheered the curricula presented Monday, repeatedly expressing amazement at how simple each plank of the system is and how teachers, parents and students alike will be able to reference it quickly, on demand.
“Practically speaking, they have a daytime teacher in the classroom, and they have a night time teacher at home,” said Dr. Bryan Green, board member. “It sounds like this is, the work is fantastic.”