I am a second year math teacher at a high school level. My district has taken on the Core Plus style of teaching for our math program. For those of you who are unfamiliar this is a math program where concepts and ideas are taught through complete discovery math. Students are set up in groups and perform, what we call, “Math Labs”. The focus of the program is to have students understand math rather then just showing them how to do it. Students do not ever have “drill and kill” style classes or homework. I am a little apprehensive about this for low level students who might not have the ability or the motivation to critically think about the concepts in class and then be able to apply them to problems on their own. Has anyone dealt with a program like this and think it’s good? Bad? Does anyone have suggestions about how to teach in this type of learning environment?

Hi, and welcome!! Let me start by saying: please don't judge me by what I'm about to post. I'm normally a very nice person. But this is yet another reason that all administrators should teach. Whoever had this moment of inspiration should have to teach factoring to the products of this program. I'm sure they'll all finish understanding all about multiplication. They'll realize that 24 desks could be put into 1 row of 24 or 2 of 12 or 3 of 8 or 4 of 6. Yep, give them 24 manipultiives and they'll be able to figure it out every time. But fast forward to these same kids in a freshman algebra class, and try teaching them to factor. Get them to name two numbers whose product is 54 and whose sum is 3. Hey, as much as I hate the thought, I'll even let them have calculators. I bet you $1 that it will take them forever to come up with 9 and -6. Sometimes understanding is NOT enough. Sometimes you need to KNOW. They need to KNOW their times tables, their perfect squares and their perfect cubes. They need to KNOW the quadratic formula and the sine of 30 and the sum and product of the roots of a quadratic. They've got to know that base angles of an isosceles triangle are congruent, and that ASA works, but SSA doesn't. I'm a big believer in showing kids why things work. But after they understand, they still have to know! One of my 7th graders (in summer school a few weeks ago) was bragging that she had finally memorized the Preamble to the Constitution. I was thrilled for her. These words shaped our nation. They're important words. People should not just understand their meaning, they should know the words. OK, off my soapbox and, again, welcome. I promise my next post won't be nearly as loud

Yes, I know exactly what you mean. My students are struggle with the actual “doing” part. For example, they understand that a simple one variable linear equation has a common solution and they can use the graph or table on their calculator to find it but they can not actually do the algebra to solve. I also run into the same problem with factoring, they do not know their multiplication, division, addition and subtraction tables and must rely on their calculator for everything. It is great for developing concepts and showing real world application but it doesn’t hit the basic skills sometimes.

Yes, I am at a high school so NYS Math A, Math B...that is where the problem comes in. With discovery it takes too much time to develop the ideas and it takes away time they can actually be preparing for the regents. I'm learning to mix it up more so they don't miss the boat on the regents but still have some discovery learning experiences. Only having a book that is geared specially towards complete discovery learning makes this difficult at times. I end up making a lot of supplemental material.

I can imagine!!! Do you have some of the "little green books" for Regents prep by topical review? You could start each class with 4 or 5 short answer questions or something.

I have taught high school math for 11 years. This past year I decided to move to a new school and district. Last year they were using the Core math program and the school board voted to go to a more traditional math- which is where I started with them. I have always taught with a traditional style curriculum and would not have accepted the job at my new school if they had stayed with the Core program. After 1 year using a more traditional style, we are now seeing what the students who had the discovery Core curriculum are lacking in skills compared to those who I had this year with the traditional style. Does this make sense to you? I seem to be babbling and can't make my thoughts connect here... (sorry!!) In other words- I prefer traditional and think that students suffer with a discovery Core approach only. IF you can successfully combine the two- that is the way to go- which is what I do now. Good luck with it.

We offer Core Plus math at our school. We also offer the traditional courses (alg, geo, alg 2). Parents of college bound students fear Core Math and choose traditional; however I find that these students gain a better understanding and don't need the practice of the drill from traditional. Lower achieving students choose Core Plus to try to avoid the drill but don't have the critical thinking skills to really get a good understanding. Our math teachers do supplement with some teaching and drill. After students go through the investigations, they add on hints, tips, and lessons about the math that is used. The other thing to know is that students find it very difficult to stay organized with this curriculum, so you might want to make sure you have things in place to help with this - sections in a binder may help. One of our teachers typed up investigation guides for them to write their answers since so many questions have multiple parts and students easily overlook them. I find it to be a very fun curriculum and enjoy the use of the technology. I love the way it incorporates all the math disciplines into the course. I am a special ed teacher with a math degree and have team taught this course a few times. I find that student discipline is tricky with the group work and keeping students on track with the investigations. We have done more teacher led classes with lower achieving students also - they tend to be grouped up in the same class!

The problems I have found with the discovery approach are time, and learning styles. There just is not time in class for kids to discover, when I end up having to formalize it in notes and "kid-friendly" instructions afterwards. The other issue is that the kids that are likely to "discover" the math are the ones that also "get" the traditional approach, and the kids that can't discover it, are just going to have to memorize the steps and follow instructions anyway. I find that many students will eventually understand the discovery problem, but many of these students cannot make the leap to the abstract symbolic approach required in higher math. Some kids will not go beyond understanding basic concepts for practical use (and passing state tests), but others need to be prepared for college level mathematics. Whenever I've piloted/taught discovery programs (cmp, cognitive tutor, mcdougal-littel integrated) i've supplemented with drills - and, in one district, paid the price for "not supporting district curriculum." In WA state, a rigorous pre-algebra class would cover the math content on the 10th grade test, but it's almost all thinking and applying, which is why only a little over 50% of the kids pass. Because of the focus on this test, the first semester of advanced algebra is spent teaching the kids what they should have mastered in first year algebra, many kids fail, so not many go on to pre-calculus, and we're down to about 25 seniors out of 350 or so, who take calculus. We just aren't preparing them and the more I "professionally" express my concern, the more I become an outcast. I know, I'm venting and rambling, but having been raised on NY Regents Exams, I am shocked at what passes for math in my district. I've downloaded old algebra I regents exams and given them as reviews to my advanced algebra students - even 2nd semester, and 2/3 of the class wouldn't have a chance of passing. It's depressing.