Friday, September 28, 2012

Too few kids for a class?

It's a common problem, particularly in the primary grades. A school would like to offer an advanced math option for kids at that level of preparation, but there aren't quite enough kids to justify a class. That handful of children can't just go to the next grade's math class, because it isn't being taught at the same time. What to do?

When I was in 4th grade, I remember joining 3 other children sitting in the back of one teacher's classroom. She'd give us a do-now type assignment, go teach the other class, then while that class was working, she'd come back and work with us.

I imagine this sort of arrangement happens pretty frequently, but earlier this week, I saw a more technologically sophisticated approach at a handful of Catholic primary schools in Philadelphia. Teacher Terri Danella instructs a small advanced math class at Resurrection school in northeast Philadelphia. As she teaches, she's being broadcast to 4 other schools (I was watching from St. Peter's near 5th and Girard). She's got a split screen that shows her all the students in the different locations, and when a student speaks up, the camera pans to that child. This makes the format relatively intuitive (when someone speaks, you look at her).

The technology itself obviously costs money, though this was underwritten by the Connelly Foundation, a Philly-focused charity that promotes technology in Catholic education. But it's cheaper than having an extra math teacher at the five different schools. And this method retains slightly more of the human touch than having these children take an online course.

How do your schools handle this issue? What do you do for children who need advanced math?

12 comments:

Jo in OKC said...

My D did self-paced math in 3rd and 4th grade. The teachers gave her the end of chapter tests. If she did well, she went on. If she needed to work on a section or two, she did those before proceeding. She basically taught herself most of the time, so it wasn't ideal, but not bad. She made it through 2.5 grades of math books in 3rd grade and 2 grades of math books in 4th grade.

In 5th grade, she went in with the advanced 8th graders for math. It wasn't the same time as math for her class, but it was the same time as math for the other 5th grade class. That meant she did the subjects she missed during math with the other 5th grade class. It sounds more complicated than it was.

Anonymous said...

Our school offers a first year German language program this way, to 8th graders in two different middle schools. It is a poor substitute for a language class, in my opinion, but the alternative was canceling the class altogether.

Regarding advanced math, our district forbids it, even self-paced programming we offered to pay for. They don't allow any subject acceleration or grade acceleration at all. Their suggestion for a kid needing math advancement was to have her join the once-a-week, after school math club. So we enrich at home when we have time- a really frustrating situation.

IndianaAnna said...

My son's teacher has arranged for an honors math student from the local university to come work with him on advanced math twice a week. We love ths arrangement and it benefits both my son and the college student.

Nother Barb said...

When my son was in first grade, he and 4 others went to a fourth-grade teacher for math 3 times a week while her students were at gym or music or something. The first grade teacher arranged her schedule so that it was during the classroom math time. They learned 4th-grade math, taught at their pace, with help on the reading. They LOVED it.

The next year, partway into the year all 4 2nd-grade classrooms had math at the same time, and the kids were grouped by ability, changing roooms and teachers. It wasn't quite as accelerated for my son, but it wasn't too bad. It was an experiment, I don't know if they still do it.

Twin Mom said...

Our schools studiously ignore children who are years ahead in math.

Anonymous said...

The school my sons attended held math at the same time for every grade. A test at the beginning of the year provided an opportunity to study math at a different grade level. When kids went beyond the highest grade in the school, they enrolled in an appropriate online course. All of those kids accessed their course during the usual math time, but had a teacher on hand in the classroom to monitor and help. It worked great. I don't understand why every school can't do this.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Like Anonymous at 11:35 "The school my son attended held math at the same time for every grade. A test at the beginning of the year provided an opportunity to study math at a different grade level." My son was there for 4th through 6th grade, but in 6th grade he was the only student studying geometry, so he ended up self-teaching out of the Art of Problem Solving textbook (a good book for self-teaching, but not an easy one).

hschinske said...

At one point my daughter was in a gifted-program class that was supposedly being taught math at a year ahead, but the teachers were not allowed to use anything but grade-level materials. Neat trick, eh? A few years later the parents funded a set of sixth-grade math textbooks so that the fifth-grade gifted class could be taught at the sixth-grade level, and so on down, but the teacher was not allowed to use the same texts as the middle schools used. A year or two after that policy changed and she was REQUIRED to use the same texts as the middle schools used.

Sometimes the mistake is expecting any of this to make sense.

lgm said...

Pre-NCLB, our disrict grouped by acheivement in elementary. The groups could be within one classroom, or pulled from several. The material suited the children...usually +2 grade levels for the group my kid was in. Post-NCLB,it's one-size-fits-all in the fully included classroom. Material is restricted to grade level and the amount covered is 1/3 of what was done pre-Nclb. The enrichment material supplied by the publisher was banned from being used in the classroom. Students that need more are on their own until 7th grade, when they can take Pre-Algebra. Most affluent parents tutor their children during elementary in order to provide the necessary background to be successful in 8th Algebra. Any math after Alg 2/Trig is a dual enrollment situation.

lgm said...

By the way, satellite class was offered when I was a kid. It wasn't cost effective because the equipment, its maintenance, and an adult to be present costs more than one teacher. My district eventually decided to work an arrangement with a larger district that had honors/AP and send their advanced students there for jr and sr year. I think we need to have each county in our area come up with a magnet situation. We're already bussing for a county wide votech and sped programs, might as well add math/science. The economy is not going to be revitalized if we deny advanced math/science to all students except those in the wealthiest district.

nicoleandmaggie said...

A benefit of being at a small private school is that they changed the K/1 schedule so that DC1 could take math and reading with the first graders when he was in kindergarten. He also did cluster grouping in 1st. This year they grade-skipped him an entire grade to second. Since he doesn't have his addition and subtraction facts memorized and that's what they're working on, he seems to be doing the mainstream math right now, though he did come home with one of those fun logic puzzles the other day.

So acceleration and grouping after that, if needed.

We also do Singapore at home on the weekends, but because it's beautiful and he gets squiggly without thinking on the weekends.

Raising a Happy Child said...

I am jealous of the schools that do anything for advanced math learners. I am sad and frustrated with our math program - it's completely "one size fits all" and incredibly boring for several kids in my daughter's class. PTA is coming soon, and I am going to bring this question up.