Families & Communities

Effective Math and Science Instruction

Pláticas en Acción
Effective Math and Science Instruction

The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) ranks the performance of U.S. 12th graders among the worst in the world in math and science, even for our top students. But there is good news, too. Performance of U.S. students by our own country’s assessment continues to show growth at every grade level, with Texas making major gains.

What is the Issue
In many schools, teachers have made positive changes in the mathematics they teach and how they teach it. They have focused on providing both basic instruction and complex thinking skills that students need to grasp advanced concepts presented in math and science. These teachers consult with each other and share new instructional strategies, such as interesting and innovative ways to use technology – computers and calculators – to teach these subjects.

In other schools, unfortunately, concern about assessments such as state tests have led to teachers’ retreating into boring, repetitious drills and concentration on exercises that look like test questions. Students in these schools are at a disadvantage, because they never learn the critical thinking skills necessary to progress into higher-level math and science classes. Teachers tend to work in isolation from each other, sometimes with different programs and materials, so there is little opportunity for students to build on what they have previously learned.

Furthermore, many teachers and administrators – as well as parents – continue to believe that only certain students are capable of learning the skills necessary to succeed in math and science. These people assume, for instance, that boys learn these skills more easily than girls, and that majority students are naturally more adept at higher reasoning skills than minority students.

What Should be Done
Educators should deeply examine beliefs about who is capable of learning the complex concepts involved in math and science. They should implement programs that challenge all students to adopt critical thinking skills.

Teachers must be free to make professional decisions by conferring with other teachers and participating in high quality professional development. They should be supported in selecting the best instructional materials and creating innovative programs that utilize current technology.

What Could be Done
Schools could strengthen their efforts to improve math and science programs by working schoolwide toward common goals, building on a common foundation of beliefs, and using common materials and professional development.

Programs could be developed that are interesting and engage students in projects designed to demonstrate the practical use of math and science concepts.

What You Can Do
When you use math and science in routine projects such as carpentry or gardening, involve your children and their friends – both boys and girls – in tasks involved in these projects. Insist that children in your neighborhood schools are provided with interesting and engaging instruction in math and science. Talk with your children’s teachers and support them in their efforts to find innovative uses for technology in their classrooms.

The Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) is a vanguard leadership development and research team working with people to create self-renewing schools that value and empower all children, families and communities. IDRA is an independent, private non-profit organization directed by María Robledo Montecel, Ph.D. IDRA, 5835 Callaghan Road, Suite 350, San Antonio, Texas 78228-1190; 210-444-1710; contact@idra.org; www.idra.org. © 2003 by IDRA. • Parent Information Resource Center at IDRA •