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Preparing Students For High School Maths
Guide for primary school teachers
A high school math teacher’s wish list
What has occurred in recent years as many more students finish high school and seek tertiary education is an increase in parents wanting their children to do Maths at a higher level. They see Maths as a key to access to secondary education and insist that their children have the opportunity to do the subject to the highest possible standard, even going against the school’s advice on this .
Therefore, high school math teachers must teach nearly all students throughout their high school years, regardless of their innate ability in the subject.
This trend will not go away and high school teachers need the help of elementary teachers to prepare their students to enter the rigors of high school mathematics.
This article is written from my experience as both a secondary maths teacher and head of maths who often had to advise parents on what was best for their students in the subject. Much of what I write here was presented to primary school teachers at a workshop on the subject.
Most, if not all, of the points I make in this article will be familiar to experienced primary teachers, so it is aimed more at those new to the profession.
Mathematics is a subject where the student must develop their understanding of mathematics. Learning rules and procedures can only take the student so far. It won’t help in the modern world of real-life math problems in unfamiliar contexts.
To help prepare students for high school mathematics, upper elementary teachers should try to develop the following in their students.
- A self-motivated work ethic. Often, Maths students will have to work alone and without help.
- An ethics of duties. The teaching speed of curriculum requirements in secondary school is dictated by external authorities. This means that the teacher must cover a compulsory curriculum in a certain time. For the student, this means that homework is an essential part of the learning process if they are to keep up with the teaching.
- An ethics of study. It is important for students to learn that homework is not the same as studying.
- A belief that all students can do some math.
- Understand that mathematics is an essential part of everyday life and that we all do mathematical things successfully every day, often automatically.
- The belief in students that asking questions in math is a “cool” thing.
- Students’ belief that mathematics is unisex, not just for boys.
Below is a list of what I call essential preparation that is not directly mathematical but will greatly assist students in their study of mathematics as well as other subjects.
Students should be taught:
- Study skills
- How to be powerful listeners
- How to ask questions
- Verification procedures
- Estimation as a control device
- Various problem solving techniques
- An effective drafting procedure
- That just the answer is not enough. Students must explain in writing mathematically how they arrived at their answer.
- That there is often more than one way to solve a problem
- Understanding the ordering convention
- Examination technique
Communicating mathematically is a skill that needs to be taught. It consists of students receiving the following education:
- The correct use of mathematical terms including their spelling;
- Correct use of all mathematical symbols;
- Logical layout;
- Justification of each step when necessary;
- Logical reasoning;
- The use of clean and clear figures, precise and appropriate diagrams;
- Work vertically down the page to facilitate checking and removing errors in copy;
- The translation from one form of expression to another, for example numerical/verbal data to diagrams/tables/graphs/equations, and
- Correct and appropriate use of units eg area, volume etc.
Finally, you can give your students a taste of high school classes by doing the following. (You can call these suggestions an action plan.)
- Set up your classroom with desks in rows and teach a series of “Cilk and Talk” lessons.
- Insist that students work alone while doing math exercises in a quiet environment.
- Use exercises from the textbook.
- Take some formal, timed exams in a formal classroom setting.
- Do regular problem-solving exercises. Those in unfamiliar contexts because they get used to the idea that problem solving is an everyday event, not just one that comes up in assessment.
As I alluded to in the title of this article, this is a high school math teacher’s wish list. Anything you can do as an elementary teacher to help develop this wish list would be greatly appreciated by math teachers, but more importantly it will help students enter the rigors of high school math with more confidence.
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