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Math Instruction

Posted by TNCS on Apr 15, 2016

“When you add a positive number and a negative number together, why is the answer sometimes positive and sometimes negative?”

Ask this question of several TNCS math students, and you’re likely to get several different responses.

One student may talk about red and blue plastic chips. Another student may recall the link between adding negative numbers and subtracting. Still another may talk about moving left and right on a number line, while a fourth may explain the effect of individual positive and negative attitudes on the overall mood of a group.

Often, the key to successful math instruction at The New Community School is finding the experience that most resonates with each individual student. This is one of the reasons why we believe that a varied, multi-sensory approach to math instruction yields the best results. Some students may latch onto experiences through hands-on materials or technological demonstrations and games. Others may benefit most from the opportunity to talk about math with their classmates as they solve problems together or teach their classmates.

Most learners, however, benefit from application of math concepts in the real world, and the math curriculum at TNCS has no shortage of experiential learning opportunities. For instance,

  • Basic Concepts students explore decimal addition and subtraction by playing the Stock Market Game.
  • Seniors in Advanced Math Applications began their unit on three-dimensional representation by drawing contour maps based on land formations they built out of Play-Doh.
  • Fractions and Decimals students halved and doubled their Rice Krispy treat recipe while learning about fractions.
  • Geometry and Trigonometry students measured the heights of buildings and trees on campus using triangle similarity and trig ratios.
  • Basic Geometry and Measurement students used estimation, metric conversion, and ratios to build scaled models of structures they studied in their history and English classes.

The best way to ensure that students will forever find math pointless and boring is to never take math “out of the box,” neglecting its usefulness and reducing it to a series of calculations and processes that are ends unto themselves. Math classes at TNCS are full of opportunities to see how math is really used, both in the daily lives of our students, as well as in future careers and studies.

The flip side, however, is the reality that processes and computation are important, too. If his arithmetic is incorrect and her decimals aren’t lined up correctly, their stock portfolios won’t add up, their Rice Krispy Treats won’t be sticky enough, and their model of the Parthenon will look more like the Empire State Building. So repetition, drill, and paperwork do have an important place in our program. Our teachers provide this vital skill-building practice in ways that are becoming more individualized and engaging than ever before, including some technologically-based options that provide each student with the level of challenge that he or she needs.

Graduates leave TNCS with the cadre of math courses they need to enter college and succeed there. But more importantly, it is our hope that they also leave us with the number sense and critical thinking skills needed to solve tomorrow’s problems and lead the lives of confident, productive adult citizens.

by Adam Rothschild